Mulholland Drive: Ten Clues Explained

Taken from Lost on Mulholland Drive:


Pay particular attention to the beginning of the
film: at least two clues are revealed before the credits.

  1. Jitterbug contest: Betty wins. Irene and her companion cheer her up.

    • The dance contest had been a stepping stone for Diane to move
      to Hollywood and pursue an acting career. We hear again of it at Adam's
      dinner party.

    • Betty is shown bathed in the spotlight as the scene fades
      into Diane's bedroom. We see images of dancing pairs while Betty, aside from the two
      old people, is seen without a partner. Irene and her male companion are apparently a manifestation
      of Diane's good/innocent side.

    • In order of appearance, the credits list Betty well
      before Diane. This means that the partner-less jitterbugger we see is Betty.
      This fact is supported by someone shouting "Betty,
      Betty" off-screen right before the scene fades into Diane's
      bedroom. Does this mean that Diane is spinning a yarn when she tells us that
      she won a jitterbug contest? Or was the
      contest real, but just represented to us differently than how it
      happened?

    • Though people still jitterbug today, those are clearly
      supposed to be people from back in the day. Everyone is wearing vintage
      clothes. At present day nostalgia type sock hop most people would
      be wearing current clothing and
      maybe a few would be wearing contemporary versions of typical
      jitterbug attire. Are we supposed to believe this
      is all a throwback to the good old 50s or before (the time when Aunt Ruth was young) and not a
      jitterbug contest that Betty/Diane was at? (Also consult clue #10
      F)

    Related: Jitterbug Contest

  2. Right before the camera zooms
    in on the pillow it seems to focus on the area of the floor where the blue
    box later disappears at Havenhurst.

  3. We here a noise that distinctly sounds like cocaine being snorted
    followed by the sound of someone breathing hard, falling into the pillow.

    • Somebody is
      falling into a (drug-induced?) sleep – a dream is about to begin.

    • We later see the same green blanket and red pillow when Diane wakes up. It's her dream.

Notice appearances of the red lampshade.

Another clue to the viewer that we have at least two alternate
realities.

  1. In Diane's dream the red lampshade
    appears at the end of a phone-call chain, in the middle of
    Hollywood's Byzantine conspiracy. The call is not being answered.
    Possible interpretations:

    1. It's
      a visual clue to us, the viewers, that Betty/Diane is the last in this
      pyramid scheme of Hollywood behind the scene operators. This is reality
      poking its head in Diane's dream reminding herself that it was she who
      arranged the accident, both literally (when she arranged the hitman to
      kill Camilla), and figuratively (when she created a better version of
      Camilla in her dream). The phone goes unanswered because Diane is
      unwilling to acknowledge that she is, indeed, the one and only creator
      of such machinations; the viewers themselves only make the connection
      hours later, when we see another shot of Diane's phone. 

    2. The
      call is meant for Diane Selwyn in the fantasy sequence, but it remains
      unanswered as her body lies decaying at Sierra Bonita.

    3. They call for real
      Diane Selwyn. Since the Hollywood underworld controls the movie business,
      Diane would idealize acceptance in this world. "The girl is still
      missing" refers to Diane holing up in her apartment for
      weeks, imagining Hollywood to be clamoring for her.

    4. It's a replay of the call to attend the
      dinner
      party,
      only with Mr Roque as the initiator and Diane avoiding the
      call. It's her pathological way of dealing with reality. Diane feels
      that she should never have come. She should never have
      picked up the phone when Camilla called that night.

    5. Mr Roque's
      line "The girl is still
      missing" is
      referring to Rita. There is a shot of
      her sleeping under the kitchen table before the phone call
      sequence starts, establishing that she is the girl who's still
      missing… from the crash scene. Was she on her way to a liaison
      with Mr Roque?

  2. Related:

    Phone call chain

  3. When Diane Selwyn wakes up and thinks of
    Camilla, we learn that the phone by the red lampshade is actually her
    own home telephone. When she answers it, Camilla invites her to 6980
    Mulholland Drive.

  4. More red lampshades:

    1. inside
      the corner shop at Pink's. In connection with the prostitute who
      looks like a doppelganger of Diane it could symbolize Diane
      being subjected to prostitution. Is she a
      call girl living a double life?

    2. another
      red lamp shade is visible at Havenhurst on first floor above Aunt
      Ruth's apartment. 

    Related:
    Red Lamp Shade

There's a blue lamp shade on the table in Mr
Roque's room. Blue/Red as a yin/yang symbolism? 

Related: Lamp shade gallery

Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher
is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?

Another hint that we deal with alternate
realities.

  1. We hear on the set that Adam Kesher is
    auditioning for the leading role in the "Sylvia North Story"
    (stagehand saying "The Sylvia North Story, Camilla Rhodes, take one." just
    about when Blond Camilla
    walks in). 

  2. This movie title is mentioned again by
    Diane at Adam's dinner party. Wilkins tells that Bob Brooker
    directed the "Sylvia North Story" and Camilla was great in it.

Judging from the title, "The Sylvia
North Story" is presumably a tragic story of a fallen starlet, for
which both Diane and Camilla were auditioning. Irony to their tragic ends.

An accident is a terrible event… Notice the location
of the accident.

On
the way to 6980 Mulholland Drive, at Adam Kesher's house. It is the
place where Diane is picked up by Camilla following her hand in hand up
through the secret passage. Diane thought maybe Camilla was interested
in reconciling with her after all, but did not know about Camilla's
surprise announcement for later that night. The party turned out to be
a horrible humiliation for Diane, so in her rage and jealousy she
orders a hit on Camilla. Later she feels remorse about it. 

In Diane's dream Rita is getting high-jacked on
her way to Adam at the same place, but she escapes hit & accident.
Possible interpretations: 

  1. The
    messed up hit both prevents Camilla from reaching her destination (the dinner party?)
    and allows Diane's guilt to be assuaged as the hit fails. This way Diane wants to undo her terrible crime.

  2. If an accident is to be taken figuratively and not literally, then the
    dream accident of Rita on Mulholland Drive is just a stand-in for Diane's
    accident – an unexpected and traumatic event (dinner party) where her
    illusions shattered. 

  3. In Diane's dream the hit on
    Camilla was initiated by the shady consortium of producers who decided
    to not have her in their movie. They ambush Camilla on her Mulholland
    Drive ride in the same way as Camilla set Diane up, bringing her to the
    party.

Watch for the reprised line "What are you doing? We don't stop
here!" by Rita
and Diane.

Who gives a key, and why?

  • Coco: from Aunt Ruth to Betty…to enter the "dreamworld".
  • The Hitman (blue key): To confirm the
    deal is done.

Who gets the key?

  • Rita: in her bag with the hit money. Diane wants to
    transfer her guilt; there is no way Betty would carry it in the
    dream.

  • Diane: on her coffee table. Probably she retrieved it from somewhere
    else.

Observations: 

Only
one key is given in the film. The key that Coco gives to Betty.
The hitman doesn't give a key. He *leaves* it for Diane. Moreover Betty
doesn't touch Rita's blue key either.

There's a sleight of hand going on here. The viewers are lured to
focusing on the blue keys. But neither is ever "given".
Betty is given the key to Aunt Ruth's apartment because Aunt Ruth is dead,
just as Diane is given another key because Camilla is dead (see clue #10).
So
if the Coco key is a clue, then Coco's relationship with the two main
protagonists needs further examining.

Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.

These are chronological narration elements used for time references in
the "real time" scenes. 

Robe:

  • Ruth's: (precious, purple) at Havenhurst, with the note for
    (Bitsie)
    Betty. Betty uses it to cover Rita.
    Rita is wearing it the first day around. »here
    It was almost regal and it was clearly meant for Betty, but only Rita
    wears it. Betty is never able to put it on. When you look at these
    clues you begin to see that Diane envied Camilla because she was
    enjoying the success that Diane had wanted and had been dreaming of
    since her days in Deep River. 

  • Rita's: (distinctively red
    robe with a black collar) on second day during the rehearsal scene with
    Betty. »here

  • Betty's:
    (hot pink) at rehearsal. »here

  • Diane's: (shabby, white) when Diane remembers the flashbacks in her
    apartment. It looks like a faded version of her dream robe. »here
    When Diane is wearing the bathrobe we are in 'realtime' (neighbor
    scene, suicide), when she is wearing hot pans it's a flashback (couch
    scene, masturbation).


Related:
MD Costumes

Piano ashtray:

  • When the piano ashtray is there it is a flashback
    (love scene on couch with Camilla), when it is gone it's the present
    (neighbor picking up, Diane alone on couch having flashbacks, suicide).

  • The piano ashtray is there with Diane and Camilla on the couch. Diane
    obviously swapped
    apartments before ordering the hit on Camilla (respectively prior to
    the dinner party).

Ashtray with cig butts:

  • On the table by the red
    lamp we see an ashtray filled with butts of filter cigarettes. One of
    them has a mark of red lips stick. Since Diane is not shown to be a
    smoker, those butts could be from Camilla or her neighbor.


Related:
The ashtray

Coffee cup:

  • Diane brews herself a coffee in a cup similar to
    those at Winkie's. This could be a clue
      – to her being employed at a diner (waitress Betty/Diane?) respectively being a kleptomaniac
      – a clue to Diane's dream incorporating
    personal objects. If so, are we to take the
    hitman scene at Winkie's likewise as fantasy and not based on a real-life
    event?

  • The cup changes into a glass of Whiskey in the couch
    scene with Camilla. 

  • At the Ryan Board conference Luigi orders a cup
    espresso.  

  • At the pool party Diane sips coffee from a cup that
    has SOS written on it. This echoes the "help me" cry of
    Vincenzo Castigliane at the meeting. The cup sports the same colors
    but different style and pattern as Luigi's espresso cup earlier.

What is felt,
realised and gathered at the club
Silencio?

  • Felt: Love, unreturned love, pain, tears, spasm, loss, fear, compassion.
  • Realized: All is an illusion. The Dream wasn't reality. Lies. Hollywood is fake.
    The dream is over.
  • Gathered: Betty gets a Blue Box with a triangular keyhole in her bag.

Did talent alone help Camilla?

Which one?

  • Blond Camilla Rhodes is pushed by the Castigliane brothers to get the
    lead in The Sylvia North Story.

     

    Possible interpretation:
    The 
    conspiracy is Diane's rationalization for why
    she never
    became famous in real life. She believes that she's done everything right, played by the rules, yet outside forces have
    plotted against her, resulting in her failure. Bottom line, Diane refuses to accept responsibility
    for losing the lead part.

  • Raven-haired Camilla

    1. Camilla
      had an affair with the director. She probably used her sex appeal and
      was willing to sleep around to get ahead. Note the look Coco is
      throwing over at Camilla and Adam, when Betty said at the dinner party:
      "Anyway, Camilla got the part", seemingly knowing of how Camilla used
      to further her career.

    2. Or
      did Diane and her money helped too? The
      assertion here is that the money seen ready to be handed over by
      Diane to Joe in the Winkie's scene is not a payoff for a contract
      to kill Camilla, rather it is money paid to Joe to in some way
      influence the casting of Camilla in a film – starting her off on
      the road to stardom.

Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind
'Winkies'.

  • Dan meets the face of this God-awful feeling. He dies
    from an heart attack after seeing the "monster".

  • Near the end of the film, after the hit on Camilla is settled at
    Winkie's, we see the monster again. Only it's not a monster anymore.
    It's a pathetic bum, stripped of everything, sad and disheveled. We see that
    he is just one more person transformed into something else by Diane's dream. But wait! The homeless man is a
    monster in her reality too. He is unleashing the miniatured couple of old people who
    then drive Diane to commit suicide. Though Diane wished she'd never
    have seen his face outside of her dream, he has been there all along.

  • After
    Diane's death, we see the monster superimposed on top of the smoke. And
    then we see his face fade out while Betty's/Diane's face fades in. This
    last appearance of this "man" is especially instructive because with
    the connection between his face and Diane's face we are being told that
    this monster is yet another persona of Diane. 
    And so we realize that it is not a "man" at all. He is a she.

Where is Aunt Ruth?

  • In Diane's dream Aunt Ruth is redeemed and shots a
    film in Canada. She is letting Diane stay in her apartment.

  • In reality, as we learn from Diane at the dinner pool
    party, Aunt Ruth is dead, but left her an inheritance. Clue? There's
    black
    hat
    popping up in Aunt Ruth's bedroom, resting on the bureau in the
    scene where Rita gets undressed. Does is belong to a funeral
    outfit? Note: There is an old joke in movie business, "acting in Canada" is
    "being dead".

  • Ruth shows off in the Havenhurst apartment right at the end of the dream, after Rita vanishes.
    She is dressed the same way as she left in the beginning. Possible interpretations: 

    1. It's Aunt Ruth's
      ghost, somehow interacting with Diane's fantasy in the same way
      that Louise Bonner and Dan at Winkie's could.

    2. In
      her lucid dream state Diane tries to
      rewind the dream. It has broken down with the
      disappearance of Betty and Rita. But her mind apparently doesn't want to let go of the fantasy.
      Its almost like she's picked up the story from the
      point of aunt Ruth coming back to her apartment for something at
      the beginning of the film. The message we are being given is
      that Diane is not looking forward to going back to her real life.

    3. Diane dreams of her
      aunt coming home from Canada to find her (Betty) disappeared.
      Just as in the beginning when Ruth and
      Betty missed another at Havenhurst, it symbolizes Diane's
      yearning for her beloved Aunt that can
      never be resolved because Ruth died before Diane arrived in L.A.

    4. Ruth
      comes into the room to separate dream from reality. It substantiates
      for us that there is no blue box on the floor, or in other word that is
      was a dream, or that the dream is ending. So, her presence is sort
      inaugurating reality, even if we are still in the dream. Further, if
      this scene reflects actual reality, then, can we even consider this
      woman to be Diane's aunt? Aren't we let to believe this apartment is
      rather owned by somebody else and merely served as a canvas for Diane's
      dream? It was all… an illusion.

    5. That
      final scene is a flashback to the time Aunt Ruth was still living.
      She is hearing a ghostly disturbance of her own.

    6. The
      movie is actually placed in the 50s. Betty/Diane is Aunt Ruth in her young
      years. It's her story. Thus about when Rita opens the blue box Betty disappears. She
      rematerializes as Aunt Ruth an instant later as to indicate that her
      dream is over. »more

  • The last of David Lynch's clues asks
    "Where is Aunt Ruth?" and the last scene of the movie presents us with the Blue Haired Woman.
    Is she Aunt Ruth in her afterlife? »more


And for Alan Shaw's alternate interpretation of the ten clues, go
here.

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    • a
    • September 18th, 2007

    That's a ton of information. It made me think of a couple more things. I didn't catch the snorting sound at the beginning of the dream sequence. Then Betty telling Rita not to drink all of the coke was definitely a clue. That was such an out of place comment otherwise.Who is the blue haired lady? I looked at what is written on the sight and don't agree with most of it. I don't think the magician at club silencio is making us believe in things that don't exist – just the opposite. He's creating the illusion in order to show that it is an illusion. It's the most realistic thing in the entire movie as far as I'm concerned. It's meant to wake people up – not just the audience in the movie, but us, too. I don't now about this blue haired lady, but Ruth had red hair and there was a ton of blue and red stuff going on throughout the movie. I first noticed it at Adam's pool when he walked in on his wife and Billy Ray. There was red and blue adirondack chair that he stairs at for a second as though it's odd. He spills pink paint all over her jewelery and she's wearing a blue dress. Rita wears a red shirt and Betty wears light blue. There was a ton of stuff like that. I didn't notice the blue lamp shade that was mentioned here so don't know about the yin/yang. But Rita mentions at the beginning of the movie that Ruth had pretty red hair. (Which seemed strange to me.) I didn't notice if Ruth is the name of both Betty and Diane's aunt or just Betty's. I hadn't thought of it before reading this – but clearly there is a connection between the Ruth in the dream who has "pretty red hair" and the Blue haired lady. I may have to watch it one more time before I give it back. 🙂

  1. If you read the huge long essay on it that I linked in my last post, that guy does a really goo job of going into what the colors mean. (I haven't read the whole thing, just bits and pieces) Apparently for him red = sex = prostitution. He's pretty sure Diane was a prostitute. If you even just read the link here to his alternate version you get quite a lot. There's a whole crapload of symbolism there that is just waiting to be picked apart! I love how ambiguous this movie is! So much fun to speculate, and you know nothing wasn't done on purpose!Also, I agree about Club Silencio. That was hands down my favorite part of hte movie. And you're right, it is a *huge* awakening for us. It's all an illusion…it's all prerecorded!

  2. this is a really strange movie. my theory is that they switch bodies :/i own the korean release of this dvd which has some bonus features that's not in the US version….vu

  3. Very cool. Do the extra bonus features provide any clues? 😉

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