- X gives this film a 5 [out of 5] Scalpel Rating™ -
This film might have been called "Lost Drive", or "Mulholland Highway", because it is, in many ways, like Lynch's previous film, "Lost Highway". But, then again, nothing in Lynch's world is ever so simple, or unoriginal. Leave it to him to make a film so similar to LH, and yet so different. Once again, we see the themes of amnesia, infidelity, denial, jealousy, obsession, and escapism, but we also have an excellent expose' on the true nature of Hollywood, and, as in all of Lynch's films, the exploration of the dichotomy between Good and Evil.
This movie is actually two movies in one. Sort of.
In the beginning of this film, we see a 1950's style Jitterbug contest in progress, and the happily beaming winner of the contest, with two elderly people by her side. We then see a limo, driving down the long and winding Mulholland Drive in Hollywood, with a mysterious woman as the passenger. The driver of the limo stops, and pulls out a gun, and is about to kill this woman, but another car of hapless, joyriding teenagers crashes into the limo, and the woman escapes, stumbling off into the hills of Hollywood.
We next find a starry eyed Betty Elms, who has just rolled into Hollywood from Deep River, Ontario, after winning a jitterbug contest, with dreams of stardom tucked in her suitcase. She gets off the plane with these same elderly people who were with her at the contest, and they wish her well, and tell her to "be careful in this city". The film then shifts to a restaurant called "Winkies", where a rather distraught man is recounting a recurring nightmare that he has had, to another more composed man. In the nightmare, he is aware that something evil is lurking behind the eating establishment, and he and the other man take a walk outside to put his fears to rest. As they near the back of the building, a frightening, demonic being slides out from the alley, and the man faints. The other man doesn't seem to see the demon, and instead tries to help the fainting man regain consciousness.
The film then shifts back to Betty, as she arrives at the LA condo of her Aunt Ruth, who has gone away to make a film in Canada, and Betty happily looks forward to studying her role for an upcoming audition. The condo is under the management of a kind, yet stern woman. A Michael Jackson/Joel Gray look alike, who goes by the name of 'Coco'. [The 1940's tap dancer/actress Ann Miller, plays Coco]
While giving herself a tour of her aunt's home, Betty finds a naked and somewhat disoriented woman in the shower. She asks the woman what her name is, and, after looking at a promotional poster for the film, "Gilda", the woman says that her name is Rita [as in Hayworth, the star of the movie]. Betty assumes that this woman is a friend of her aunt, but later finds out that her aunt has no idea who this woman is, and, neither does the woman herself, as she is suffering from amnesia. Betty takes on the role of a squeaky clean Nancy Drew, and tries to help this mysterious woman piece together the puzzle of who she is, and what has happened to her. The woman has no identification on her, but instead, in her purse, several stacks of 100.00 bills, and a blue key.
Once again, there is another shift in the course of the film. We next see a shaggy haired hit man, and another man, laughing over some car accident that took place the night before. There is a black book on the desk, and the hit man says "so that is the book?" and the other man answers "yes, the history of the world
.with phone numbers". The hit man then shoots the other man, and kills him, and then, by accident, he shoots a hole in the wall, wounding a woman in another room. He knows that he has to kill her too, and also the janitor of the building, as they both have been witness to this crime. The hit man then takes the book, and climbs out the window, and down the fire escape.
Next we have another shift in the narrative. A young director, Adam Kesher, is casting for the leading woman in his latest film. He is approached by a pair of Mafia goons, who are under the control of a mysterious man, who seems to oversee the entire operation. These men tell Adam that a certain woman, Camilla Rhodes, MUST play this role. The arrogant director is shocked that these men would dare to step on his toes, and try to control his film, but, when he finds out that his credit cards have been canceled, and that he is basically penniless as a result of refusing to let this woman have the lead part, he hides out at a fleabag motel, run by a man called 'Cookie'.
After a call to his secretary, Adam agrees to meet with a mysterious man, who goes simply by the name of "The Cowboy". During their meeting, The Cowboy tells Adam that "A man's attitude determines the direction that his life will take". He also tells Adam, "You will see me one more time, if you do good. You will see me two more times, if you do bad". After thinking this over, Adam decides to give Camilla the starring role in his film, and gains back all that he had lost. The interesting part of all this, is that Betty has an audition for a bit part in another movie, the same day, which is being produced by a has-been director [played by the ever wonderful James Karen] and the script is bland and horrid. After her "amazing performance", a pair of Hollywood talent scouts tell her that she shouldn't take that minor part, but instead, meet with another, better known director, who is auditioning women for the lead in his new movie. This director, of course, is Adam, and when Betty goes to the audition, her eyes meet Adam's and she just "knows" that he wants her for this role, but, since Betty is such a nice person, who has promised to take Rita out for the day, to follow some leads to her own mysterious condition, she declines, and leaves the audition, while Adam watches in sadness and horror as she departs. In this scene, a perky and petite blonde woman, lip-synchs to Linda Scott's surreal 50's hit "I've Told Every Little Star". This woman is Camilla Rhodes, who was pre-ordained to play the leading role in Adam's film.
Betty returns to Aunt Ruth's house, and through a series of sleuthing events, straight out of a 40's pulp fiction novel, the two find out that Rita's amnesia has been caused by her involvement in a car accident, and that she only remembers two things. The name of a woman [Diane Selwyn], and a street in Hollywood, called "Mulholland Drive", and the pair proceed to find out who Diane is, in hopes of finding out who Rita is. Their detective work leads them to an apartment, where Diane Selwyn lives, and when she does not answer the door, Betty slips through an open window, and lets Rita in the front door. They are horrified to discover a nasty smell coming from the apartment, and even more frightened when they find the decomposing body of a young woman, on the bed. They rush back to Aunt Ruth's house, where Rita chops off all her hair, and wears a blonde wig, and now somewhat resembles Betty. The two fall into bed together, and are about to have sex. "Have you ever done this before?" asks Betty. "I don't know" answers Rita. Betty then tells Rita that she is in love with her, and the two make love, and fall asleep together, but Betty is awaken suddenly, when Rita begins shouting in her sleep "Silencio! No hay venda!".
She wakes up, and tells Betty that they have to go somewhere immediately. They end up at an after hours arthouse club called "Silencio", where a strange man introduces the revue with the words "no.... hay.... venda", and goes on to say, in half Spanish, half English, that there is no band, and that everything has been prerecorded, and is all an illusion. He explains that if someone believes in something enough, it becomes real, if only in their own mind. He then introduces singer Rebekah Del Rio [who is actually a real life singer/songwriter] and she comes out on stage to perform a Spanish rendition of Roy Orbison's "Crying". Betty and Rita become very emotional during the performance, and begin weeping and holding onto one another. The singer collapses on stage, and is carried off, while the piped in music and vocals keep playing. Throughout the performance, we see a mysterious blue haired aristocratic woman in the balcony, who seems to be overseeing everything.
Betty reaches into her purse, to find a strange blue box, and she and Rita rush home, in hopes of using the key in Rita's purse, to open it. When they arrive home, Betty suddenly disappears, and Rita uses the key, to open the box, and, once it is open, she drops it on the floor in surprise and horror. The scene then switches to Diane Selwyn's apartment, and we see that the woman on the bed is not dead at all, but only sleeping. The voice of The Cowboy, comes from the shadows. "Come on pretty lady.... time to wake up", he says.
Yep. It was all a dream. But don't let this fool you. There was a definite, and brilliant point behind the entire first 90 or so, minutes of this film.
When Diane awakens from her nap, we begin to see, in a series of flashbacks, and fast forwards, that Betty is actually Diane Selwyn. And this is her story.
Diane, like Betty in the dream sequence, arrives in Hollywood, from Canada, after winning a jitterbug contest, and hopes to become a "great actress". She of course, doesn't have much talent, and, after a casting call for a film, meets the "amazing" Camilla Rhodes, who is actually Rita, from the dream sequence. Camilla gets the leading role, and she and Diane become "friends/lovers", although this transpires into a love/hate relationship for Diane, who ends up surviving on the bit parts that Camilla tosses her way, and competing for the affections of Camilla, as Cam flaunts her affairs with her myriad lovers. Diane becomes obsessed with Camilla, and is convinced that she is in love with her, although there are many other factors and emotions here, and most of them have nothing to do with true love.
Camilla breaks off the relationship, and Diane becomes very distraught. She is invited to a party, which Camilla and Adam are hosting, and we see a repeat of the opening sequence, with a limo driving down Mulholland Drive, but this time, it is Diane who is the passenger. The car stops, but instead of the driver attempting to shoot her, as was the case with Rita/Camilla in the beginning of the film, he tells Diane to get out of the car. Camilla is waiting for her, and leads Diane through the woods, to Adam's house, telling her that she has a surprise for her. Poor Diane, who is looking pretty disheveled at the moment, thinks that perhaps Camilla has realized that she loves Diane, and is hoping that the surprise has to do with them getting back together. But the laws of love and nature in a Lynch film are never this kind.
During dinner, Diane is questioned by Adam's mother, Coco, [who is actually Coco, the condo manager from the dream] as to how she met Camilla, the now fiancé of Adam. Diane tells the story of how her aunt Ruth from LA died, and left her some money, and she came to Hollywood to become an actress. During a casting call, Diane and Cam meet when Cam gets the leading role which there were both competing for. She, of course leaves out the intimate details of their affair, and her mad obsession with Camilla. At dinner, Camilla sits across from Diane, and still flaunts her affairs in front of her, even kissing the perky, blonde Camilla Rhodes, from the dream sequence. Diane becomes increasingly unhinged as she realizes that Camilla and Adam are about to announce their engagement, and suddenly, we are brought forward in time, to Winkies diner, where Diane is sitting at a table, talking to the hit man who was also in the dream sequence. She hands him a picture of Camilla, and tells him that this is the woman that he must kill for her. She then hands him a purse with several thousand dollars in it, and he tells her "when the deed is done, you will find the blue key, where i said it would be". "What does the key open?" Diane asks. The hit man just laughs.
Next, we are again taken forward in time, to Diane's apartment, when she has just awoken from her dream, by a neighbor who has come to let her know that "those detectives were looking for you again." Diane seems troubled by this annunciation, and she looks on the living room table, and sees a blue key, and she knows that this means that Camilla is dead, and that she is wanted for questioning concerning the murder.
We are then taken back to the alley behind Winkies, and we see that the demon from the dream sequence is actually a homeless man, who is holding the blue box in his hands. He puts the box in a paper bag, and places it on the ground. Miniature versions of the elderly couple from the beginning of the film, emerge from the box, and find their way to Diane's apartment, slipping in under the door, and becoming larger and more scary, as they run at her. Diane screams, runs to the bed, grabs a pistol from the nightstand, and shoots herself in the head. We then see double images of Betty and Rita from happier dream sequence times, the homeless man from the alley, and lastly, the aristocratic blue haired woman from the nightclub, who speaks one, final word. "Silencio"
As i said in the beginning of this review, the film is much like Lost Highway, in that we have another jilted and obsessed person, who murders their lover, and slips into denial, and another identity, over the fact. Yet MD is much deeper, and appears to have many more symbolic elements woven into the story.
There are hints throughout the dream sequence, as to what is really going on. When Betty first arrives in LA, she looks around and says "now, here i am
. in this dream place". Another time, as she is helping Rita discover who she is, she makes a remark that "we can call the police
. It will be just like in the movies
.. we can pretend to be someone else!". Also worth noting is the fact that the restaurant we see throughout the movie, is called "Winkies", which is another word used for when someone takes a nap. Also worth mentioning, is the fact that when the seemingly crazy Louise Bonner shows up at Aunt Ruth's apartment, she asks Betty who she is, and she says "Betty", and Louise seems to get very upset, and begins shouting "No, that isn't right!".
What has clearly happened here, is that Diane is so distraught over the entire affair with Camilla, which culminates in her spending her inheritance money on having Cam assassinated, that she creates a dreamlike world, where she and Camilla can have more happier and innocent identities. A world where she feels important, needed, and has purpose. Diane becomes the promising film star, and Camilla, becomes a woman who is totally dependent on and devoted to Diane, because of her affliction with amnesia. It is much easier for Diane to accept that she did not get the lead role in the film, because
A] there was an underhanded plot, involving the Mafia, or
B] it was her choice to not get the role [in the dream, Diane leaves the audition before she gets to try out for it.]
than it was to face up to the fact that she just wasn't that great of an actress, with little hope for a career in the film industry. It is also interesting to note that she even switched the true identity of Camilla Rhodes, in the dream sequence, with another, more perky blonde playing the part of the one who gets the staring role. In her perfect world, the devoted Camilla would never beat Diane out of the part, which she so deserved. I also found it interesting that, in Diane's dream world, Rita only remembers two things about herself, and one of them is the name of Diane Selwyn. Diane clearly wished that she held much more importance to, and control over, Rita/Camilla, than she actually did.
In the book "Idols of Perversity", by Bram Dijkstra, there is a chapter called "The Cult of Invalidism", which explores how women in art and literature throughout the ages, have been represented as weak, and unable to care for themselves. One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is so that other people [who are ultimately weaker, due to their need of being in control] can "take care of " these weaker beings, with the primary goal [either blatantly or subconsciously] of controlling them, and this theory is clearly present in the relationship between Betty and Rita.
I also found the claimed "love" that Betty had for Rita, in the dream sequence to be most disturbing, and unnatural. How can one love another for who they are, when the other person doesn't even know who they are? I saw Diane as somewhat of a predator, who manipulatively tried to control, and take advantage of a situation, where there was a weaker party involved.
The fact that Rita took her name from the movie poster of "Gilda", is also interesting, as, in the latter mentioned film, Rita Hayworth is also a flirtatious woman, who is misunderstood, especially by the person who claims to love her. Another interesting fact is that both the hotel manager, and condo manager have 1950's, innocent and homey sounding names
. Coco and Cookie. During his conversation with The Cowboy, Adam is told that a person's attitude is a great factor in determining the direction that his life will take, and so, Diane takes on a new "outlook", and escapes into this dream world, where things are much brighter than the harshness of reality. In this way, she can also give herself a second chance at a relationship with Camilla.
None of the main characters in this film are truly good or evil, but rather, as was said by the friends of Izzy Maurer, in the finale of "Lulu on The Bridge", a mixture of both. An interesting thread that weaves through all of Lynch's films is the concept that good and evil are essentially a dichotomy, and once again, he uses this theory to make an outstanding movie. Who else could combine themes of depth, morality, the supernatural, and underworld Mafia figures, all in one film, and make it work so well? This film is an excellent expose' into the true nature of Hollywood, where glamour and illusion, cover the surface of a seedy interior. A place where there is throat cutting among competitive actors, homelessness, drug abuse, prostitution, murders, and ultimately, loneliness, alienation, and death. This theory of dichotomy is also present in the head Mafia man, and the blue haired woman. Each one represents the darker, and lighter sides of life, spirituality and fate, and was, in a sense, a type of Devil/God, who orchestrated, and oversaw all that happened.
There was, as always in a Lynch film, an element of the supernatural and premonition as well, as Diane foresaw her death, in the dream that she had, long before her actual death occurred. She also seemed to know some of the characters in her dream, even though she had never met before. At the end of the film, when she attends Adam and Camilla's party, Adam says "You haven't met my mother yet", and then Coco introduces herself as "Coco"
the same name that she had in the dream. This might have been supernatural, or Diane might have met Coco in passing, or perhaps she was stalking Camilla, and knew about Adam, and thus about his mother and her name.
There were also many symbolic elements in this film. First of all, we have a mysterious blue box, which, when opened, is actually a small safe, and this is very significant. When i think of a safe, i think of a place where sacred and valuable things are protected from theft or harm, but also a place where people hide things that they don't want to be accountable for, such as the payment of taxes. In a sense, this box was Pandora's Box, but instead of holding all the evil of the world, it held the truth about Diane, and what she had done, and become. Just as Lulu in 'Pandora's Box', Izzy Maurer, in "Lulu on The Bridge", and Fred Madison in "Lost Highway" had to pay for their crimes and indiscretions, so does Diane, and, when the box is opened, it lets out the horrific reality that it had contained, and it then becomes time for realization and payback. I think that the box also contained the hidden reality of Hollywood, when you strip all the glitter off of it. Diane could not handle this discovery, and she fell into a severe psychotic depression, which ultimately led to the death of Camilla, as well as her own.
I also feel that this film [especially the dream sequence], wasn't so much about Adam, and all the other characters who played a part in the dream, but rather, that each of these characters represented a part of Diane herself, and the lessons that these other characters were being shown or taught, were actually lessons that Diane needed to pay heed to, and learn. If you remember, The Cowboy told Adam that he would see him one more time, if he did good, or two more times, if he did bad, yet it was Diane who saw The Cowboy twice. The first time that she "saw" him, was when she woke up from the dream, and then again, at the dinner party of Adam and Camilla. This, i believe, was a warning to Diane, that she had stepped into dangerous territory, and out of the umbrella of protection by the powers that be, by paying the hit man to kill Camilla.
The key itself was the catalyst, which opened the box of repressed memory, letting the hidden things come to light. This memory can only returned to one, after they have come to terms with the reality they once left behind, or otherwise ignored.
The significance of Club Silencio, is in the narration of the Emcee, concerning everything being an illusion, which is only real if you believe in it. It may have also represented the ultimate emptiness of reality, the magical glamour of Hollywood, and the larger than life existence of many actors. It also was the wake up call, so to speak, just before Diane realizes who she is, and what she has done, which is why she cried and shook during the performance at the club.
The old couple represented Diane's parents, or people who looked after her, and keep her best interest in mind. They represented the past, safety, security, and also stability in relationships, which, when none of these things pan out for Diane, and the darker side of the situation is revealed, the elderly pair come back to terrorize her. If we watch the beginning of the movie well, we see that the couple seems very sweet and caring when they are leaving the airport, but once they are in their car, their faces change to freakish distortions. This perhaps was some foreshadowing, as to how they would be seen to Diane, at some point.
The nervous man, with the recurring dream, represented Diane's guilt, and fear of being found out. At the end of the film, when she is talking to the hit man at the diner, she looks over, and sees the man from her dream looking back at her with a concerned look on his face, and she looks a bit confused and frightened. It was as if, this man was warning her, not to go through with the assassination of Camilla, because Diane would ultimately have to pay the price for her vindictive and wrongful actions.
The Demon/Homeless man represented the grim reality of the grimy Hollywood that Diane came to know, after her movie star optimism got beaten out of her. Once the box is opened, Diane has no choice but to return to the real world, and face the inhuman thing that she has done.
The gratuitous lesbian sex scenes, represented how Hollywood uses women, and objectifies them, and in a way, Diane has done the same thing to Camilla, by viewing her as an empty box, that she alone can fill and possess.
The final few frames were the most significant to me, as the blue haired aristocratic woman from the club, sits in the balcony, and utters the word "Silencio". She can be interpreted a type of God or Goddess, who has seen to it that Diane has been brought to justice, but, since good and evil can be contained within one being, she also speaks as though everything is now finished. Diane's pain has ended, the fantasy/reality is over, the dues have been paid, the matter has been silenced.
Post note: This film was dedicated to Jennifer Syme [1977-2001]. Ms. Syme was an assistant to Mr. Lynch in a few of his films, as well as playing a small part as a junkie, in 'Lost Highway'. She was also the former girlfriend of actor Keanu Reeves, and was expecting a child with him in 1999. The baby was stillborn, in December of 1999. Jennifer worked as a record company executive in Los Angeles, and died on April 2, 2001, after her Jeep crashed into a row of parked cars in LA. She somewhat physically resembled the actress Laura Harring, who played Rita/Camilla Rhodes, in 'Mulholland Drive'.
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