mulholland drive

Like Lynch's earlier film, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive involves characters who have two identities, identities who have two characters, and a host of elements that break the narrative's continuity. The two basic narratives (Betty's and Adam's) intersect in multiple ways that demand a reconstruction of time sequence. Bolagramming shows how the two narratives are in fact the lines of "reality" and "the Real," fantastically excluded as the surplus of the scheme to produce a retro-Hollywood film starring the protegé of the corrupt Castigliane brothers, "Camilla Rhodes." More than any other Lynch film, Mulholland Drive requires the concept of "suture," the stitching together of an exterior and interior at a point located precisely in the middle of the authoritarian Other.

the cast

The cast list alone tells a lot about Lynch's poetic thinking.

Betty (Naomi Watts)
Dianne Selwyn (Naomi Watts)
Rita (Laura Elena Harring)
Camilla Rhodes (Melissa George / Laura Elena Harring)
Irene, also Adam's mother (Jeanne Bates)
Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux)
Waitress at Winkies (Melissa Crider)
Cowboy (Lafayette, 'Monty', Montgomery)
Woman in #12 (Johanna Stine)
Luigi Castigliane (Angelo Badalamenti)
Vincenzo Castiglianne (Dan Hedaya)
Club Silencio lip-synch performer (Rebekah del Rio)

the accident

The film's narrative opens with a limousine driving down Mulholland Drive at night, with a driver and assistant in the front seat and a brunette wearing evening clothes (Laura Elena Harring) in the back. The car makes an unscheduled stop, the driver turns around with a gun asking the passenger to get out of the car, but before the assassination can take place, a speeding car plows into the limo, killing the driver and assistant. The passenger staggers down the hillside and finds refuge in the vacated apartment of "Aunt Ruth," whose niece controls the "fantasy narrative," beginning with her arrival in Los Angeles, an ingenue seeking stardom.

Key details occur before the accident scene: collaged images of couples jitterbugging and a bed with red sheets, accompanied by the sighs of a woman. The street sign, "Mulholland Drive" takes us to the first narrative sequence.

Adam Kesher is a director of an upcoming retro film presently auditioning for the lead female role. In a meeting with the evidently corrupt Castiglione brothers (the name is spelled with two n's in the one of the credits), he is given an ultimatum to cast "Camilla Rhodes," a blond whose photo we see. Refusing, Kesher bashes the Castiglione brother's limo and drives to his modern house perched above Mulholland Drive. There he discovers his wife in bed with the pool serviceman, covers her jewelry with house paint, and is beaten up by the burly serviceman. Later Adam finds out he has been frozen out of the production and, after a conversation with the enigmatic "cowboy" at a corral at night, gives in to the demands to hire the blond Camilla during the auditions the next day.

Adam is the barred subject on account of his initial refusal and subsequent acquiescence. This narrative, however, generates a fantasy that is not Adam's but one generated by the phallic Betty, who appears at the LA airport in the company of an old couple who give her an informal welcome to the town and drive off in their own limousine, laughing. Betty's fantasy begins when she finds Gilda, a mysterious brunette in the shower of her aunt's apartment. The woman tells her of the accident and says that she cannot remember her real name. Together they pursue the question of identity, ending in the discovery of a corpse in the apartment of "Diane Selwyn," lying on a bed with red sheets.

During a late-night visit to the Club Silencio, Betty and Gilda listen to a Latina lip-sync a song and collapse. Betty discovers a blue box that seems to be made of the same material as a blue key found in Rita's purse earlier. They rush back to the apartment. Betty disappears mysteriously, and Rita opens the box and disappears, along with the entire narrative scenery. Betty now appears in the guise of Diane Selwyn, in a scene in her apartment. Rita appears, but not in clear temporal sequence and under her real name of "Camilla Rhodes." Diane and Camilla are lovers, but Camilla breaks off the relationship. Diane is invited to an engagement party at Adam's house and driven to the same spot on Mulholland Drive, which now is revealed as a short-cut to Adam's house. Adam has by this time divorced his unfaithful wife and cast Camilla in the lead role. The original blond version of Camilla appears at the party as, we think, one of Camilla's new lovers. Betty, driven mad by jealousy, hires a hit man whom we have seen earlier.

Some scenes work as explicit sutures. Behind a "Twinkie's" fast-food restaurant is a wall concealing a dark-faced bum who, in one scene, fulfills a nightmare of a "patient" who returns with his doctor to the scene of his dream. The patient dies of fright seeing the bum spring out from behind the wall. Later, we encounter the bum in possession of the blue box, out of which run miniaturized versions of the couple who accompanied Betty at the LA airport.

Also, objects serve as suture devices. The hired killer tells Diane that he will send a blue key to her when he has succeeded in murdering Camilla. This key is on the coffee table in Diane's apartment when we find her alone, just before her suicide. The triangular blue key that opens the blue box is in Rita's purse at the beginning of Betty's narrative, and is the object that closes the narrative. Lamps, phones, and Diane's bed also work as suture devices.


The key is given by the very bolagram-like topography of the setting. Mulholland drive is the place of the "network of symbolic relations" that establish the "reality" of the film. The fleet vehicle for this authoritarian system is the limousine, and all manipulative characters are connected with limousines. Above Mulholland Drive is Adam's modernist glass house, the scene of his confrontation of his adulterous wife and, later, his engagement party. The zone below contains Aunt Ruth's apartment, Club Silencio, and Diane's apartment, but the real zone are the purses and boxes that contain the "poché space" that provides the suture between Diane's fantasy (the "Real") and the reality of the director's dilemma and Diane's failed love affair with Camilla.


Adam's dilemma can be shown by a bolagram relationship between the barred subject (forced by the Castiglione brothers to accept their actress protegée) and his escape. Note that each retreat leads to another forced escape, bringing Adam back into the realm of symbolic relationships as he acquiesces to the Castiglione brothers' demand and even falls in love with Camilla Rhodes, albeit the brunette not the blond version.




In the story we are first led to believe, Rita, the amnesiac accident victim of an attempted assassination, finds Betty, a "phallic girl" who helps her seek her true identity. This structure uses the anamorphy of character, role, and appearance to establish a mystery-within-a-mystery. The blue key and box are the suture to reconnect this fantasy with the director's reality.

the central psychosis

Diane/Betty is the Jekyll-Hyde formation that sets the whole film in motion and plants the principal discontinuities that provide for our interest and curiosity. The jitterbug dance is the key anamorphic element. It's even filmed as such, with ghostly images of the elderly couple and a blond Camilla (wearing a wig) in the "foreground" with Betty. If we take the standard reading, Betty's narrative is a dream-fantasy at or just before Diane's suicide. Her depression collapses parts of the narrative and also is linked, through the cowboy, to the director's story.

crime scenes:
simonides sorites train joke memory theater muholland drive
schemas: enthymeme time space chiasmus aposiopesis anacoluthon

© 2012, Donald Kunze, all rights reserved