In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Mulholland Drive, we look at the key shots that help us understand the film.
As a primer, be sure to check out David Lynch’s ten clues about Mulholland Drive. The director provided these clues as a helpful guide since the movie’s plot was so confusing.
- Naomi Watts – Betty Elms/Diane Selwyn
- Laura Harring – Rita/Camilla Rhodes
- Justin Theroux – Adam Kesher
- Ann Miller – Coco
- Mark Pellegrino – Joe
- Robert Forster – Detective McKnight
- Brent Briscoe – Detective Domgaard
- Dan Hedaya – Vincenzo Castigliane
- Angelo Badalamenti – Luigi Castigliane
- Michael J. Anderson – Mr. Roque
- Bonnie Aarons – Bum
- Monty Montgomery – The Cowboy
- Melissa George – Camilla Rhodes
- Billy Ray Cyrus – Gene
- Patrick Fischler – Dan
Key shots of Mulholland Drive
Diane’s ghostly image over Los Angeles
This is my favorite shot of the film—it’s also the most tragic. At the end of Mulholland Drive, there’s a series of shots that follows Diane taking her own life in her bedroom. First, we see the monster behind the dumpster. Then we get the above shot. Then the woman whispers, “Silencio.”
So why is this particular shot so arresting? Because it completely encapsulates everything Lynch is saying about Hollywood. And, more specifically, it references the dance scene at the beginning of the film:
How do these images relate? We’ll get to that in a second.
As we discussed in the Themes section, Mulholland Drive is all about the Hollywood Dream sold to aspiring actors and filmmakers. But beyond that, the movie is not about buying into these larger fantasies being sold to you throughout your life. If you become too attached to these fantasies, you could lose your semblance of reality—and eventually lose yourself.
This ghostly image of Diane and Camilla is taken from Diane’s dream. In that dream, Diane imagines herself as a young actress named Betty who’s destined for greatness in Hollywood, and Camilla as a mysterious lover who has no identity. But in real life, Diane failed in Hollywood, and Camilla is dead because of Diane.
As we learn late in the film, Diane won a Jitterbug contest years earlier, which triggered her desire to become an actress—that’s why we see the dance scene at the beginning. That contest was the impetus for her flight to Hollywood. In that opening shot, we see Diane standing with her grandparents, smiling to the crowd after her win.
That’s the connection between these two shots. The translucent image at the beginning conveys joy, promise, hope—it’s the beginning of her Hollywood Dream. But the final image is the reality of that dream. Spectral, ghastly, tragic—it isn’t real, and it isn’t pretty. Los Angeles looms behind Diane, almost mocking Diane for having such dreams. Her and Camilla’s image become dark reminders of the cost of buying into the fantasy.
The red lampshade
Believe it or not, this shot helps us understand quite a bit about the movie’s labyrinthine plot. Lynch himself directs our eye to the lamp in Clue #2: “Notice the appearance of the red lampshade.”
Why? I’ll explain. In the dream portion of the movie, Mr. Rocque is looking for a “missing girl.” And at one point, he calls someone and says, “The girl is still missing.” That leads to a series of phone calls that ends with a call…to the phone we see in the above photo.
So someone within the dream world…called Diane in the real world? Diane is the missing girl? How does that make sense?
Because the dream world is a recreation of Diane’s guilt in the real world. In the real world, Diane is jealous about Camilla’s success and hires a hitman to murder her. And to escape the guilt of what she’s done, she falls asleep and imagines an entire film where she becomes a successful actress and Camilla has another chance to live. We are led to believe that Rita is the “missing girl” in the dream world, but it turns out this lamp belongs to an unknown person. Someone who is…dead.
When Betty and Rita go into this stranger’s home and find her dead body, they are shaken. But as we find out later, this dream house is Diane’s house in real life. And the dream lampshade is her real life lampshade. So it’s not that Mr. Rocque is calling Diane in the real world. It’s that Diane has replaced herself with a dead woman in the dream world. It’s a metaphor for Diane’s failed Hollywood Dreams.
Now let’s go back to that first shot. When Diane answers the phone in the real world, it isn’t Mr. Rocque, because Mr. Rocque isn’t real. It’s Camilla. And Camilla is calling to make sure Diane comes to the party. At that party, Camilla and Adam will announce they are engaged to marry. Which is what drives Diane to place a hit on Camilla’s head.
Part of the reason Lynch directs our eye to this lampshade is to help figure out the plot. But it’s also an extremely important symbol for Diane’s character: she is the missing girl. She lost sight of herself while chasing her Hollywood Dreams. And she committed a terrible sin in the name of Hollywood. In the dream world, she replaces herself with this missing girl who has killed herself because Diane wishes to kill herself. And that’s exactly what she does once she wakes up.
What are your thoughts?
Are there more shots you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for Mulholland Drive? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider adding them.