Mulholland Drive—a strange, surreal experience that often confuses viewers—may seem a bit intimidating at first glance. But the movie is much simpler to understand that it appears!
If you’d like to read a much more in-depth analysis of the commentary David Lynch is making with the film, then check out Travis’s Colossal explanation. Be sure to leave a comment about your own interpretation of the movie. Travis will respond to everyone. That way, we can start a dialogue and understand the movie even better.
But if this is your first time watching Mulholland Drive, or if you’re looking for a little rewatch guidance, then here are the major themes and motifs that will help you make sense of everything a little easier.
1. The promise of the Hollywood Dream
As the movie unfolds, we learn more and more about Betty and her sense of the world. Her struggles come to reflect a major tension: the promise of Hollywood vs. the reality of Hollywood.
Director David Lynch has stated during interviews that Mulholland Drive is very much about the “Hollywood Dream.” Many actors comes to this magical land hoping to make it big—but very few of them do. The movie looks at the bright prospects for a budding actor and the dire consequences for a failed actor.
2. The art of making movies
For years, David Lynch wrote stories about people who struggle to overcome pressures and expectations from society. But it wasn’t until his last two movies, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, that Lynch started writing about Hollywood. Thus, those characters much more explicitly came to reflect his own struggles.
With that in mind, you can see how Mulholland Drive is very much about the art of making movies. Betty and Rita become obsessed with the story of discovering Rita’s true identity, and Adam is pressured by studio heads on how to make his movie. All of this comes to reflect the pressures David Lynch himself feels in Hollywood.
Lynch cites Sunset Boulevard—a movie about a delusional woman in Hollywood who commits a murder after losing her mind—as a huge inspiration for the Mulholland Drive. In many ways, Lynch is updating that classic film’s damning commentary about the Hollywood Dream and the adverse affect it can have on aspiring actors.
2. Red & Blue
There are two colors you’ll see consistently throughout the film: red and blue. In Mulholland Drive, red is often associated with fantasy, while blue represents reality. Pay attention to the characters and situations associated with those colors. Those instances tell us the most about Betty and the trajectory of her journey.
3. Changed Identities
By the end of the movie, several characters will have swapped names, roles, and identities. Think about what the shift says about each of the characters (specifically Betty) and the movie’s main commentary on the “dream” associated with Hollywood—a place where actors regularly pretend to be people they aren’t.
4. The Homeless Woman
Early on in the movie, there’s a terrifying sequence that involves a dirty homeless woman. Notice how in her introductory scene that she is associated with nightmares. Remember when and where we see this character in the movie and how she separates dreams (aka the promise of the “Hollywood Dream”) from nightmares (aka the reality of the “Hollywood Dream”).
5. Shifts in Focus
As the movie progresses, you’ll notice that Lynch becomes more and more playful with the camera, creating an ethereal atmosphere as images move in and out of focus. Those visual shifts coincide with Betty and Rita’s search for Rita’s true identity. Think about when and where those visual shifts take place and what it says about Lynch’s overall commentary.