Mulholland Drive: Explained Simply (With Character Map)

Hi, this is Barry, and welcome to my site. Mulholland Drive is a 2001 psychological thriller directed by David Lynch. The movie follows a young aspiring actress who arrives in Hollywood to audition for a film. She runs into a mysterious woman suffering from amnesia. As the two try to make sense of the woman’s origins, the audience is suddenly hit by a brick in the face with an ending that makes you sit wondering what you just saw for the entire length of the credits. The film put Naomi Watts on the path to stardom. The other leading cast members include Laura Elena Harring and Justin Theroux in critical roles. So many of you reached out to me to write up this film, thanks for waiting patiently. Here’s the detailed plot explanation and the ending of the movie Mulholland Drive explained.

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If you’re intrigued by Lynch’s films, do take a look at this video by Renegade Film Theory to get an insight about his style:

Contents

Here are links to the key aspects of the movie:

Mulholland Drive: Ending Explained In Short

The Ending of Mulholland Drive shows us that Diane is an unsuccessful actress in love with the successful Camilla. Outraged for being ditched, Diane hires a hitman to kill Camilla. The confirmation for the kill is communicated by the hitman with a blue key. Diane goes to sleep, flooded with guilt and self-hate. Her dream is the majority plot, where she takes on the character of Betty. Camilla is projected on to the sweet and innocent Rita who escapes an attempt on her life.

Additionally, the dream has shadowy people who influence Hollywood casting – giving Diane a false sense of reason why she was not picked up for significant roles she auditioned for in real life. The reality is that Camilla used her physical beauty to woo directors and producers into casting her. Unable to come to terms with having Camilla killed, Diane’s guilt causes her to shoot herself at the end of Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland Drive: Character Map

Mulholland Drive Character Map Dream Reality
(CLICK  TO  ENLARGE)

Mulholland Drive: What is really happening?

The Real Diane

Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) is a struggling actress who moved to Hollywood with the hope to become a star. Her Aunt Ruth, now dead, left her a small inheritance. Ruth also worked in the movies but was nobody famous. Diane doesn’t make it beyond side roles in a few films. Her love for a successful actor, Camilla Rhodes (Laura Elena Harring), turns out to be one-sided. Diane’s personal and professional failure causes her to take to drugs and is hurled into a state of deep depression.

The Real Camilla Rhodes

We’re told that both Diane and Camilla auditioned for a movie called “Sylvia North Story” directed by a Bob Brooker. While Diane really wanted the break, Camilla was the one to make the part. It’s insinuated in the film that Camilla slept around with the right people to get the role. Arguably, this role is what put Camilla onto the path of stardom. Diane falls in love, but Camilla only sees it as a fling; Camilla is shown to be someone who has casual relationships with both men and women. Camilla feels pity for Diane, tries to visit her, and invites her over to one of her parties. This ends up being a terrible occasion for Diane as the director, Adam, announces that he and Camilla are soon going to be married.

Meeting The Hitman: Winkie’s Diner & The Blue Key

hitman blue key winkies diner

This bit is a little speculative, but heartbroken Diane is hiring a hitman, Joe, to kill Camilla. Diane dreads Winkie’s Diner and this particular moment. Throughout Mulholland Drive, we see this diner appear multiple times, but the indicator to her fear of the place is the scene with the hobo behind the site (we’ll get to that when we talk about the dream). 

Diane pays him a hefty sum of money and also shows him a photo of Camilla. Now, Diane could just be hiring Joe to snoop on Camilla, but considering how Winkie’s Diner is central to the plot and her fears, this is much bigger than that. While events of a dream cannot be relied upon, Joe is shown to be a bumbling assassin in Diane’s dream, and it ties up with her guilt quite well.

When Diane shows him the photo, Joe says “Don’t show me this photo thing here”. But Diane says “It’s just an actress’ photo, everybody’s got one“. Joe also says, “Ok, once you hand the money over to me, it’s a done deal. Are you sure you want this?“. As you can see from these lines, Joe is going to do something irreversible, kill Camilla Rhodes.

Joe explains that he will leave a blue key when the job is done. What’s the blue key, you ask? It’s a marker; an indication that the job is done.

Mulholland Drive: The End of Diane Selwyn

crying diane

As Diane sits recollecting her brutal past, she has hallucinations of Camilla. Her ex-roommate (and possible ex-lover) comes to collect some of her remaining stuff. The woman also mentions that two detectives came looking for her. Diane sees the blue key on her centre-table, Joe’s key, which means that Camilla is dead.

I believe Joe didn’t break into her house to leave the key. They probably agreed upon a common place where it was to be left. In fact, it’s after getting the key and bringing it home, is when Diane goes off to sleep and has the elaborate dream that most of the movie Mulholland Drive is.

Unable to deal with what she has done, the fear of its consequences, and under the effects of the drugs she’s possibly on, Diane hallucinates. She imagines Irene (the old woman) and her partner enter from under the door and traumatize her. Diane runs into the bedroom in fear and grief, pulls out her gun, and shoots herself in the head.

Now, let’s talk about the dream.

Mulholland Drive Explained: The Dream, The Fantasy

What we see for the most part of the movie Mulholland Drive is a dream, a fabricated version of reality that is running inside Diane’s head. People from Diane’s real-life play various roles in this fantasy, but with altered characters. Let’s go through the dream in detail.

Betty in the Mulholland Drive dream

betty the waitress

Diane has adopted the name Betty for herself in her dream. She borrows this name from the waitress at Winkie’s she sees while ordering Camilla’s hit.

Mulholland Drive Beginning Explained: The Jitterbug Dance

We hear Diane explain (at Camilla’s party) that she once won a Jitterbug competition which led her to want to act. In the opening montage, we see fabulous dancing, but we don’t see Diane anywhere. Suddenly in full spotlight, we see Diane with an elderly couple. But she’s dressed like she’s won a beauty pageant and not a jitterbug dance competition. Neither do we see a dance partner. The crowd is cheering for her, and if you listen real close, you can hear a group scream “Betty”.

jitterbug dance competition diane betty opening scene

Right at the beginning of the movie, we are shown this event through Betty’s eyes, not Diane’s. We don’t know what Diane won or that if she cooked up the story as to why she landed up in Hollywood. Perhaps her Aunt Ruth won the competition in her time, and Diane adopted it as her own past. This dream version of the event shows Betty happy and sharing the moment with her two relatives(?).

Irene and the Old Man: Who are they?

irene old man partner

We don’t know. Irene could have been Diane’s grandmother, and the man her grandfather [and partner], or it could have been an aunt and her partner. We can speculate that in real life, this couple was not really that close to Diane. Why not? Well, the couple seems to always be there through the dreams and hallucinations, and they have an eerie, artificial feel. Diane is trying to project them positively in her dreams, but even so, they go off character; especially when they go away grinning endlessly in the limo. Let’s not forget that they return in the form of a tormenting hallucination in real-life, which causes Diane to kill herself.

The Limo, The Accident

We’re introduced to Laura Elena Harring’s character being taken in a Limo. This is a replica of the scene when Diane was being driven to Camilla’s party in real life. This road is Mulholland Drive.

The car halts and the guy in front pulls a gun, but an accident interrupts this moment. This is an hint to the hit Diane has arranged on Camila’s life but wishes that it was divinely interrupted.

limo attempt accident amnesia

Losing her memory from the crash, Laura Elena Harring’s character wanders down the side path and hides. This is the same path Diane was once led by Camilla to her party. She stumbles upon Auth Ruth’s house and sneaks in as Ruth leaves. In this dream, Ruth is Betty’s aunt and is going away to Canada for a film shooting. In reality, Ruth died a long while ago.

Mullholland Drive: Who is the Monster? Who are those two guys at the diner?

monster hobo mulholland dr

Here’s what the scared man, Dan, says:

Why this Winkie’s? I had a dream about this place. And I’m scared like I can’t tell ya. Of all people, you’re standing right over there by that counter. Then I realize what it is. There’s a man in the back of this place. He’s the one who’s doing it. I hope that I never see that face ever outside of the dream.

The monster is a hobo who is a representation of the ugly side of Diane. A facet that scares her. This scene is a dream sequence taking Diane back to the moment she paid for Camilla’s death. It’s her ugliest side.

Who is Dan?

dan

He was just a guy standing at the counter on the day Diane paid Joe. He has been incorporated into Diane’s dream and depicts her own fear and guilt. When Dan goes out, he sees the hobo and dies of heart failure. This is a premonition of the fact that Diane’s fear and guilt will cost her her life.

Who is Mr Roque and the Italian Men in Mulholland Drive?

mr roque mulholland drive

Mr Roque is a shadowy figure created by Diane’s psyche to put a logical explanation for all the Hollywood casting decisions. Diane is pivoting on Roque and his mysterious thugs to satisfy her subconscious that though she was perfect for the part of “Sylvia North Story”, an unknown organization forced Camilla’s choice over her.

In reality, the Italian mafia person is just a person in Camilla’s dinner party leching at Diane.

Betty is Diane, but a better version

We’re shown Naomi Watts arriving as Betty in Hollywood with Irene and the old man. Irene wishes Betty well and leaves with the old man, both grinning unnaturally. Betty’s bags are promptly picked up by a taxi driver, and she heads to her aunt’s place. Aunt Ruth has allowed Betty to stay at her home and prepare for her audition. Betty is full of cheer, positivity, and hopes to make it big in Hollywood. This is how Diane felt when she first came to work in movies in real life.

coco the housing manager

Who is Coco In the Mulholland Drive dream?

Coco retains her name in the dream but is the manager of the housing complex. She is very friendly and appears similar to Coco from real life. Betty picks up her keys and enters her aunt’s lovely home. In real life, Diane inherited a small house and was nothing this fabulous. Inside the house, Betty runs into Rita.

Rita and the Blue Key in the Mulholland Drive dream

rita blue key triangular

Laura Elena Harring’s character adopts the name Rita from the movie poster of Gilda. Rita is not a famous movie star but is a sweet and innocent rendition of Camilla in Diane’s dream. She has no memories of her name or who she is. Betty assumes that Rita must be Aunt Ruth’s friend. Rita sleeps hoping she would recollect her memories. Betty has a word with her aunt and realizes that Rita is a trespasser. Diane’s love for Camilla in the real world reflects in the dream too as Betty avoids the cops and tries her best to help Rita. They go through Rita’s bag and find a lot of cash and a blue key. This key is analogous to Joe’s. In the dream, it eventually unlocks the truth that this is all an illusion.

Adam in the Mulholland Drive dream

adam looking at betty

Diane has projected Adam is a passionate film director who picks his cast based on their core capabilities and the role’s fitment. However, in this dream, he’s being arm twisted by Mr Roque’s men to pick a girl called Camilla Rhodes for the part of his film, “Sylvia North Story”. A couple of points here.

  • This movie, in real life, was not directed by Adam.
  • Camilla Rhodes is a different person played by Melissa George (of the Triangle fame). She’s the one who kisses Camilla at the party in real life.

When Adam refuses, everyone on his set is fired, and his movie is shut down. Diana has also imagined Adam’s personal life to be a wreck with his wife sleeping with a service guy. Adam packs up and hides at a small run-down hotel, and his credit cards are cancelled. Eventually, Adam is asked to meet “The Cowboy”. 

Who is The Cowboy in the Mulholland Drive dream?

cowboy in mulholland drive

The Cowboy is yet another mysterious character who works from the shadows; he’s Mr Roque’s muscle. When Adam meets him, The Cowboy reiterates that Adam must pick Camilla Rhodes for the part. Adam finally succumbs and agrees because of the enormous pressure. 

Later at the auditions, Adam is dazzled by Betty, but his hands are tied, and he declares Camilla Rhodes (the blonde) as the girl for the part in his movie. This is Diane’s mind telling her that there must have been something this enormous for her to lose the role in the film to the Camilla in real life.

The Cowboy also says: 

Now, you will see me one more time if you do good. You will see me two more times if you do bad.

This is actually a message for Diane. In the real world, this Cowboy is just a random guy at Camilla’s party. That’s the first time she sees him. The second time Diane sees The Cowboy is when he meets Adam in her dream when he states the above sentence. The third and final time The Cowboy shows up is at the end of the dream, where he asks Diane to wake up.

Diane has “done bad”, so from her perspective, she sees The Cowboy two more times in the dream after the instance she saw him at the party.

Betty’s Audition

betty audition

Before running into Adam, Betty arrives at her auditions. It’s a group of amiable people except for one, Bob Brooker. Note: Bob Brooker is the actual director of “Sylvia North Story” in real life. He was the one who picked Camilla over Diane. In this dream version of the audition, Betty has no competition. She blows away everyone in the room except Bob, who is considered an idiot by everyone else anyway.

This scene might also indicate that Diane was sexually abused by an elderly man when she was young. 

My parents are right upstairs. If you’re trying to blackmail me, it’s not going to work. So get out of here before I kill you. I hate you, I hate us both.

It appears that Diane has suppressed memories of some involvement with an old man (in her younger years) and hates herself for not stopping him.

The funny bumbling Hitman scene, what does it mean?

bumbling hitman mulholland dr

We see a hilarious scene where Joe kills a guy to steal a famous black book. While placing the gun on the dead guy’s hand, he fires it accidentally, and the stray bullet hits a woman in the neighbouring room. Joe proceeds to try and wrestle her, but the feat is not an easy one. Just as he drags her to the kill room, a janitor happens to see this. Joe kills the woman and the janitor … and the vacuum cleaner… which then triggers the fire alarm. Sheepishly clumsy Joe escapes through the window with the book.

Now, I’m sure we all had a good laugh during this scene. But three people died and yet we laughed. The concept of murder is transformed into a light, funny moment in this scene. Diane’s brain is trying to lighten the fact that she has called for the murder of Camilla. It’s a desperate attempt to throw out her guilt. What if Joe was a bumbling fool? What if he was unable to kill Camilla? What if leaving the blue key was a way to fool Diane into thinking her job was done? These are Diane’s subconscious hopes, but unfortunately, in reality, Diane succeeded in having Camilla killed.

In the dream, We later see Joe hunting around for a brunette. This scene is part of Diane’s sub-consciousness too, where her hitman is unable to find Camilla.

Betty and Rita play Investigators

We’ll pretend to be someone else.

Betty says what she’s already doing in the dream. They hide the money from Rita’s bag and head out. Betty uses the phone outside Winkie’s to call the police department and confirm Rita’s recollection of her Mulholland Drive accident. As they stop to eat, Betty and Rita notice the waitress’ name – Diane. Note: The waitress’ real name is Betty. Diane has switched names with her in this dream.

diane the waitress

The name Diane Selwyn rings a bell for Rita, and the duo looks up the directory and calls all the Diane Selwyns listed. They narrow down the search and head to Diane Selwyn’s address.

Diane Selwyn in the Mulholland Drive dream

diane on the bed

Betty and Rita meet a woman (the ex-housemate) who directs them to Diane’s current residence. The duo enters the locked house through a side window and to their horror, they find a dead body in her bed with the face busted open.

This is Diane, the real Diane. She has been contemplating suicide and is foreseeing her own death.

In this scene, you’ll notice Diane is lying in a bed with red sheets, similar to the one we see before the dream begins. She’s also in the same posture and dress that we see Diane wake up in. Even this house is the real Diane’s home.

Who is Louise?

Louise mulholland drive

While she’s a neighbour in the housing complex, she is also the thread trying to connect Betty to the real world. She says, “Someone is in trouble. Something bad is happening!“, which references Camilla’s assassination in real life. When Betty says “My name’s Betty“, Louise says, “No it’s not“; a stark reminder that Diane has only adopted the name, Betty. Diane’s subconscious flushes out Louise as Coco comes and escorts her away.

Mulholland Drive’s “Silencio” Scene Explained

magician singer silencio rita betty box blue key

Fearing for her life, Betty changes Rita’s look (strangely enough to match her own). Betty makes love to Rita that night and proclaims her love to Rita. Even in the dream, Rita doesn’t reciprocate her love for Betty. Later that night Rita mumbles “Silencio” in her sleep. The two women head to a club by that name. They see a magician perform and demonstrates how everything is an illusion. Betty has a convulsion, her false reality is crumbling.

The next performer is a brilliant singer who brings tears to Betty’s and Rita’s eyes only to reveal that she was never singing. Again reinforcing the point that this is all a dream.

Betty then discovers a box in her bag with a triangular keyhole, matching Rita’s key. Back at home, the dream begins to fall apart as Rita fetches the triangular blue key. Betty is the first to disappear. When Rita opens the box, she disappears too. We see Aunt Ruth appear in the dream who heard the box that fell to the ground. The room is clear, it looks unlived in. The dream is over. The Cowboy shows up one last time and says “Hey, pretty little girl, time to wake up“.

Diane wakes up in the exact same posture we see dead-Diane lying in the dream. Later in the day, her memories, inability to deal with reality and hallucinations cause Diane to end her life by shooting herself in the head. And the film comes to a close as we are taken back to Club Silencio one last time as a blue-haired woman recites “Silencio, silencio, silencio” .

That brings us to the conclusion of this article. What are your theories? (I know there is room for so many!). Do drop in your thoughts in the comments below, let’s discuss.

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