Mulholland Drive

Mulholland Drive stillRated R
Running Time: 158 minutes
Directed by David Lynch
Screenplay by Joyce Eliason and David Lynch


David Lynch’s films are often elusive and defy the Hollywood norm. To slap a high concept on this film would be difficult. The best I can do is to compare Lynch to Lynch. This is something like “Blue Velvet” meets “Lost Highway” with a dash of “Twin Peaks” thrown in for good measure. Originally meant to be a pilot for a new television series, “Mulholland Drive” was a little too dark for television producers’ tastes, and Lynch decided to turn the project into a feature film.

Basically, it’s a love story (lesbian) with some of the conventions of Film Noir and a fractured narrative that could have alternative interpretations.

Lynch is so surreal. I can just see TV execs puzzling over the material: “It’s kinda like Ellen meets Hellraiser but in a good way…okay, okay, let me explain…there’s this nice blonde lesbian girl and a magic blue box…”

Lynch fans, like myself, will love to see the master at work. However, analyzing this story is like trying to analyze a dream. Those who are strict adherents to Syd Field’s story structure will probably chew their arms off in a fit of anxiety over Lynch’s unorthodox use of time and character. But film should challenge and frustrate us once in a while…


The story opens with a car pulling over on Mulholland Drive, where Rita (a beautiful brunette played by Laura Elena Harring) is about to be executed at gunpoint by two mysterious men. At the last second, however, a couple of cars full of wild teenagers zip around the corner and luckily for Rita, one crashes into them. Everybody in the accident is killed, but Rita survives, apparently unscathed.

In shock, Rita escapes the twisted metal and wanders away from the accident, down the hillside, and into the Valley.

Rita sneaks in and takes refuge in what she believes is an empty Hollywood apartment. There, she slowly discovers she has amnesia.

Then Betty (played by Naomi Watts) enters the apartment. Betty is a young ingénue actress who literally just got off the plane and is house-sitting the apartment for her aunt. As Betty settles into the apartment, she happens upon Rita taking a shower.

At first Betty believes Rita is a friend of her aunt’s, but then Rita (whose real name isn’t Rita, but has taken her name from a Rita Heyworth poster) tells her about the crash and her amnesia. Betty is warned by her aunt on the phone and the apartment’s landlady to throw Rita to the curb or call the police, but Betty ignores them. Rita is the prototypical femme fatale. Not only is the stranger beautiful, but her state of helplessness impells Betty to put on her best Nancy Drew face and help her.

In Rita’s purse is about ten grand and a mysterious blue key. Also, Rita remembers a name ? Diane Selwyn. Thinking Diane might be Rita’s true identity, the two women hide the money and investigate Diane’s apartment There, they find a woman’s corpse.

This ends the lucid narrative of what was probably filmed for the television pilot episode.
Then, Betty and Rita fall in love, accompanied by a sex scene that would most definitely not have made it past the TV censors, but which is acted with a realism and tenderness that’s rare in most films today.

From this point on things get crazy, and, as in “Lost Highway,” there is a sudden switch in characters. If you have not seen the film, then read no further. Here is my interpretation of the ending:

The first half of the film was a light hearted dream of Betty’s that reflected her life and relationships through rose-tinted glasses, but the second half is a nightmare and shows more of the reality that her life truly is.

Betty is actually Diane Selwyn, the dead girl from the end of the pilot episode. Diane came to Hollywood with big dreams of being a movie star. She and Rita were both actresses. They fell in love. But Rita’s career took off and Diane’s foundered.

Rita broke up with Diane to be with a hotshot male director. In a rage, Diane hired a hitman to kill Rita on Mulholland Drive, but it didn’t happen. In despair, Diane shoots herself, at home, alone in her apartment.