California Dreaming: Is ‘MULHOLLAND DRIVE’ Actually a ‘TWIN PEAKS’ Film?
It has always seemed to me like TWIN PEAKS was a turning point in the career of David Lynch, a point at which he developed the themes and ideas that would ripple through the rest of his work. TWIN PEAKS feels like LOST HIGHWAY feels like MULHOLLAND DRIVE feels like INLAND EMPIRE in ways his other work doesn’t share. There are currents of duality, dream states, dubious identities, the symbiotic relationship between sex and violence, and betrayal in each of these films, but two in particular, I’ve come to believe, share more than thematic similarities. Brace yourselves: I think TWIN PEAKS, FIRE WALK WITH ME, and MULHOLLAND DRIVE all exist in the same universe, because I think MULHOLLAND DRIVE, like those other works, is ultimately about The Black Lodge.
Okay, before I get into this, it isn’t a theory for the casual fan, you have to have at least a cursory knowledge of the plots to TWIN PEAKS the series, its movie prequel FIRE WALK WITH ME, and MULHOLLAND DRIVE. Furthermore, you need to accept that MULHOLLAND DRIVE has two parts: the dream part had by Diane Selwyn (Naomi Watts) in which she is Betty and her lover Camilla Rhodes (Laura Harring) is amnesiac Rita that constitutes the first 2/3rds of the film, and then the final third of the film in which Diane is returned to her actual reality, which is pretty much the opposite of her dream. If you know all that, then we’re cool to proceed.
Here are the bulletpoints to my theory:
- Diane Selwyn, like Laura Palmer, is an intended victim of The Black Lodge
- Joe, the hitman she hires in the final third of the film, is either possessed by or is a more human manifestation of the Hobo behind Winkie’s Diner.
- Said Hobo is a lesser spirit of The Black Lodge who aids in acquiring victims for possessing spirits, much the way Mrs. Tremond and her grandson aided BOB’s attempts at Laura.
- Diane’s possessing spirits are the Elderly Couple.
- The blue key is Diane’s Owl Cave ring, the totem that binds her to the possessing spirit.
- Camilla is the catalyst to Diane’s readiness for possession.
- Club Silencio is the L.A. version of The Black Lodge’s waiting room.
- Got all that? By understanding these points and taking an in-depth look at the film’s final sequence in particular, I think that you are going to finish this essay and believe what I do: MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a TWIN PEAKS story.
Here we go.
It all starts with Diane/Betty, because both are the same: Betty is a combination of who Diane was when she came to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of acting, who she thought she could be, and who she really is at present. When we finally meet the real Diane, we see this combination in her appearance, body language, and attitude: she isn’t just jaded, she’s bitter, she hasn’t been disillusioned by Hollywood, she’s been broken. She can’t get any good parts, her lover is falling for another, of the opposite sex, no less, replacing her in a way she can’t counter, and everything she wanted from life is getting further out of her reach every day, while the sickly simple reality of her meager existence becomes clearer. She’s not the special person she dreamed of being. She has gone from being a bright-eyed, naïve young woman upon arrival – the woman we see at the start of her dream – to the opposite, dour, desperate, and all-too aware of the harsh realities of her chosen profession and its environment. This sense of duality marks her as similar to Laura Palmer, who was simultaneously a charitable homecoming queen and a drug-abusing sex pot. Also like Laura, and for that matter like Teresa Banks and Annie Blackburn, Diane is young, pretty, and blond. It is the corruption of Diane’s pure soul by failure and heartbreak that make her a viable target for The Black Lodge, I think, which taps into people’s greatest fears to claim their souls. By the structure of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, it can be interpreted that Diane’s dream happens after a fight with Camilla that resulted in the latter woman leaving in a way that threatened the relationship. After Diane wakes, we see them reconcile slightly, only to soon after see Camilla’s advancing relationship with the director of the film they’re both working on (Justin Theroux), Camilla as a lead and Diane in a much smaller and less significant role. When this relationship between Camilla and the director culminates in an engagement announcement, cruelly done in front of Diane, it pushes Diane to the breaking point, priming her soul for seizure by the spirits of The Black Lodge.
This tipping point manifests itself in the scene at Winkie’s Diner in which Diane is hiring Joe to kill Camilla. As the Devil would when offering a deal, Joe makes sure she knows exactly what she’s doing in setting this up, warning her that once she agrees, it can’t be undone. This is a binding agreement, in other words. Joe then produces a blue key, and tells her when the deed has been done, she will find it. She asks what it opens. Joe laughs, but says nothing. This key serves the same purpose as the Owl Cave ring in FIRE WALK WITH ME, it is the totem that binds or weds a soul to a possessing spirit of The Black Lodge, but only if accepted willingly. The key, as we already know at this point of the film, will open a corresponding blue box. What we don’t yet know but are about to learn is what the box holds. But the fact that the key is given to Diane by Joe makes him, as mentioned, either possessed by the Hobo behind the diner, or the Hobo himself just differently manifested. Either way, by hiring a hitman, Diane is giving into her fears of rejection and loneliness, she is allowing these fears to guide her, and once the action these fears have set in motion is accomplished, once her soul has forever crossed that line, she will be ready to be taken by The Black Lodge. All that will be left to do is for her to willingly part the curtain.
For the rest of my argument, one simply needs to take a close look at the final sequence of the film, which begins just after the above scene in Winkie’s. We start with another slow approach to the rear of the diner, where earlier in the film the crusty Hobo was revealed. It’s nighttime now, in contrast to the previous scene between Diane and Joe, in which it was daylight. The Hobo is there again, this time holding the blue box. It is placed in a paper bag and set on the ground. Seconds later, a miniaturized elderly couple runs out of the bag, presumably out of the box. These are the possessing spirits of The Black Lodge, the same elderly couple we met at the beginning of Diane’s dream. You’ll recall from both TWIN PEAKS and FIRE WALK WITH ME that one of the first ways The Black Lodge tries to stake a claim on souls is by coming to them in weakened states of consciousness like dreams or delusions. In Diane’s dream, the couple sees her off on her way towards the warping of reality and fiction that will eventually cause her fragile psyche to shatter, thus making her ripe for their consumption.
The next thing we see is the blue key in Diane’s apartment. So the deed has been done. Camilla, Diane’s lover, and her rival, is dead. And Diane has accepted this, she has taken the key as it were, and thus unknowingly, she has invited the spirits of The Black Lodge to come for her soul. It’s important to note we don’t see her discover the key, we come into the scene with her having already found it, sitting on the couch staring at it. The discovery and subsequent acceptance of the key – MULHOLLAND’s version of putting on the Owl Cave ring – happened, like Camilla’s murder, in the interim between the scenes in and
behind Winkie’s Diner. Diane’s fate is all but sealed, the only thing left is the possessing.
Diane in this moment is the worst we’ve seen her yet, she’s expressionless, emotionless, trembling and pale, a shell of a person with no love anywhere in her life, no prospect of love or happiness or contentedness or even basic goodness ever again, only fear and hate lie ahead of her. At this point it’s hard to tell if Diane knows what’s happening, but the way she stares at the key indicates she knows it is something to fear, something that could unlock something even more horrible than the life her fears have carved out for her. There’s a knock at her door. The tiny elderly couple are seen to crawl under it. The knocking continues but Diane pays it no mind. The light in the room starts to strobe blue – just like it did in Laura’s bedroom when BOB would come to her in FIRE WALK WITH ME, or in the train car when she was murdered, or when Coop was in the waiting room in his dream and in the final episode of season two – which is a clear sign that The Black Lodge and its denizens have taken over this reality. Screaming starts, and suddenly Diane is on the run from the spirits, full-sized now and aggressively pursing her with extreme and ravenous prejudice. They are giddy this close to possession, to consumption of the “garmonbozia” that constitutes her soul.
Blue light. Screaming. Blue light. Screaming. All so horribly and frighteningly familiar. Diane is cornered by the spirits in her bedroom. Their moment is at hand. But at the last second, the very last second, Diane makes one final decision, and though violent, I believe it saves her soul from eternity in The Black Lodge: she shoots herself. The spirits vanish into smoke that fills the room and the blue light slows its strobe to a twitching glow. The Hobo is seen again, then Diane as Betty – her ideal version of herself – the details of her face washed out by a blinding white light, just like the one Laura was washed in at the end of FIRE WALK WITH ME, which I think means her soul was claimed by The White Lodge instead of The Black, as was Laura’s when she rejected her possession by willing her own death; suicide by another, you could say. There in the white light of The White Lodge we see Diane/Betty reunited with Camilla as Rita – Diane’s ideal version of her lover, with no memory of any other affection. It makes sense Camilla would be there too because if she was killed by Joe and Joe is a possession or some other manifestation of the Hobo, an agent of The Black Lodge, then The White Lodge would have a claim on her soul as she wasn’t killed for possession, but to aid in the possession of another. Camilla/Rita is just a collateral victim, like Ronette Pulaski was intended to be.
All of the above is punctuated, I believe, by the very last scene of the film in which we are returned to Club Silencio – where a thick red curtain hangs as a backdrop, the emcee wears a red suit similar to the Man From Another Place’s, and there is always music in the air, even when no one is singing.
Any of that sound familiar?
That’s because Club Silencio is the waiting room of The Black Lodge in Los Angeles. If you recall, it’s Rita and Betty who visit the club, which means it happens in the dream. The first time Laura and Coop both see their waiting room is also in a dream (in FIRE WALK WITH ME and TWIN PEAKS, respectively). And what happens this last time in the club? We see the singer, but there’s no music, no song, and all she says is, “Silencio.” The silence is because there’s also no fresh soul to torture, the jig is up, the game is over.
The waiting room is silent because it is empty.
What I’ve given you above is speculation, informed speculation to be sure, obsessively so, but it’s not like I have actual evidence to give my theory a little support or any–
Oh. Wait. Yeah I do. Check this out:
That is Ronette Pulaski (Phoebe Augustine) and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) sitting in Club Silencio in the dream when Rita and Betty visit. I mean, why even put them there, what’s the point if not to make an allusion to TWIN PEAKS? And not just any allusion, it’s not Big Ed and Norma sitting there, it’s BOB’s victims. And yes, I know Ronette Pulaski wasn’t killed by BOB, but her soul was certainly scarred by him and The Black Lodge, and we don’t know what happened to her after season two, which would have been a decade before this. Trauma like what Ronette went through could lead to mental issues that could lead to suicide or accidental death, and it isn’t improbable to think The Black Lodge has some claim on her given her experiences with it and its agents. And in case you think this isn’t real and that’s not really them, think again. Phoebe Augustine, who played Ronette, is listed in the credits on IMDB (but not in the film) as “Woman in Club Silencio.” Sheryl Lee is not listed either place, but I wouldn’t list her either if I was Lynch and trying to keep this connection on the down low: her name is synonymous with TWIN PEAKS.
Further, in an interview with The AV Club a few years ago, actress Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne) said that MULHOLLAND was originally conceived at the time of TWIN PEAKS as a spinoff for her character that never came to be: “The Audrey spin-off that would’ve come about, it really ended up being the original idea for Mulholland Drive,” Fenn said. “That was either in between the first and second season or after the second season, but they were like, ‘What if we did a movie, and it’s Audrey in California?’ And they talked about an opening scene of her driving along Mulholland Drive, and how she’s a little bit older. Whatever it was going to be, it never ended up happening for me. But I was young, and I thought it sounded weird, because no one ever really did that. I was, like, ‘Okay, but do people do that? Go from TV to a movie as the same character?’ Then all those years later, David made the other one, and I didn’t have anything to do with it.”
I mean – so even if everything I laid out above is utter and total bullshit, at the very, very least we know that MULHOLLAND DRIVE in its original concept was linked to the series. Could the idea have gone that you can take the girl away from TWIN PEAKS but not TWIN PEAKS from the girl? You gotta admit, Rita/Camilla is a dead ringer for older Audrey, and the girlish naiveté of Betty is also similar to Audrey’s disposition. As a writer, I can see how you’d get from one idea to the separate other. Add to that the inclusion of Laura and Ronette – if MULHOLLAND DRIVE isn’t a TWIN PEAKS story, I’ll eat my copy of THE SECRET DIARY OF LAURA PALMER with a cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie.
So if true, what does this mean for the third season of TWIN PEAKS? Well, keep in mind Naomi Watts, Sheryl Lee, and Phoebe Augustine are all in the cast, as is Robert Forster, who has a small role as a detective in MULHOLLAND DRIVE. The roles of Watts and Forster are yet unknown by name, but we do know Forster is playing a cop. We also know – and this is really tantalizing – that there was some filming for season three done in an exclusive Parisian club conceived and co-owned by David Lynch. Know what that club is called? Do I even have to tell you? It’s called Silencio.
And then there’s this thing I’ve kind of been ignoring until now. Diane. As in, like “Diane, I’m holding in my hand a small box of chocolate bunnies.” What if, just what if Diane Selwyn before she moved to L.A. to follow her dreams took a more practical route of employment and worked as a secretary for the FBI? And what if following the disappearance or whatever happened to her trusted, beloved boss, Special Agent Dale Cooper, Diane just couldn’t work for the Bureau anymore so took off west to start a new life for herself? It’s a stretch, I already admitted that, but it would certainly explain in part why Diane was targeted by The Black Lodge – she would know almost everything Coop did about it via his reports.
In the end, there’s no absolute interpretation of MULHOLLAND DRIVE, the film was never intended to be just one thing, that’s pretty much the point of it. And I know that Mr. Lynch isn’t fond of fan interpretations of his films, but if that’s the case, he shouldn’t make his films so damn obtusely-fascinating. This is mostly just an exercise in extrapolation, a hypothesis that got stuck in my mind and just wouldn’t go away until I did something about it. But you have to admit, my theory isn’t impossible. Nothing is when we’re talking about the art of David Lynch.
Image from Cult Faction