Two miniature people crawl under the door, laughing psychotically. A woman, terrified, runs as these demonic figures grow to normal size and chase her through the apartment. Helpless and screaming, this woman hides in her room, pulls out a handgun, and puts an end to it all. Smoke fills her room as her still body lies in bed. Out of the darkness comes a monstrous homeless man. A garbage fire ignites the background as he stares into the camera.
Then the woman returns, along with her friend. Lit by a faint white glow, they laugh and smile. And behind them, Los Angeles mysteriously looms. Then the whiteness washes away. Now a lone microphone rests on a theater stage. In the balcony sits woman with intense blue hair and big gold earrings. “Silencio,” she whispers as black consumes the screen.
That’s the ending of what is considered to be one of the most confusing movies ever made—according to Google
Known for creating surreal thrillers that venture outside the realm of traditional storytelling, David Lynch reached new heights with Mulholland Drive. On the surface, it’s a confusing film because it’s so different from what we’re used to. But once you come to understand the message behind the craziness, the film becomes an incredibly sad and incredibly insightful look into the danger Hollywood presents.
But that’s actually a big hurdle. Because…what exactly is going on in Mulholland Drive? That’s a question that the internet has been debating since the film’s release in 2001.
Where do we even begin? How about the dream within a dream? Or the characters that swap names and personalities throughout? Or the blue key that unlocks the blue box? (And do those objects have anything to do with the woman with blue hair?) The homeless man that lives behind the dumpster? The super random cowboy character? The red lampshade? The car crash? There are so many questions to answer—and not enough space on the internet to pull it off.
Many have tried their best over the years, though. I myself penned a 10,000-word dissection of David Lynch’s masterpiece. There are entire websites that are solely dedicated to unpacking the mind-bending narrative of Mulholland Drive. The number of Reddit pages that ask “What’s going on in this movie?” is endless. The film has even inspired a number of really-really-out-there theories (such as the Casting Couch Theory) that pick apart every little detail to find an answer.
So is there an answer? We know what David Lynch would say: the answer is whatever you want it to be. Over the years, he has resoundingly refused to ever explain what’s going on in his movies. From Blue Velvet to Lost Highway to Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me to Inland Empire, Lynch feels that his movies lose their power if they are “explained.” It’s better to invest yourself in the film and see how you feel by the end. The “meaning” is inherent, is whatever you want it to be.
But…that doesn’t mean we can’t try to understand the movie. Right? Even if we can never come to a full-on agreement about every odd and end, we can still inch towards a fuller picture of what Mulholland Drive is trying to say. Ultimately, we have been able to decipher that the film displays the ugly effect Hollywood can have on aspiring actors and filmmakers. But in what ways is it exploring those ideas? What are the most important moments of symbolism? Is there hope for anyone who travels to L.A. to find happiness? Does the film become a larger commentary on the chase for high status in the United States?
Sure: maybe it’s impossible to fully understand Mulholland Drive. But that’s also a marker of what makes the movie great—and lasting. Over 20 years later, we’re still trying to figure it out. Now that’s a feat.