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Film / Mulholland Dr.

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Betty (left) and Rita (right) are also wondering what the hell is going on.
"It's strange to be calling yourself."

Mulholland Drive is a mind-screwing 2001 drama/mystery film, directed by mind-screw king David Lynch, that helped launch the career of Naomi Watts.

The plot primarily focuses on two young women: Betty Elms (Watts), a perky blonde Canadian who comes to Hollywood to pursue an acting career, and Rita (Laura Harring), a sultry brunette who's developed a case of amnesia after an attempted hit on her turns into a car accident on the eponymous Mulholland Drive.

After arriving at LAX and moving into her aunt Ruth's apartment, Betty discovers a nude Rita in the shower and isn't too weirded out because she thinks that Rita is a friend of her aunt Ruth's. However, she soon finds out that Rita has amnesia and that all she remembers is being in the accident. They then discover not only sets of 100 dollar bills in Rita's purse but also a blue key, further increasing the mystery. So out of the goodness of her heart and because "It'll be just like in the movies!", Betty decides to play Nancy Drew and help Rita discover her true identity, and the two become fast friends (and more).

In addition to the main plot, there is also a film director (Justin Theroux), who just can't seem to catch a break. He even walks in on his wife in bed with their pool man, played by Billy Ray Cyrus of all people. Betty's eccentric landlady is played by Ann Miller in her final role before her death. There is a terribly inept hitman played by the incomparable Mark Pellegrino, a creepy cowboy who may or may not be part of this world, a surreal theatre with an even more surreal magician/MC, that mysterious blue box, and some sort of grungy zombie hobo who lives behind an old-fashioned diner and gives a man a heart attack at just the sight of it.

And then the movie gets really weird in the second half.

Yes, it's one of those movies.

This film provides examples of:

  • Aborted Arc: Due to the fact that the movie was originally intended to be a TV series, several storylines basically go nowhere; see also The Artifact.
  • All Just a Dream: Everything up until Rita opens the box. Maybe.
  • All There in the Manual: Sort of. David Lynch was kind enough to provide ten clues in the DVD's booklet, to help the viewer "unlock" the movie. The clues are as follows:
    1. Pay particular attention in the beginning of the film: At least two clues are revealed before the credits.
    2. Notice appearances of the red lampshade.
    3. Can you hear the title of the film that Adam Kesher is auditioning actresses for? Is it mentioned again?
    4. An accident is a terrible event—notice the location of the accident.
    5. Who gives a key, and why?
    6. Notice the robe, the ashtray, the coffee cup.
    7. What is felt, realized and gathered at the Club Silencio?
    8. Did talent alone help Camilla?
    9. Note the occurrences surrounding the man behind Winkie's.
    10. Where is Aunt Ruth?
    • This being David Lynch, most of the clues are pretty confusing in themselves—but some actually do help, like the one that tells you to pay attention to the details of the pre-credits sequence; and the one saying to pay attention to the two appearances of the blue key in the film. Basically it points towards the first part being a dream. Sort of...
  • Anachronic Order: In the real life sequence later in the movie, we see the blue key, which means that Brunette Camilla has been killed, but later scenes clearly take place before that moment.
    • To clarify; the sequence starts the morning after Camilla's death, cuts to a series of flashbacks that are presumably shown in chronological order (interrupted by a moment where Diane masturbates). It then transitions to the present, which is marked by the homeless person getting ahold of the blue box and releasing the creepy elderly couple.
  • Anonymous Public Phone Call: Betty tries to find out if there was an accident on Mulholland Drive without exposing her identity to the police. So she places a call from a payphone outside Winkies. When the police officer confirms the accident and asks for her name she quickly hangs up.
  • Arc Words: 'This is the girl.'
  • Are You Sure You Want to Do That?: Joe during the point-of-no-return scene at Winkies.
  • The Artifact: This film began life as an ABC pilot, and was reworked by Lynch as a feature film after ABC rejected it. There are bits in the movie that never go anywhere, presumably because they would have been developed in the proposed series. Robert Forster appears in one scene as a detective investigating the car crash and is never seen again. Neither is Mr. Roque after the shooting of Adam's movie was stopped.
  • As You Know: Lampshaded by Betty when talking about her aunt's whereabouts: "She's letting me stay here while she's working on a movie that's being made in Canada, but I guess you know that".
  • Ate His Gun: How Diane Selwyn killed herself.
  • Automobile Opening: The opening credits roll over shots of a limo riding up Mulholland Drive at night.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Rita, during the kitchen rehearsing. Then inverted by Betty, who gives an amazing performance.
  • Betty and Veronica, or rather Betty/Diane and Rita/Camilla.
  • Big Fancy House: Adam Kesher has one of these. Of course, he does live on Mulholland Drive, a place famous for its Big Fancy Houses.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: One interpretation of the story is that the lesbian Diane is in Mad Love with the beautiful presumably bisexual Camilla, who broke up with her for Adam, the wealthy, successful, and sleazy film director. This led to a Psychotic Love Triangle and If I Can't Have You…, culminating in Diane hiring a hitman to kill Camilla. Unusually for the trope, it would then take place in the past, from the position of the losing party. However, in another twist to the usual trope, despite being in a relationship with a man, Camilla seems to have already replaced Diane with another woman. Maybe.
  • Black Comedy: The hired hit man's first scene, as well as Billy Ray Cyrus's scenes.
  • Bland-Name Product: The Winkie's diner is a pretty clear pastiche of Denny's, down to having an identical colour scheme and similar-looking logo.
  • Blatant Lies: The hitman telling a watching janitor that his heavyset victim is hurt bad, and he wants to call an ambulance for her, while she's violently struggling in his arms.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The people that Joe shoots stay remarkably clean.
  • Blowing Smoke Rings: Adam is blowing a smoking ring during the song rehearsal.
  • Body Horror: Mr. Roque, with his bizarrely shrunken head on top of his normal-sized body, is a slightly more subdued example.
  • Brown Note: Who/What-ever that is behind Winkies, the mere sight of ... it is enough to give someone a heart attack.
  • Bury Your Gays: Diane/Betty - and probably Camilla/Rita, though the latter was bisexual.
  • Call-Back: The second, reality-based portion of the film is absolutely packed to the gills with this. With the exception of Mr. Roque and the two detectivesnote , virtually everything from the first part of the movie, Diane's dream, shows up in the second part of the movie, reflecting how her dream took details from real life.
    • Adam Kesher and Diane's roommate from the dream appear in real life as themselves, but all the other callbacks involve people from the dream showing up in real life as different people. "Camilla Rhodes", the character from the first part of the movie who steals a part from Betty thanks to the Mafia, appears in the real-life part as an unnamed character who seems to have stolen Real Camilla's affections, at least her lesbian affections.
    • The Arc Words "This is the girl" are, in the dream, what Adam is told to say as the signal that he's giving in and casting Camilla Rhodes in the movie. In real life, they're the words that Diane says to the hitman as she hands over Real Camilla's publicity photo.
    • The mysterious bag of money that Rita finds herself with in the dream, is in real life the money that Diane hands over to the hitman.
    • The mysterious, odd blue key in the first part appears as a more ordinary, but much more ominous blue key in the second part when it's used to deliver a message.
    • The whole opening sequence—the Mulholland Dr. street sign, the limo stopping, Rita saying "We don't stop here"—is all repeated in the second part, where it's shown to actually be Diane going to Camilla's party.
    • In the first part of the movie, where Naomi Watts plays wide-eyed ingenue Betty, the waitress at Winkie's is named Diane. In the second part of the movie, the Real Life part where Naomi Watts is revealed to be bitter failed actress Diane, the waitress at Winkie's is named Betty. This ties in with Diane's admission in the second part of the movie that she worked as a waitress at Winkie's.
    • Some things in the dream are taken from entirely trivial things in the "real life" part of the movie. The Cowboy, who is such an ominous, scary character in the first part, is only briefly glimpsed in the second part as a guest at Adam's party. In the first part, the hitman kills his buddy over a book on the buddy's desk that is apparently very important; in the second part the book is simply sitting on the table at the diner next to the hitman, and it has nothing to do with anything.
    • Dan describing his dream as set at "sort of half-night". When Rita gets into bed with Betty, the window behind her shows it's quite bright outside, because this is all a dream.
  • The Cameo: Robert Forster as Detective McKnight and Dan Hedaya as Vincenzo Castigliane. Considering that the film was originally developed as a television pilot, both actors were intended to have more screen time; there's even some deleted footage with Forster still available online. Due to Executive Meddling however, the series was paired down to a two and a half hour movie and all but one of their respective scenes were cut.
  • The Cassandra: Louise Bonner and the Magician are two psychically sensitive Lynch characters who see things and speak in omens.
  • Censor Shadow: In the bedroom, when Rita unrobes, we see little more than just her silhouette against the light coming in through the window.note 
  • Cheating with the Poolman: Returning home early, Adam finds his wife in bed with the poolman.
  • Collateral Damage: Joe's efforts to make a hit look like suicide are complicated when the gun misfires and hits a woman in the next room over.
  • Color-Coded Characters: Betty often wears light blue and grey, Rita usually wears red and black.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Comically averted when Joe accidentally pulls the trigger on Ed's gun and the bullet passes through the wall to hit the fat lady in the next room.
  • Conversation Casualty: Joe executing Ed in the middle of a cheerful conversation.
  • Conversation Cut: The scene with Betty and Rita at Winkie's, when Rita starts to remember something, the scene cuts to Havenhurst, where Rita finally lets Betty in on her findings.
  • Creator Cameo: Angelo Badalamenti, who composed the soundtrack, appears as one of the Castigliane Brothers.
  • Creepy Monotone: The Cowboy most notably, but Mr. Roque and the Castigliane Brothers also qualify.
  • Crime After Crime: Played for laughs with Joe, the inept hitman. After the gun accidentally goes off and hits the heavyset woman, he has to go through quite some trouble (and a body count of 2) in order to cover up that mistake.
  • Curse of The Ancients: Coco, Betty's landlady, curses like this.
    "What you're telling me is a load of horse-pucky..."
  • Dangerous Clifftop Road: During Diane's dream of Rita's assassination (or assassination attempt), they are driving across Mulholland Drive, a perilously steep road that overlooks Los Angeles. When Rita fights back, the car crashes and she stumbles out at a view of Los Angeles.
  • Deus ex 'Scuse Me: The phone call that keeps the woman in #12 from joining Betty and Rita, so that they can enter #17 on their own terms. Justified, as the whole scene was "plotted" by Diane's subconscious.
  • Died Happily Ever After: The last image of Betty and Rita cheering Together in Death, superimposed on the L.A. skyline, carries this message. Possibly.
  • Discovering Your Own Dead Body: If Betty is in fact Diane Selwyn, that is, though she doesn't seem to realize it at the time (since it's most probably a dream).
  • Distaff Counterpart: It is this to Lost Highway, this film's Spiritual Predecessor, as Lost Highway has a similarly surreal plot but with a male protagonist instead.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The movie uses the street sign as its title card, hence the stylization of the movie's title as Mulholland Dr. However, given the multiple dream Motifs and the implication that the first half of the movie is All Just a Dream, one can interpret the title as not only "Mulholland Drive" but also "Mulholland Dream".
  • Downer Ending: Excusing the mind screw elements, the film ends on a real massive downer no matter what interpretation. Though arguably also a Pyrrhic Victory, as Diane finally managed to silence her fear and guilt.
  • Dramatic Shattering: As a cut-over from the highly emotional dinner party scene to Winkie's where the waitress drops some dishes.
  • Drone of Dread: The soundtrack is about two-thirds this and one-third dissonant 50's music. Something of a Creator Thumbprint for Lynch.
  • Dye or Die: After seeing a corpse in the bed which she believes to be her own, Rita decides to cut her hair short in an attempt to avoid being recognized. But Betty has a better idea, hiding Rita under a blonde wig of her aunt's.
  • Eldritch Location: Winkie's Diner might be one, or at least the alleyway behind it.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Mr. Roque always sits in a near-empty office that lets in no natural light. Also the Cowboy in his first meeting with Adam.
  • Enter Stage Window: When Diane Selwyn doesn't answer the door, Betty decides to enter her apartment via the window.
  • Exact Words: When the driver of the Castigliane limo tells Adam to "beat it", the latter takes the advice literally and trashes the car with his golf club.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe example with the dubious figure of Mr. Roque, who is working entirely behind the scenes, exerting his power through the Castigliane brothers ("This is no longer your film"). It's one of the main themes of the first of the movie's two parts, portraying Hollywood as an outright conspiracy/gang that enforces arbitrary decisions onto directors for unexplained reasons.
  • Fan Disservice: The masturbation scene displeases some viewers. Betty's audition with someone 40 years older than her deserves a mention.
  • Film Noir: The film could be called an homage to the genre. For example, the character of Betty Elms is clearly inspired by many of Hitchcock's noir heroines. She even wears a dress suit that looks exactly like the one worn by Kim Novak in Vertigo. The poster of Gilda starring Rita Hayworth is briefly shown, which is where Laura Harring's character draws her chosen name from.
  • Foreshadowing: If there can even be such a trope in the film of such narrative complexity. Diane Selwyn will die.
  • Gainax Ending: Although the whole movie is very surreal, the entire second part (starting when the blue box is opened) can be considered this since it suddenly portrays an alternate version of the story where everything and everyone is different. Even that ends very abruptly with strange monster versions of Betty's traveling companions from the start of the film tormenting Diane, causing her to shoot herself.
  • Get Out!:
    • Get out! Get out before I call my dad ...
    • Line said by Adam's wife when she evicts him from their home with the help of Gene the Poolman.
  • Golf Clubbing: Adam uses his golf club to trash the windshield of the Castigliane brothers' limo.
  • Gratuitous French: The magician abuses this trope.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Cookie, the hotel manager, throwing in some Spanish vocabulary.
  • Hair-Contrast Duo:
    • The bubbly blonde successful newbie Betty is contrasted with the mysterious, even-to-herself dark-haired woman "Rita".
    • The washed-out depressive blonde Diane is contrasted with the cruel brunette femme fatale Camilla.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Everything changes after Rita drops the blue box.
  • Hand Gagging: Betty is muffling Rita's scream when encountering the corpse of Diane Selwyn.
  • Held Gaze: Hot looks exchanged between Betty and "Dad's best friend" in the audition scene.
  • The Hero Dies: A rare case when it's almost not a spoiler - good luck figuring out who the hero is.
  • Hell Is That Noise: That horribly distorted roar-like noise that punctuates the Jump Scare behind Winkies.
  • Hollywood Silencer: For his hit on Ed, Joe uses a silencer that really doesn't emit much noise.
  • Home-Early Surprise: Adam is fired from his directing job so he comes home early to find his wife in bed with the poolman. After a scuffle, he is forced out of his house.
  • Horrible Hollywood: Hollywood is where dreams die as seen with Diane whose dream of becoming a successful actress fails due to her own lack of talent. Her dream of becoming Camila's lover fails after a fallout with Camila, who later falls in love with Adam. Even in Diane's fantasy as Betty, she doesn't get her dream acting role because the Mafia's Executive Meddling within the Hollywood industry forced Adam to choose another actress for the lead role.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Seemingly Diane's motive for murder, after Camilla breaks off their relationship, with jealousy over Camilla's far more successful career being a secondary motive.
  • If You Can Read This: On Blu-Ray versions you can see that the script Rita reads from during the kitchen rehearsal is actually a page from the script to Mulholland Dr.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Perpetrated by the most negligent hitman since Vincent Vega.
  • It's All About Me: Diane's dreamworld rewrites her environment and her actions in such a way as to make her into a Mary Sue, with Camilla's likeness given to a far less complicated love interest while her name and any negative traits are passed onto a random blonde woman the real Camilla had an affair with. The hit was also conducted by an Obviously Evil crime lord so that Diane can deny accountability, with the target surviving to assuage her guilt.
  • Jump Scare: One of the most iconic examples of the modern age. This is how the man behind Winkies is introduced, only to disappear just as quickly.
  • Jitter Cam: Severely downplayed, and done with exceptional subtlety. In several scenes that are otherwise completely normal, they're shot featuring a handheld, eerily free-floating camera that drifts abnormally up and down over the actors, adding to the feeling that the whole thing is that much more detached from reality.
  • Lampshade Hanging: Adam notes what a stock character the Cowboy is.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Betty and Rita. Betty is blonde-haired and blue-eyed and chipper and outgoing. Rita is dark-haired and sultry and mysterious and seductive.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: Laura Harring's amnesiac character takes the name "Rita" after seeing a Rita Hayworth poster.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Betty and Rita. Also Camilla and Blond Camilla kissing at the dinner party. They're all women with long hair who wear dresses mostly, usually with an elegant manner.
  • Literally Laughable Question: At the diner, Joe starts laughing when Diane asks him what the blue key opens.
  • Little Black Dress: First worn by Rita in the opening scene where she is taken by a limo up Mulholland Drive. The scene gets mirrored towards the end when it's Diane in her little black dress taking the same route.
  • Love at First Sight: Played with. When Betty enters the set, she and Adam lock eyes and the camera zooms in on their faces. Nothing comes of this situation though.
  • Love Confession: While they are making out at Aunt Ruth's apartment, Betty tells Rita that she is in love with her. Rita doesn't respond.
  • MacGuffin: Diane, including the audience, are not supposed to know what the blue key is for or why Joe gave it to her, only to know that the mystery behind it is what kickstarts Diane's dream.
  • The Mafia: It's highly implied that Mr. Roque and the Castigliane Brothers aren't your typical meddling executives.
  • Masturbation Means Sexual Frustration: Near the end, Diane Selwyn masturbates on the couch after Camilla broke up with her. It is extremely unsexy, seeing as how she's weeping as she's getting herself off.
  • Match Cut: Diane turns away angrily at the party when she finds out that Camilla and Adam are getting married...cut to Diane turning away angrily in the diner, as she hires the hitman.
  • Mind Screw: There's some meta-Mind Screwing as well. One reviewer noted that the prostitute outside Pink's Hot Dogs also sort of looks like Naomi Watts, and asked how many characters she actually played in the movie. Watts: "It depends." (The part was played by an actress named Rena Riffel.)
  • Mirror Universe: The "Betty story" and the "Diane story" are this to each other, at least to begin with. In the Betty story, Betty is an idealistic and gifted young actress who finds true love with 'Rita' and whose talented is noticed by people around her; Adam is a hapless loser whose wife throws him out and whose career is almost destroyed until he learns to be a spineless hack; 'Rita' is a gorgeous brunette who loves Betty; Camilla is a moderately talented actor who only gets work because of her connections; Joe the hitman is comically bad at his job. In the Diane story, Diane, Betty's equivalent, is a depressed and struggling actress who lacks love and respect, and whose lover Camilla leaves her for another man (and another woman); Adam is a successful director who's engaged to Camilla; Camilla is a successful actress whose career is way ahead of Diane's; Joe is a competent hitman who succeeds in killing Camilla. But the Betty story begins to fall apart, as if under the influence of the Diane story.
  • Mockspiracy: The omniscient Hollywood conspiracy involving the mafia, men in black limos, and a mysterious wheelchair-bound kingpin Mr. Roque was just a fantasy of a failed actress Diane Selwyn ... possibly.
  • Mockstery Tale: It starts as a quintessential mystery movie involving an amnesiac Femme Fatale Rita in Los Angeles, a young enthusiastic actress Betty trying to help her, a mafia syndicate, a hitman after a mysterious black book, etc. However, Betty and Rita's investigation clarifies very little, and the story takes a really surreal turn from a certain point...
  • Motifs: A recurring theme throughout the film is the emphasis on dreams, which foreshadows that most of the film was a dream of Diane Selwyn. The earliest hint of this is in one of the film's opening scenes, which features a first-person shot of someone falling face-first onto a bed. The film's dialogue also accentuates the subject of dreams, such as Dan discussing a recurring nightmare with a friend or Betty calling Hollywood a "dream place". Even the film's advertising plays into this as most of the trailers use the phrase "city of dreams" when summarizing the film. Lynch himself describes the film as "a love story in the city of dreams".
  • Ms. Fanservice: Rita and Betty have a softcore sex scene about halfway through. While nothing is shown that would take the film beyond an R-rating, it is very erotic. It includes full frontal nudity by Betty, and them both topless having sex. Both are quite attractive.
  • Mundane Horror:
    • The "man behind Winkies" scene is the quintessence of this. Two men are talking in a diner, with one of them telling the other about a nightmare he had, in which there was a horrible abomination in the back of the diner. Everything happens in broad daylight, with many customers around, and nothing indicates anything out of the ordinary. Nonetheless, they go to check, and when it looks like nobody is there, and he is about to calm down... the abomination actually appears.
    • At its heart, the club scene is just... a woman lip-syncing and a band on CD. But with the motif of dreams, it becomes upsetting.
  • Mystical Hollywood: According to the most popular interpretation, the first part of the movie is Diane inventing a supernatural conspiracy in her mind as a reason for her failure. In it, Hollywood is controlled by shady masterminds like a wheelchair-bound kingpin Mr. Roque and the mysterious Cowboy who are implied to be supernatural entities.
  • Never Say That Again: Diane demands this from Camilla during the couch scene when Camilla says she wants to stop having sex.
  • Never Suicide: Joe kills Ed and tries to make it look like suicide. However, after the woman from next door and the janitor are dragged into the mess, the result looks more like a Murder-Suicide.
  • Non-Singing Voice:
    • Due to the Mind Screw nature of the film, it's hard to determine if Melissa George's character is actually singing Linda Scott's "I've Told Every Little Star" or if she's also lip-syncing it In-Universe. (It is heavily implied and speculated that her character is a "talent-less bimbo").
    • Rebekah Del Rio is revealed to be lip-syncing to "Llorando". It's a playback of her own singing though.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: A Lynch trademark, exemplified in the "man behind Winkies" scene. Almost five minutes of low-key, almost hushed conversation as build-up, then the two men leave the diner, with both of them (and the audience) terrified of what they might find behind the restaurant as the camera creeeeeeeeeeeeps towards the wall, and then, BOOM.
  • Ominous Cube: The Blue Box is a mysterious device that seems to be a portal between realities. At one point, Rita opens it with a matching key and is then sucked into it. The scene transitions to a different reality where characters take on different roles.
  • Ominous Knocking:
    • There's a suspenseful moment of Betty and Rita sitting at night in Ruth's Havenhurst apartment when somebody knocks on the front door. It turns out to be Luise.
    • Heard again at the end, when Diane sits alone in the dark of her apartment and gets startled by sudden knocking on the front door which culminates in a nightmare sequence.
  • On a Soundstage All Along: A zoom-out reveals the song "16 Reasons Why I Love You" to be performed on a soundstage.
  • Once More, with Clarity: The phone call chain early on, which starts with Mr. Roque and ends in an unknown dark room lid by a red lampshade. Later we learn that this is Diane's bedroom when we see her answer a different call.
  • Ostentatious Secret: A key element is a little blue box with a matching key.
  • Pink Girl, Blue Boy: The actors/actresses auditioning during the musical audition scene wears said colors.
  • Pink Means Feminine: During the musical audition scene, all the women auditioning have pink in their attire with Melissa George's Camilla Rhodes wearing an all-pink dress.
  • Politically Correct History: Integrated music groups (two Negro and two white backup singers) as seen in the early 1960s set piece of the "Sylvia North Story" are unlikely for the period.
  • Production Foreshadowing:
    • The movie borrows its name from an actual California location and takes place at Hollywood. Five years later, Lynch would do the same again but in a more incoherent manner with Inland Empire.
    • Fast-forward sixteen years, and many people have commented on the similarities between the thing behind Winkie's and the Woodsmen from Twin Peaks.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "No. Hay. Banda! There is. No. Band!"
  • Quest for Identity: Rita with the help of Betty, after her amnesia from the car accident.
  • Reality Warper: May or may not be the hobo or the old couple or the cowboy or the magician or Diane.
  • Red Herring: Several plot points and storylines that are implied to be clues to the mystery, but eventually don't go anywhere. This includes the detectives at the car crash, the mafia and Mr. Roque, and "Ed's black book".
  • Red Herring Twist: The whole movie is composed of those. The first half of it has several seemingly unrelated storylines, implying that eventually they will tie together somehow; in the second half, they are either completely dropped (like the mafia kingpin Mr. Roque) or used in unexpected, Mind Screwy way (like the hitman Joe and his black book). Possibly explained by the fact that the whole first part of the movie was the protagonist's dream... or was it?
  • Sequencing Deception: In its last act (which conflicts with much of what is shown before), does some rapid intercutting between scenes that take place before and after the second-to-last scene.
  • Scare Chord: Plays when the monster appears from behind the wall.
  • Scenery Censor: During Rita's Shower Scene, the shower door is notably foggy from the moisture. Word of God said they did it on purpose so Laura Harring's Sexy Silhouette won't appear much clearer as she's actually fully nude at that scene.
  • Scenery Dissonance: The "man behind Winkie's" scene is somehow made even more disturbing by the fact that it happens in broad daylight at the back of a normal looking diner.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: The big brain hump of this movie is wondering which is real; the last half hour, or everything preceding it? Or both? Or neither? Or both and neither? Or...
  • Set Behind the Scenes: A film noir about a movie shoot.
  • Sexy Sweater Girl: Laney, the prostitute, is wearing a sweater and she seems to be freezing.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Due to the fact that the movie started as a TV series pilot, the whole first part of the movie is a collection of shaggy dog stories, full of premises that end with nothing. Betty getting her movie role and moment between her and Adam Kesher, Rita's amnesia and Nancy Drew-style investigation of her mysterious past, Kesher's misadventures involving the mafia and the Cowboy...
  • Shaky P.O.V. Cam: The POV tracking shot showing Betty and Rita exiting the cab and entering Club Silencio.
  • She Really Can Act: Used in-universe to startling effect at Betty's audition after her terrible rehearsal with Rita.
  • Shot in the Ass: The heavy-set woman.
  • Shot/Reverse Shot: This technique is prominently featured during the conversation at Winkies between Dan and Herb. It's subtly creepy, because as noted under Jitter Cam, the camera doesn't stay still during their conversation, but drifts eerily, as if floating through space.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous homages to various films. Some of them (including The Wizard of Oz and Ingmar Bergman's Persona), seem to be intended as points of reference.
    • Also Sunset Boulevard, which also has an ingenue named Betty. The use of the Mulholland Drive street sign as a title drop is a shout-out to the same thing in Sunset Boulevard. The actual car from Sunset Boulevard is parked at the entrance of the studio lot when Betty Elms goes for her audition.
    • Fight Club contains a blink-and-you'll-miss-it homage to Blue Velvet, where the characters walk past a street sign (it reads "Lincoln" in Blue Velvet, "Washington" in Fight Club). Lynch seems to have taken note: early in Mulholland Drive, a shot of a man's arm reaching for a phone is identical to the shot of Tyler Durden picking up the phone in his first encounter with Marla.
    • Carnival of Souls, when Rita exits the crashed car. Given The Reveal at the end of Carnival of Souls, this is also Foreshadowing.
    • Some of the more nightmarish sequences allude heavily to the Brazilian "Coffin Joe" films.
    • The last line of the film, "Silencio," is also the last line of Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Contempt, which is also a movie about people making movies, and which is also a film in which the protagonist gets dumped by their partner for someone more powerful and glamorous.
  • Show Within a Show: The Sylvia North Story fits Types 1 and 3. In the first half, Betty merely passes through the production set just in time to see the Mafia threaten Adam into selecting Camilla's audition for the lead role. In the second half, it is revealed that Diane's lover, Camilla, played the lead role of The Sylvia North Story.
  • Silent Credits: Except for some deep noise. Makes sense, as the last line in the film says "Silencio." (Spanish for "silence")
  • Sleeps in the Nude: When Betty asks Rita if she wants to share a bed for the night, Rita casually drops her towel and climbs into bed naked.
  • Smash Cut: The abrupt cut from the dinner party to crashing dishes at Winkies.
  • Smoke Out: The Magician finishes his act at Club Silencio using this trick.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: At the movie exec conference, Luigi Castigliane is more interested in his espresso than the discussion about the main actress.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The Fifties pop music clashes with the cynical tone.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • To Lynch's previous film Lost Highway as they are both about characters who adapt multiple identities and explore altered environments that are implied to be delusions on the protagonists' parts. Some viewers and critics have even commented that Mulholland Drive's narrative structure is the reverse of Lost Highway's narrative structure.
    • To Sunset Boulevard, one of Lynch's favorite films. Both movies borrow their titles from actual Hollywood streets, and they both use street signs as title cards for stylization. Not only that, but both films are also very critical of Hollywood, and their protagonists are unsuccessful actresses who are trapped in their own fantasies.
  • Staring Contest: Adam holds one with Vincenzo Castigliane at the conference.
  • Stunned Silence: When Adam finds his wife in bed with Billy Ray Cyrus.
  • Stylistic Suck: Were you somewhat annoyed or surprised by Naomi Watts' poor, exaggerated, even Narmy acting throughout the beginning of the film? This is indeed intentional and will make (some) sense in the end.
    • If you're still skeptical as to whether or not that was intentional, just look at her audition scene halfway through the film. Not only does her character act well in the scene, but Naomi Watts acts acting well. Not too many actresses that can do that.
  • Take That!: Executive Meddling as portrayed by Mr. Roque and the Castigliane brothers really exists in Hollywood. Lynch is showing them for what they are, how they squeeze the creative life out of the business.
  • There Is Only One Bed: "You don't have to sleep on that couch!"
  • Twisted Echo Cut: When Betty and Rita sit at the apartment and try to figure out Rita's identity, the scene ends with Rita uttering "Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.". Cut to the next scene at Adam's home starting with the word "Baby" sung by Sonny Boy Williamson.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Sandwich: Dan is so preoccupied with his dream that he doesn't touch his breakfast at Winkies.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Up to debate, but the scene with sudden appearance of already deceased Camilla at Diane's place as well as one directly leading to Diane's suicide certainly qualify. Rule of Symbolism also applies though.
  • Title Drop: In a discussion with Betty, Rita names Mulholland Drive as the location of the car accident. In the second half of the film, her real-world counterpart, Camilla Rhodes, tells Diane, Betty's real-world counterpart, to meet her at Adam's party on Mulholland Drive.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Part of the most popular interpretation.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: At the end of the trailer, which can be seen on the DVD, there's a snippet of the scene in which the real Camilla calls Diane to urge her to attend the party; she calls her by name, thus revealing that Watts is the real Diane whose identity is a mystery for the first two-thirds of the film.
  • Translated Cover Version: The movie features Rebekah Del Rio performing an admittedly unrecognizable Spanish a capella rendition of Roy Orbison's "Crying."
  • The Treachery of Images: "No hay banda! There is no band. Il n'y a pas d'orchestre."
  • Trick Dialogue: During the kitchen rehearsal when the zoom-out from Rita's face reveals her to recite lines from a script.
  • Two-Act Structure: Sappy first act, darker second act, the first revealed as a dream.
  • The Unsolved Mystery: Just like many other movies by David Lynch. We DO actually learn the true identity of Rita, but it doesn't help things in any way.
  • Van in Black: In certain intervals we see The Men in Black in a sedan drive around Havenhurst and Sierra Bonita, adding to the theme of paranoia expressed in the first half of the film.
  • Visual Title Drop: Designed as a Shout-Out to Sunset Boulevard - in both films there is no actual title card with one of the first shots simply showing a street marker.
  • Waiting for a Break: Waiting tables at Winkies was supposedly one of Diane's occupations in L.A. while waiting for her breakthrough.
  • Walk and Talk: The scene where Linney and Cynthia walk Betty out of the audition to the elevator.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened to the passengers of the second car racing down Mulholland Drive in the opening scene?
  • Woman Scorned: Another popular interpretation - the uncommon lesbian or bisexual version.
  • World of Mysteries: This movie's version of Hollywood is this: it has Mafia, The Men in Black acting mysteriously on limos, an enigmatic phone call chain involving unspecified people from different parts of LA, weird McGuffins like a strangely shaped blue key and a black book with phone numbers, supernatural entities like the Ambiguously Human Cowboy and a creepy bum living in the backyard of a diner, and much more... Probably subverted, since the ending implies that it was a dream of a failed actress who ordered a hit on her successful friend and lover out of envy and jealousy, and the overall feel of mystery and paranoia is due to her subconscious feelings of guilt and fear of being caught. Then again, maybe not.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Adam almost did this to his cheating wife until the poolman/her lover intervened. Later, a mobster didn't hold back on doing the same thing.