In terms of decoding films and life in general, Lynch himself has said: “We all find this book of riddles and it’s just what’s going on. And you can figure them out. The problem is, you figure them out inside yourself, and even if you told somebody, they wouldn’t believe you or understand in the same way you do. You’d suddenly realize that the communication wasn’t 100 percent. There are a lot of things like that going on in life, and words just fail you.” (Lynch on Lynch, pgs. 25-6) From this platform we can further posit that Lynch does have a secret significance for his films and the symbolism has a definite, although obscure, meaning, if the viewer is skilled enough at decoding the “twilight language.”
Before delving into the film, an important influence on Lynch should be considered. Sunset Boulevard, the dark 1950 film directed by Billy Wilder, shares many parallels to Mulholland Drive. Sunset is the famous story of a washed up silent movie actress who loses her mind and becomes lost in an obsessive fantasy of her own making, leading to the death of a young screen writer who becomes her consort. For its time, Sunset was an extremely bizarre movie, underlining the dirty underbelly of fame and fortune that most 1950s Hollywood fairy tales ignored. Though not entirely evident, it is arguable that Norma Desmond (the washed up actress) dissociates into a completely fictitious mental world where she remains a glamorous starlet. In the same way, Diane/Betty (Naomi Watts) in Mulholland will embrace the same fate as Norma. This is why Rita/Camilla first stumbles onto “Sunset Boulevard” at the beginning of the film, following her car accident, and why Diane/Betty’s apartment features classic Hollywood posters adorning the walls.
We know the first half of the film is Betty’s mental projection or dream of what happened. What we can gather is that she went to Hollywood to become a movie star, but ended up a drugged out whore. She won a dancing contest that provided her an opportunity to move to Hollywood, and the first clue given is that following the sock hop, we see the two old people as the camera fades to the perspective of Betty crawling into bed to die (as she commits suicide at the end of the film). It is also the same bed Betty and Rita discover as they sneak into the apartment looking for “Diane Selwyn” (Betty’s real identity). As with Lost Highway, the end of the film is the beginning, with the split personality lead character becoming lost in a cyclical maze of their own delusions and dream realities. We know this because it is the same red pillow. When you crawl into bed, you do it to sleep, or die, which is an image of both death, dreaming and dissociating into an alternate personality. In other words, Betty represents the aspiring American actress who has lost her identity in the Hollywood machine, which is something other than the illusory image presented to most.
However, there is a much deeper current at work here. Mulholland Drive the actual street has a connection to the Manson murders that few have noticed. Esoteric writer Peter Levenda explains in his Sinister Forces, Book II: “Helter Skelter was Manson’s “program” for the brainwashed murderers; it provided a context, and it also influenced their choice of bloody graffiti at each scene, thus attempting to lay the crimes off on the Black Panthers….The brilliance behind these crimes had nothing to do with Manson himself. The brilliance was in selecting Manson and his assassins as the hit team, for it obscured the real motives and thus the real powers behind them. Further, due to the sensitive nature of the victims involved and their incestuous relationships with Hollywood, occultism, drugs, and “alternative” sexual practices-much of it captured on videotape-there was little danger of their friends running to the police with information that could get the real masterminds in trouble….the blood had splattered all over Benedict Canyon in an aerial spray that reached Mulholland Drive, Beverly Hills, Bel Air, North Hollywood and Malibu, and the back lots of studios all over town. Drugs, murder for hire, sadomasochistic sex on videotape involving celebrities, and satanic rituals…The “scarlet thread of murder” never ran so red as it did on August 9, 1969 at 10050 Cielo Drive.” (pg. 103)
Levenda’s entire Sinister Forces trilogy is devoted to analyzing, among other events, the Manson murders and Hollywood, noting the connections and associations in relation to the MKULTRA mind control program of the CIA and covert intelligence agencies. Hollywood, Levenda argues, is a mass mind control operation that ties into the occult and psychological warfare operations. His correlation between Manson and Mulholland Drive is also echoed by famed Manson investigator Vincent Bugliosi, who writes quoting Manson associate Tex Watson: “They drove somewhere along “Benedict Canyon, Mulholland Drive, I don’t know [which street] …until we came to what looked like an embankment going down like a cliff with a mountain on one side and a cliff on the other.’ They pulled off and stopped, and ‘Linda threw all the bloody clothes over the side of the hill…’ The weapons, the knives and gun were tossed out at ‘three or four different places, I don’t remember how many.'” (Helter Skelter, pg 245).
I think it is highly likely Lynch has this in mind, as Levenda elaborates: “In January 1969, shortly after the discovery of Marina Habe’s body in a gulley off Mulholland Drive, several events occurred which are relevant to our study. CIA operation OFTEN was initialized by Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, based partly on documents which came into his possession after CIA Agent WIlliam F. Buckley (who would later be tortured and murdered by Arab terrorists) tossed the premises of Dr. Ewen Cameron, he of the “sleep room” and “psychic driving” experiments in Canada. Initially, Operation OFTEN was a joint CIA/Army Chemical Corps drug project…” (Ibid., 87)
OFTEN was one of many MKULTRA associated programs, relating the infamous CIA goals of manipulating the psyche of soldiers and other unwitting subjects with the intent of determining whether a perfect spy could be created. Could an alternate personality be created that housed secret information that only a handler with the correct “keys” or code words, could unlock? As I have shown here, the programs were wildly successful, originating with wartime hypnosis studies:
The names associated with the programs are Dr. Ewen Cameron, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, Dr. Jose Delgado, Dr. Jolyon West, Dr. George Estabrooks, and others. While this itself is easily tracked down in terms of the existence of the programs, what is lesser known are articles like Dr. George Estabrooks’ article from the April 1971 Science Digest, Hypnosis Comes of Age. Included in the article are some striking admissions, especially since the OSS, CIA and FBI utilized Estabrooks and his skills. The article mentions, first of all, Estabrooks’ claim of the use of secret couriers and keywords that function as the triggers in the operative:
“The “hypnotic courier,” on the other hand, provides a unique solution. I was involved in preparing many subjects for this work during World War II. One successful case involved an Army Service Corps Captain whom we’ll call George Smith.
Captain Smith had undergone months of training. He was an excellent subject but did not realize it. I had removed from him, by post-hypnotic suggestion, all recollection of ever having been hypnotized.
First I had the Service Corps call the captain to Washington and tell him they needed a report of the mechanical equipment of Division X headquartered in Tokyo. Smith was ordered to leave by jet next morning, pick up the report and return at once. Consciously, that was all he knew, and it was the story he gave to his wife and friends.
Then I put him under deep hypnosis, and gave him — orally — a vital message to be delivered directly on his arrival in Japan to a certain colonel — let’s say his name was Brown — of military intelligence. Outside of myself, Colonel Brown was the only person who could hypnotize Captain Smith. This is “locking.” I performed it by saying to the hypnotized Captain: “Until further orders from me, only Colonel Brown and I can hypnotize you. We will use a signal phrase ‘the moon is clear.’ Whenever you hear this phrase from Brown or myself you will pass instantly into deep hypnosis.” When Captain Smith re-awakened, he had no conscious memory or what happened in trance. All that he was aware of was that he must head for Tokyo to pick up a division report.
On arrival there, Smith reported to Brown, who hypnotized him with the signal phrase. Under hypnosis, Smith delivered my message and received one to bring back. Awakened, he was given the division report and returned home by jet. There I hypnotized him once more with the signal phrase, and he spilled off Brown’s answer that had been dutifully tucked away in his unconscious mind.
The system is virtually foolproof. As exemplified by this case, the information was “locked” in Smith’s unconscious for retrieval by the only two people who knew the combination. The subject had no conscious memory of what happened, so could not spill the beans. No one else could hypnotize him even if they might know the signal phrase.”
Hollywood is also no stranger to the notion of mind-controlled subjects with alternate personalities, programmed with key words and triggers, as the 1962 film The Manchurian Candidate made evident, based on Richard Condon’s 1959 novel of the same name. Another famous episode along these lines that relates to Betty is the story of Candy Jones, the famous model who was also a mind controlled subject, as Donald Bain’s 1976 The Control of Candy Jones argues. Betty/Diane, like Candy, seems to blend between the 50s and present day, in her descent into mental illness, depersonalization and dissociation. This will provide the key to understanding the blue key Betty is given that unlocks the blue box in Club Silencio. The box and key are Betty’s psyche and the key represents the key words and phrases her handler(s) possess. Before we progress further into the meat of the film, recall Levenda’s comments I cited in my Lost Highway analysis, as all Lynch films intersect and relate to one another:
“A recurring feature of David Lynch films is the flickering light, a result, we are told in the pilot episode of Twin Peaks – of a “bad transformer.” This flickering electric light will appear in Lynch films such as Mulholland Drive [and Lost Highway], to announce the appearance of the Cowboy, a bizarre character who speaks in gnomic riddles, like a cross between Gary Cooper and David Carradine. In Twin Peaks, it is the light in the morgue over the place where the body of Laura Palmer had been kept, and which is then visited by Mike, the one-armed man, who recites the famous poem:
“Through the darkness of futures past
The magician longs to see;
One chants out between two worlds
‘Fire walk with me.’”
There, in a strange little verse, we have the key to unlocking the mystery not only of Twin Peaks but virtually all of Lynch’s films: the suspension of normal laws of time (“futures past”) and the idea that the magician lives “between two worlds.” The suspension of normal, linear narrative event in favor of a dreamlike, hallucinatory set of images that are taking place all over the fourth dimension is part of Lynch’s appeal as a director, and part of what makes his films so frustrating to the film-goer. His realization that there are two worlds, and a place to stand between them, is what contributes to his aura as a modern, twenty-first century initiate of the Mysteries, for that is what “mystery” films are: elucidations of the core Mystery behind reality.” (Sinister Forces, Vol. III, pg 151)
My thesis is that Mulholland Drive is the intersect of all of the above – from the demonic to MKULTRA – with “twilight language,” forming a revelation of the mystery of Hollywood itself, which is an occult Inland Empire (Lynch’s third “Hollywood” film) of its own. The director thus functions as a kind of shaman, taking the viewer down a fire walking path between these worlds. In particular, there is the world of reality, and the double – the world the alternate personality experiences. This is why Betty/Diane is the foil to Rita/Camilla, functioning as a doubled doubling.
The film begins with Rita emerging from a limo wreck, dazed and confused with amnesia, following a hit man’s attempt on her life. (It is significant that Pete in Lost Highway and Audrey in Wild at Heart also have amnesia after car wrecks). This limo ride is actually the dinner party later in the film where Camilla and Kesher (the young director played by Justin Theroux) are engaged. Camilla, Rita’s alternate identity, is who ends up getting the part Betty/Diane thought she would get in a film called The Sylvia North Story. While there is no real film by that title, there is a 1965 film called Sylvia about a beautiful blonde girl who has an alternate identity as a prostitute, whose name happens to be Sylvia West, calling to mind again the theme of good girl with a dark persona.
The next day, at the Winkie’s Diner, two men are discussing a dream one has had. In the dream, the man in black says he saw a “man behind this place” that frightened him. As they approach the rear of the diner, they are confronted by a demon. This clues the viewer into the fact that the first half of the film, as most reviewers note, is itself a dream. The man/demon “behind this” is revealed in the next scene to be part of a secret club that appears to call the shots in Hollywood, deciding who gets what part in what film. Betty is then shown arriving in Hollywood with Aunt Irene and the old man who brought her, yet something odd happens again with the elderly couple. They ride away in a limo, in a scene reminiscent of something from Rosemary’s Baby. Betty is left alone in an apartment complex with witchy, elderly people like Mia Farrow in Polanski’s film. Although this is a dream or Betty’s fantasy, we get the impression that her elderly relatives have selected her for what she is about to endure . There seems to be a connection between Club Silencio and her Aunt Irene, whom Betty explains is also an actress.
As Adam Kesher tries to advance his Sylvia North film, the mafia shows up to tell Kesher who will play the lead role, contrary to his wishes. But remember: The mafia are actually controlled by the oddball elite Mr. Roque atop Ryan Entertainment (also from Club Silencio), who ultimately decided Camilla/Rita would play the part. Next, we see the hit man who asks a blonde prostitute if there are any new girls on the street. The prostitute is who Betty has really become, having hired the hit man to kill Rita/Camilla in the Winkie’s. Rita explains to Betty/Diane that she was on the way to Mulholland Drive when the “accident” happened, but both girls appear to be amnesic. The money Rita/Camilla has is the money Diane/Betty used to hire the hit, which both girls hide away in a box. In other words, Diane/Betty has hidden away in her subconscious the plan to murder Rita/Camilla. It’s not until the end of the film at Club Silencio that the two girls unite the key and the box to open it and discover that Rita is actually a projection of Diane/Betty’s mind. This is why Rita begins to take on Betty’s appearance, with blonde hair. Diane is revealed to be the waitress at the Winkie’s who ends up a failed actress and is the prostitute.
Kesher, however, does not want to cast Rita/Camilla, so he is forced to meet with the Cowboy, the otherworldly devil figure who tells Kesher he must cast whoever the occult elite decide. It is significant that the Cowboy appears and the lights go dim, and then disappears, proving he is not of this world. As Betty/Diane auditions for the part, it is not accidental that the part of Sylvia centers around a young girl who is sexually accosted by an older man – another hint that Betty/Diane is really a young whore. Camilla gets the part and Betty begins to go insane, not yet realizing that her mind has split. When Betty and Diane have their homoerotic scene, Betty goes into a trance and starts to repeat what appear to be trigger phrases. The reason for the homoerotic scene is that Betty/Diane is in love with herself, not Rita – this is all a projection of her psyche.
Rita is merely an alternate personality of Betty/Diane. Rita chants, “silencio,” “silencio,” “no hay banda,” and tells Betty/Diane she must accompany her to Club Silencio. Upon entering Club Silencio, the magician/emcee tells the crowd there is no band, only a tape recording. He asks what is real, since the Silencio performance is a tape – an illusion. As the magician creates a thunder effect with the elite members of Club Silencio looking on, Betty/Diane goes into convulsions. This hints at the likelihood that Betty has been under mind control and Rita is her alter – as the Anton LaVey-looking magician disappears. Is this a reference to the Crowleyan subculture that under girds much of Hollywood? Is Lynch using twilight language here to signify that there is a Crowleyan secret behind the meaning of Mulholland? Is this the meaning of Club Silencio? Club Silence’s entire performance seems to be about questioning the nature of Hollywood reality – that the reality spun by the theater is pure illusion. Following this scene, Rita inserts the key into the box, and the viewer enters it, and Betty/Diane is now back to reality – as a whore.
The Cowboy walks in on dead Betty and tells her it’s time to wake up. Time is not operating chronologically here, as the entire film, like Lost Highway, is Diane/Betty’s eternal recurrence of her destructive life. This is why the key is gone when Diane with Rita, and why Rita disappears and we discover Diane alone. The limo ride Diane/Betty takes to Mulholland Drive where the party is, is the limo ride at the beginning with Rita. Rita takes Betty down a “secret path” to the engagement party which leads to the final break for Betty/Diane. Coco, it is revealed is Coco, the witchy woman at the apartment complex. It is as if the entire scenario was engineered to bring Diane as a sacrifice by driving her insane. The Cowboy briefly passes at the party, as Camilla’s alter appears to Diane. At this point we flash back to Betty/Diane as a strung out whore ordering the hit on Rita/Camilla. The hit man gives Betty/Diane the blue key that opens the box, as the film pans to behind the restaurant where the demon from earlier opens the box and two tiny, demonic versions of the old couple emerge. Betty has now gone into a paranoid schizophrenia, and we discover that her mind has constructed an entire false reality, like Club Silencio elucidated. Betty Diane then kills herself lying on the same bedspread we were shown at the beginning. The film concludes with Club Silencio’s blue-haired woman saying “Silencio.” Like Fred/Pete in Lost Highway, Diane/Betty is lost in a psychical prison of her own making. Yet, is Lynch also saying, on a deeper level, that Hollywood is an illusory reality – it is not a land of golden opportunity to the talented, but a mafia-style occult-run entity that uses mind control keys and triggers for useful dupes? Whether this is the aim of Lynch’s film, I cannot say, but I suspect it was not coincidental that “Silencio” is also the “sign of Harpocrates.” Is this the meaning of the twilight language?
Lynch is certainly no stranger to conspiracies.