Written by Eden H Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks
WARNING: Contains spoilers for Mulholland Drive.
Have you ever been lonely
Have you ever been blue
Have you ever loved someone
Just as I love you
-“Have You Ever Been Lonely (Have You Ever Been Blue)” (P. de Rose, Billy Hill)
Mulholland Drive is undoubtedly one of Lynch’s most complex and often pondered works. Even with his ten clues to help solve the mystery, it remains obscure and confusing. In this series, I will look at various symbols from the film, attempt to interpret them, and, in the finale, I will put it all together to try and create a cohesive translation of the dream that is Mulholland Drive. In this first part, we will consider the Blue Box and its companion, the Blue Key.
Lynch has definitely shown that he has a fondness for the color blue, perhaps even more so than his fondness for red curtains. Blue Velvet, the Blue Box, the Blue Key, Questions in a World of Blue, Blue Bob, blue lights seen in Inland Empire, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks, Sue Blue, and, of course, an abundance of blues and jazz music used in his work. I think when using the color blue, Lynch is being rather straightforward: Blue means sad.
Mulholland Drive is certainly a very blue movie, both literally and thematically. It is a tale of heartbreak, disillusionment, humiliation and death. Appropriately, there are two dominant color schemes in the film: Corals, and blues. Scenes dominated by coral represent Diane’s fantasy world, such as the audition scene and her aunt’s apartment, and blue represents Diane’s sad reality, such as Club Silencio (where she begins to remember her waking life) and her suicide.
Of course, blue also connotes Camilla’s death, which brings us back to the Blue Box. In dream language, the Blue Box is where Diane has locked away her sad (or blue) thoughts; thoughts of Camilla’s murder. Logically, the Blue Key would open a Blue Box, right? Diane had wondered what the key opened, and the hit man only laughed when she asked. I always took this to mean that it really wasn’t important what the key opened; the key was just a symbol. (Also think of this as asking David Lynch, “What does it open?” It doesn’t matter what it opens, the importance is the Blue Key as a symbol.) However, some sharp-eyed fans have pointed out that, when the hit man laughs, he rests his hand on the window sill and looks outside, where we can make out a blue dumpster. When Diane saw the dumpster out the window, at this particular time, her mind made it a coffin for Camilla. This does not necessarily mean that the hit man did plan on dumping the body there: It could just mean that Diane thought he would.
If you’re still not convinced, remember also how The Man Behind Winkie’s is residing near the dumpster. If the Man Behind Winkie’s represents the dark, disturbing truth of Diane’s crimes, then having him (or her, as the character is actually played by a woman) reside where Camilla’s body might have been dumped makes sense symbolically. So in these two ways, the key and the dumpster, we can link the Blue Box to Camilla’s death.
The Blue Box is first discovered in Rita’s purse. A memory of Camilla has entered Diane’s fantasy, and so she can’t help but start to remember. Of course, she’s locked those memories away securely, so she needs to find a Blue Key that goes to the Blue Box. Also in Rita’s purse during the discovery of the Blue Box are the wads of cash that Diane used to pay for Camilla’s hit, further linking the Blue Box to Camilla’s murder. Later, Betty and Rita have sex, which causes Diane to remember her love for Camilla, which in turn leads to the other horrifying memories. So she goes to Club Silencio, a location linked with death and the afterlife, where the key appears in her purse.
I’m sure you’re also aware that there are technically two blue keys: The more realistic one that the hit man has, and the stylized one that opens the Blue Box. My best analysis of this is that it helps to elucidate the difference between the waking world and the dream world: While the item exists in both worlds, the dream version of the key is more unusual. The same can be said for other things which appear in both worlds, yet with slight differences. And of course, characters also do this. Just as the blue key in the dream world is more fantastic than the one in the real world, Betty and Rita are idealized versions of Diane and Camilla. It further shows how Diane’s dream is a fantasy; it’s the product of the mind of someone who’s spent their whole life watching movies like the Wizard of Oz and Key Largo. Everything is a big adventure, and when it goes wrong, it’s because someone conspired to make it go wrong. The altered appearance of the key into a more whimsical-looking one hints at a lack of realism in the dream scenes. Alternately, notice how there seems to be a crescent moon design on the handle. Combined with the dark blue color, it suggests night time; hence, sleeping and dreaming.
A final thing we should examine here is the final scene of the film, where Diane commits suicide amidst flashing blue lights, blue smoke, and her own horrified screams. Here, again, we see blue. There is a phrase this scene always reminds me of: “Scream blue murder.” This is definitely what Diane is doing, and of course, blue and murder are two essential symbols in this film. This could further strengthen the ties between Camilla’s death and the color blue.
Camilla’s death, or to be fully honest, Camilla’s murder, ordered by Diane, is the harsh truth that caused Diane to hide in a fantasy world. Once she remembers, the dream is destroyed. There is no call for her to be in the world of fantasy anymore, as it can no longer protect her from the truth, so Betty, the innocent, past version of Diane, disappears, as it is a lie. Once Diane’s mind acknowledges that she is not the ingénue Betty Elms, Rita must disappear next, as she is actually dead; killed by the real “Betty.” They both disappear into the Blue Box, as it contains the truth, which causes Diane to return to the waking world.
As you well know, we have only just scratched the surface of Mulholland Drive’s intricate world, laden with symbols to interpret and mysteries to investigate. The Old Couple, the Cowboy, the Party, Adam’s storyline, Mr Roque, the Doppelgangers, and the car accident all merit deeper exploration. In the next article in the series, we will delve into the mysteries of Dan’s dream and the Man Behind Winkie’s.