In a nutshell, my take on “Mulholland Drive” (I have not seen it in years but was obsessed intially) is that this young woman (Diane Selwyn I think her name is) wins a dance contest in her native Canada, decides she wants to become a movie star, moves to Hollywood, lives in a crappy apartment and saves her money up working as a waitress and doing bit parts in small productions that don’t really get her anywhere. At some point Diane has a brief NSA encounter with a more successful and beautiful rising starlet who gets her a bit part in something bigger that her fiance is directing, but she ruins by becoming attached and clingy to this starlet and expecting more than NSA which only drives the starlet to spurn her more, to the point of inviting Diane to her wedding announcement party with all these stars, including elderly has-been celebrity Coco and a waiter in cowboy costume serving up drinks, etc.
Diane is utterly humiliated by this ultimate statement of rejection and starts to withdraw and become clinically depressed that all of her dreams have ended in failure. In a fit of vengeful rage, she takes all of her savings and hires a hit man to take out the starlet but then has second thoughts once the process is in motion and she is unable to stop it. She becomes even more distraught and desperate and falls asleep on what turns out to be her last night alive. She dreams about the hit on her erstwhile fling starlet getting botched and the amnesiatic starlet and herself have fun Nancy Drew-ing it up all over the place, even to the extent of trying to track down Diane Selwyn (herself! Creepy!). In this first part of her dreaming, everything is idealized – she’s come to Hollywood and lives in a beautiful upscale apartment with Coco as one of the guests, she gets an interview for a major film and blows them all away on her first audition, etc etc.
But then, as is frequently the case with nightmares, uncertainty creeps in, and then unease, and then things start spiraling out of control, including a scene where she encounters her own body rotting in her crappy (real life) apartment, so forth. As her self-loathing and sense of utter failure insinuate themselves into even her deep subconscious dreaming mind, she has a surreal dream in a theater with a singer singing a sad Roy Orbison song in Spanish but then the singer falls and the song continues. She had a nightmare peak and what strikes me as a moment of self-realization where she sees her life in very bleak and stark terms and knows she’s lost the will to live. She exits up the layers of sleep and awakes to find a normal blue housekey on her coffee table, which was the signal from the hit man that the job was complete.
She has a mental breakdown, where she makes coffee and thinks about the events that led to this moment, then reclines on the couch and violently works herself to an orgasm and then runs down the hall to her bedroom, throws herself on the bed, retrieves a handgun from the bedside nightstand drawer and blows her brains out.
Of course, this is the story told chronologically but David Lynch doesn’t tell it in that order in the movie, and that’s the amazing experience of watching the movie and all the creepy dream references and feeling how uncanny he is at capturing the subconscious and dreaming experience. There’s an incredible dream within a dream, lots of wonderful symbolism, the whole thing works metaphorically for the Hollywood experience, and precisely because it’s so layered and take you “under” with him it makes repeated viewing downright thrilling as you catch more and more references from within the dream about the real world and from the real world and the real world flashbacks at the end about the dreaming.