Significance & Meaning of the Ending of “Mulholland Drive”

“Mulholland Drive” is a movie that defies easy categorization. It is a surreal and dreamlike exploration of Hollywood’s darker side, filled with symbolism, imagery, and unforgettable performances.

David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” is widely regarded as one of the greatest movies of the 21st century, thanks in no small part to its enigmatic and unforgettable ending. Released in 2001, the movie follows an aspiring actress named Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) as she arrives in Hollywood and befriends a mysterious amnesiac (Laura Harring). As the two women try to piece together the amnesiac’s past, they become enmeshed in a web of deceit and corruption.

The movie’s ending, however, is a departure from the rest of the story. It is a surreal and ambiguous sequence that has been analyzed and debated by viewers for years. In this article, we will explore the ending of “Mulholland Drive” in depth and try to understand its significance.

Analysis of the Plot

Before we can understand the ending, we need to understand the movie’s plot. “Mulholland Drive” has a dual narrative structure, with two distinct storylines that converge at the end. The first narrative follows Betty as she helps the amnesiac (who goes by the name Rita) try to discover her true identity. Along the way, they encounter strange characters, including a mysterious director named Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) and a hitman named Joe (Mark Pellegrino).

The second narrative follows a failed actress named Diane Selwyn (also played by Naomi Watts) who is consumed by jealousy and despair. As her life falls apart, she spirals into a dark fantasy in which she hires a hitman to kill her lover (Camilla Rhodes, played by Laura Harring). This narrative is revealed to be a dream that Diane is having in the final scenes of the movie.

Throughout the movie, Lynch uses a variety of themes and motifs to create a sense of unease and disorientation. The color blue, for example, appears frequently and seems to symbolize inner turmoil and melancholy. The cowboy hat worn by a character named “The Cowboy” (Monty Montgomery) is another recurring symbol that hints at the darker aspects of Hollywood.

As the movie progresses, Lynch drops a number of clues and hints that something is not quite right. These include odd camera angles, distorted sound effects, and an unsettling atmosphere that pervades many scenes. As the two narratives begin to converge, it becomes clear that reality is not what it seems.

Ending of Mulholland Drive Explained

The final scene of “Mulholland Drive” is one of the most perplexing and debated in modern cinema. In it, Betty (now revealed to be an actress named Diane) appears to wake up from a nightmare. She stumbles through her apartment, finds a blue box, and collapses on the floor. A sinister figure (played by Bonnie Aarons) emerges from the box and lunges toward her.

Different interpretations of this scene abound. Some viewers see it as a representation of Diane’s guilt and despair, while others view it as a commentary on Hollywood’s darker side. Lynch himself has refused to offer a definitive explanation, instead encouraging viewers to come up with their own interpretations.

One popular theory is that the entire movie is Diane’s dream, and that the final scene represents her final descent into madness. Another is that the box represents the key to unlocking the truth about Rita’s identity, and that Diane is unable to confront the truth when it is revealed to her.

Whatever the interpretation, it is clear that Lynch intentionally created an ending that is open to multiple meanings and interpretations. This ambiguity is an essential part of the movie’s appeal and has helped to cement its status as a modern masterpiece.

The Role of Dreams and Fantasy

Dreams and fantasy play a major role in “Mulholland Drive.” The movie blurs the line between reality and fantasy, creating a sense of disorientation and unease that is characteristic of Lynch’s work.

Throughout the movie, dreams and fantasy are used to explore the characters’ innermost desires and fears. Betty, for example, dreams of becoming a famous actress, while Diane’s fantasies allow her to escape from the harsh reality of her life.

The final scene, in which Diane appears to wake up from a nightmare, can be seen as the culmination of this exploration of dreams and fantasy. It is a reminder that the line between reality and fantasy is often blurred, and that our perceptions of the world around us can be shaped by our own inner worlds.

Symbolism and Imagery

Symbolism and imagery are an essential part of “Mulholland Drive.” Lynch uses these tools to create a sense of atmosphere and to hint at deeper meanings and themes.

One of the most striking examples of symbolism in the movie is the blue key. This key appears several times throughout the movie and seems to represent a key to unlocking the truth about Rita’s identity.

Other symbols include the cowboy hat worn by “The Cowboy,” which hints at the darker side of Hollywood, and the recurring use of the color blue, which seems to symbolize inner turmoil and melancholy.

Lynch’s use of imagery is equally striking. The movie is filled with surreal and dreamlike images, from the eerie abandoned theater to the sinister figure that emerges from the blue box.

Cinematography and Sound Design

Cinematography and sound design are two more tools that Lynch uses to create a sense of atmosphere and unease in “Mulholland Drive.”

The movie’s use of color and lighting is particularly noteworthy. Lynch frequently uses bold, saturated colors to create a sense of heightened reality, while also using shadow and darkness to suggest danger and uncertainty.

Sound design is another key element of the movie’s atmosphere. Lynch uses sound to create a sense of unease and disorientation, with distorted and unnatural sound effects that add to the surreal and dreamlike atmosphere. The movie’s score, composed by Angelo Badalamenti, is also haunting and memorable, adding to the overall impact of the film.

Critical Reception

Upon its release, “Mulholland Drive” received mixed reviews from critics. Some praised its unique style and bold storytelling, while others criticized it for being too confusing and inaccessible.

Despite this initial mixed reaction, the movie has since become widely regarded as a modern classic. It has been praised for its innovative storytelling, stunning cinematography, and unforgettable performances from its cast.


The movie’s ambiguous ending has sparked countless debates and discussions, with viewers offering their own interpretations and theories. Lynch’s refusal to provide a definitive explanation only adds to the movie’s allure, encouraging viewers to engage with its themes and explore its deeper meanings.

Whether you see “Mulholland Drive” as a masterpiece or a confusing mess, it is undeniable that the movie is a singular achievement in modern cinema. Its bold storytelling, stunning visuals, and haunting atmosphere make it a must-see for anyone interested in the art of filmmaking.


  1. What is “Mulholland Drive” about?
  • “Mulholland Drive” is a surrealist neo-noir film directed by David Lynch that explores the darker side of Hollywood. It tells the story of a young actress named Betty who arrives in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a star, only to become embroiled in a mystery involving a woman named Rita.
  1. What is the significance of the blue box in “Mulholland Drive”?
  • The blue box is a recurring symbol in “Mulholland Drive” that represents a key to unlocking the truth about Rita’s identity. It is also associated with danger and the movie’s darker themes.
  1. What does the final scene of “Mulholland Drive” mean?
  • The final scene of “Mulholland Drive” is open to multiple interpretations. Some see it as a representation of the protagonist’s guilt and despair, while others view it as a commentary on Hollywood’s darker side.
  1. Why is “Mulholland Drive” considered a masterpiece?
  • “Mulholland Drive” is widely regarded as a modern masterpiece due to its innovative storytelling, stunning visuals, and unforgettable performances. It is a movie that defies easy categorization and continues to inspire debate and discussion among film enthusiasts.
  1. What other movies are similar to “Mulholland Drive”?
  • Other movies that share similarities with “Mulholland Drive” include “Blue Velvet” (also directed by David Lynch), “Inland Empire” (another Lynch film), Joker (directed by Todd Philips), and “Donnie Darko” (directed by Richard Kelly).

Saurav B.

Saurav is the main content creator at Film Finesse's blog and YouTube. He has six years of experience as a content writer, including writing screenplays for short movies and videos. He has 5 years of experience as a research manager, along with a degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering.

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