An analysis by a new MD convert

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I saw Mulholland Drive for the first time just after it was released and, like many people, was hypnotized but baffled by it. I didn't know quite what to make of it. I recently saw it again on DVD and the second viewing just blew me away and the film has been rattling around in my brain ever since. I've watched it several more times since.

I'd like to offer my own analysis of it, much of which is similar to others that I've read here, but some of which is quite different:

-The first 3/4 of the movie is Diane's dream, the final 1/4 is Diane's reality.

-The dream is essentially a mirror image of reality. In the dream Rita goes down the hill from the limousine; in reality Diane goes up the hill from the limousine. In the dream Adam Kesher's life is spinning out of control; in reality it is very much in control and he has everything. In the dream the hitman is incompetent; in reality he's all too competent. In the dream Camilla is alive and Diane is dead; in reality Diane is alive and Camilla is dead. In the dream Aunt Ruth is alive; in reality Aunt Ruth is dead.

-Betty is an idealized version of Diane...prettier, more talented, more wholesome, and, most importantly, more innocent. However, Diane is not Betty in her dream...she's Rita.

-Aunt Ruth's apartment in the dream is an idealized version of Aunt Ruth's real apartment in the Sierra Bonita apartment complex.

-There was a real limousine crash...it was the one that killed Aunt Ruth. Diane incorporated this into her dream and used it to bring both Aunt Ruth and Camilla back to life.

-The woman in apartment #12 was Aunt Ruth's lover.

-The apartment switch seems to have some kind of significance since at least one of the reality scenes takes place in a different apartment.

-"Coming back" is a theme that's repeated thoughout the film. "I came back, I thought that's what you wanted" is Rita's first line in the audition rehearsal in the dream kitchen. "Camilla, you've come back" is what Diane says while standing in her real kitchen. The hopes and dreams Diane had when she first reached Hollywood come back in the form of Betty. Aunt Ruth and Camilla come back to life in the dream. Diane begins coming back to life in the dream when Rita cuts her hair and puts on a blonde wig. The old couple we see at the airport (and the jitterbug scene) come back to drive Diane to suicide.

There's more but I'll throw that out for starters. MD is an endlessly fascinating film.
Sep 24, 2002 11:03 PM
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Top to bottom..

-The first 3/4 of the movie is Diane's dream, the final 1/4 is Diane's reality.

This is a generally-held assumption, and well-supported.

-The dream is essentially a mirror image of reality. In the dream Rita goes down the hill from the limousine; in reality Diane goes up the hill from the limousine...

Both trips seem to be fairly level, don't they? As compared to, for example, Adam Kesher's mechanised ascent to the corral. (Or James Stewart's descents in 'Vertigo.') Doesn't each woman's limousine meander, rather than actually climb or descend?

-Betty is an idealized version of Diane...prettier, more talented, more wholesome, and, most importantly, more innocent. However, Diane is not Betty in her dream...she's Rita.

Arguably, everyone in the dreamworld is an extension of Diane. What do you mean, exactly?

-Aunt Ruth's apartment in the dream is an idealised version of Aunt Ruth's real apartment in the Sierra Bonita apartment complex.

This is interesting. But what guides you to the assumption that the Sierra Bonita apt is clearly Aunt Ruth's? And if so, why - for example - doesn't Aunt Ruth step into the bedroom of the Sierra Bonita apt when she hears the blue box fall to the ground? (But then, that's the Cowboy's job?)

-There was a real limousine crash...it was the one that killed Aunt Ruth. Diane incorporated this into her dream and used it to bring both Aunt Ruth and Camilla back to life.

What guides you to the conclusion that Aunt Ruth has died in a limousine accident?

-The woman in apartment #12 was Aunt Ruth's lover.

Why so?

-The apartment switch seems to have some kind of significance since at least one of the reality scenes takes place in a different apartment.

Could you be clearer? Which scene?

-"Coming back" is a theme that's repeated thoughout the film. "I came back, I thought that's what you wanted" is Rita's first line in the audition rehearsal in the dream kitchen. "Camilla, you've come back" is what Diane says while standing in her real kitchen. The hopes and dreams Diane had when she first reached Hollywood come back in the form of Betty. Aunt Ruth and Camilla come back to life in the dream. Diane begins coming back to life in the dream when Rita cuts her hair and puts on a blonde wig. The old couple we see at the airport (and the jitterbug scene) come back to drive Diane to suicide.

This is another interesting point. These examples of dialogue are general and direct enough to draw attention again to the looping, repetitive aspects of the film: scenes, personages, and dialogue.
Sep 25, 2002 1:54 AM
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" Both trips seem to be fairly level, don't they? As compared to, for example, Adam Kesher's mechanised ascent to the corral. (Or James Stewart's descents in 'Vertigo.') Doesn't each woman's limousine meander, rather than actually climb or descend?"

I'm not talking about the ascent or descent of the limo which seems to be taking the same road and stops at the same spot in both reality and dream. I'm talking about the different path that each woman takes once she exits the limo.

"Arguably, everyone in the dreamworld is an extension of Diane. What do you mean, exactly?"

It's true that a dreamer is always present in a dream even if only as an observer and the dreamer's subconscious guides the actions and words of everyone in the dream. However the dreamer usually assumes one role in a dream. There seems to be an assumption by most people that Diane is Betty in her dream since that is her ideal self but I don't believe that's true. It's no coincidence that Betty enters the dream after Rita does and disappears from the dream before Rita does.

"This is interesting. But what guides you to the assumption that the Sierra Bonita apt is clearly Aunt Ruth's? And if so, why - for example - doesn't Aunt Ruth step into the bedroom of the Sierra Bonita apt when she hears the blue box fall to the ground? (But then, that's the Cowboy's job?)"

I'm not exactly sure what you mean here. Aunt Ruth did make a final appearance in the dream but she had to disappear (along with Betty and Rita) since the dream had resurrected her.

"What guides you to the conclusion that Aunt Ruth has died in a limousine accident?"

I don't have time to get into the reasons right now but I'll just say that it relates to David Lynch's tenth clue, "Where is Aunt Ruth?" I believe that Aunt Ruth plays a significant role in this film and David Lynch gives us clues as to where she lived, how she died, when she died, and even the job she held in Hollywood.

"Why so?"

To be honest I haven't quite worked out the details of the apartment switch in my mind but when I do it should reveal whether the woman in apartment 12 was Ruth's lover or Diane's lover.

"Could you be clearer? Which scene?"

I believe the red lampshade provides the clue to which apartment Diane is residing in at various times. In several scenes the red lampshade is on top of a small lamp sitting on a table next to a telephone and an ashtray. At the end of the film it seems to be on top of a different lamp beside her bed. You'll note that one of the items that the woman in #12 stopped by to pick up was her lamp...but not the red lampshade.
Sep 25, 2002 4:26 AM
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Well I am anxious to hear your ideas about the clue "Where is Aunt Ruth". That is the one that baffles me the most.
Sep 25, 2002 2:52 PM
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StellaBlue:

Thanks for the interest in my theory on "Where's Aunt Ruth". I don't have it entirely worked out but I think I have a pretty good idea of at least part of the answer to that question. It would take me awhile to go through everything but I'll get you started on the right path if you want.

First of all, you have to start with what little the film does tell us about Aunt Ruth. In the pool party scene we are told that she worked in the movie industry (presumably in Hollywood), she has died, and has left Diane some money. I think we can also infer from that scene that she's probably also the one who persuaded Diane to come to Hollywood after she won her jitterbug contest. From the dream portion we see that she appears to be a middle-aged redhead and has departed on a trip of some sort (possibly to Canada). Not a lot of information but it does provide us with a starting point.

I believe Lynch has also left us some visual clues about Aunt Ruth within Diane's dream. The first time we see her is the most obvious...it's when Rita is hiding in the bushes after the limo crash. She's sees a well-dressed, redhead wearing a scarf. The other sightings of an Aunt Ruth-like figure are more subtle.

In the scene at the airport where Betty is first arriving a well-dressed redheaded woman wearing a scarf walks past just as the cabbie picks up Betty's bags to put them in the trunk. The woman looks somewhat different in appearance than the first Aunt Ruth but the similarities are close enough to give us a hint that Lynch may be up to something.

The next Aunt Ruth sighting comes after Betty and Rita show up at the Sierra Bonita apartments to look for Diane Selwyn. There, while hiding behind some bushes, they see a redheaded woman wearing a scarf having her bags put into what appears to be a limousine. Once again the woman looks a little different in appearance than the first two Aunt Ruth sightings but it's hard to ignore anymore that every time bags are being packed into a car for a trip a redheaded woman wearing a scarf is there. By now it's obvious that this is a recurring image in Diane's dream which means that this particular image must have some meaning to her.

To discover that meaning I think you have to go back and think about what we know about Aunt Ruth. We know that she lived in Hollywood, she apparently left on a trip at some point, and that in real-life she's dead. Nowhere in either reality or the dream is there any indication that she ever returned from the trip. From that I think we can deduce that she must have died at some point on the trip.

Why does Diane's dream keep coming back to the image of an Aunt Ruth figure every time a car is being packed for a trip? I believe that's because it represents the last time that Diane ever saw her Aunt Ruth alive.

That's all I have time for now but I will throw out one more interesting observation. Notice the similarity between two of the Aunt Ruth sightings. In one sighting Rita sees a redheaded woman's bags being packed into a taxi as she hides in the bushes. Rita then sneaks into an apartment. In another sighting Betty and Rita see a redheaded woman's bags being packed into a limo as they hide in the bushes. They then sneak into an apartment (after talking briefly with the woman in #12). David Lynch has essentially shot two versions of the same scene. What the heck is he trying to say here? He must be up to something.
Sep 25, 2002 3:43 PM
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Thank you for coming on board the Mulholland Drive mystery. Your analysis has given me a better understanding of this psychological movie. I especially like the up and down theory of what happens after the girls leave the limousine. But sill the Aunt Ruth theory had got me thinking. Your insights to MD are very worthy.
Sep 25, 2002 7:51 PM
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Xhen,

I feel like taking some of the ideas you are describing, and see if I can move them onward a step, though I'm still uncertain about the likelyhoods involved.

Let's assume that the Aunt Ruth-variants you describe (which I have not checked exhaustively) combining red hair, luggage, and a vehicle are present, and that the narrator of this dream, Diane Selwyn, has made this image important to herself for some reason.

I would argue that the casting director, Linney James, who also has red hair and resembles Aunt Ruth, could pose a problem, in that she acts differently. But, let's assume that she is another mirror of Ruth, and even suggests the kind of work Ruth did in life.

(Actually, I think it is a little suspicious that, if Linney James is another of Diane's projections of Ruth, that she is a casting director, since it seems to too-conveniently serve Diane's self-delusion regarding her acting skills. And, after all, if Ruth was a Linney James, wouldn't she have ensured that Diane received some acting jobs? There are already plenty of actors, who can't act, that find regular work through connections).

In any case, let's assume that Diane has attached significance to the idea of an Aunt-Ruth-in-transport. But why?

Is it possible that Ruth was planning to head to Canada for a film project, possibly one that Diane - who we shall say is living in Canada at the time - might have found a part in? After all, the jitterbugging contest seems to lend itself somewhat to a period film like 'The Sylvia North Story.' Perhaps Diane is more of a dancer then an actress, and landing a dancing role might at least get her a step closer to a speaking role.

Is it, then, possible that Diane was pinning great hopes on the arrival of Aunt Ruth, as a result?

Let's assume then, as you have suggested, that Aunt Ruth died in an accident.

Perhaps, when setting out on that very trip to Canada, perhaps on her drive to LAX, Ruth was killed. This would have the effect of causing Diane to blame herself (to whatever degree she felt responsible, particularly if she twisted Ruth's arm to come, or involve her) and also to feel a huge sense of loss. Perhaps Ruth was her only contact in LA, and she may now never get her big break.

Let's also assume that Ruth did leave some money, and perhaps the Sierra Bonita cottage, to Diane. Diane would presumably head south, install herself in the cottage, and begin the rather ironic job of seeking acting roles in a state of pointless freedom: she is not about to starve, but doesn't really know anyone.

Diane's parents are an issue here. If dead, I wonder what was keeping Diane from LA in the first place? If alive and, let's assume, resistant to the idea of Diane getting caught up in the Hollywood scene, I imagine that the inheritance might give her the way out she has been seeking.

How do you react to these ideas?
Sep 26, 2002 8:22 AM
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Those are interesting ideas Rochas but the problem I see with them (as with many other theories I've read) is that they require a lot of things to happen offscreen and also requires the dreamer, Diane, to produce images of things she never could have observed in her real life if she had not been present in Hollywood at the time.

I think in understanding this film you need to stick as much as possible with what David Lynch shows us and tells us rather than trying to create offscreen scenarios. You also need to remember that Diane, as the dreamer, is present and controlling the action in every scene, even when she's not directly represented.

What does David Lynch tell us about Aunt Ruth? She's dead. What does Lynch show us? Aunt Ruth leaving on a trip. Who observes a redheaded woman loading up a car for a trip on several occasions? Diane. Not Betty, not Rita, but Diane. Diane is the dreamer and the observer and it is her subconscious that is creating these images. This tells us that these images most likely are drawn from events that she observed in her real life, not something that happened while she was in Canada.
Sep 26, 2002 9:25 AM
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Xhen,

Firstly, I'm really not sure that I am creating any more off-screen elements than you are.

Secondly, one could argue that the repeating Aunt-in-transit imagery actually suggests that Diane did not personally witness such an event: for if she were waiting in Canada for news of her Aunt's arrival, and instead received news of her death on the way to the airport (for example), she might very well fixate upon an unseen image of the last actions of her Aunt - to come to Ontario to discover her - that were never to be fulfilled.

If only she could have prevented her Aunt from entering that vehicle?

Still, there are many unresolved questions surrounding the Aunt. Her reaction to the sound of the box dropping on the floor seems, I would suggest, to indicate that it is she that is still alive, and hearing the soft sounds of the ghostlike presences of the dead lovers as they re-visit the apartment, unaware of their status.
Sep 28, 2002 5:47 AM
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So the question is "Where is Aunt Ruth?"
And there are several different answeres.
1. Leaving Havenhurst
2.Leaving Sierra bonita
3. At the Airport
4. In Canada working on a movie.
5.Dead.

So what is Lynch getting at with the clue? What is he trying to reveal?

I have always thought it very unusual that Diane and Aunt Ruth are trading places, and wonder if there is any meaning to that. Diane comes from Canada to LA, Ruth goes from LA to Canada.
Lynch could have selected any place in the world for Ruth to be filming a movie, why did he chose Canada. And, why do they never cross paths....wouldnt Ruth maybe try and arrange their flights so that they could at least spend a few hours together so Ruth could show Betty around and give her the keys herself.
Sep 28, 2002 8:15 AM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by StellaBlue
So the question is "Where is Aunt Ruth?"
And there are several different answeres.
1. Leaving Havenhurst
2.Leaving Sierra bonita
3. At the Airport
4. In Canada working on a movie.
5.Dead.

So what is Lynch getting at with the clue? What is he trying to reveal?

I have always thought it very unusual that Diane and Aunt Ruth are trading places, and wonder if there is any meaning to that. Diane comes from Canada to LA, Ruth goes from LA to Canada.
Lynch could have selected any place in the world for Ruth to be filming a movie, why did he chose Canada. And, why do they never cross paths....wouldnt Ruth maybe try and arrange their flights so that they could at least spend a few hours together so Ruth could show Betty around and give her the keys herself.
[/QUOTE]

I think Lynch probably picked this small town in Canada as a symbol of Diane's naivety. It's just so far removed from Hollywood, both physically and characteristically. I also think David Lynch has this romantic vision of Canada as being somehow more simple and down-to-earth than the U.S., and yet still very similar - kinda like a kid sister. That's just the impression I get anyway.
As far as there actually being an Aunt Ruth, I don't believe there ever was an Aunt Ruth who was an actress. I think this is just Diane's way of trying to impress her Hollywood friends. There may have been an Aunt Ruth back home in Deep River, and she may have died and left Diane an inheritance, but I have the feeling that the amount left to her was small and insignificant. Not the huge stash she envisions in her dream. If she had a lot of money, she probably wouldn't be living in such a low budget place. Also, when she pulls out the money to hand to the hitman, it is a very small wad in comparison to the many large wads in Rita's purse.
Sep 28, 2002 11:46 AM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by Rochas
I would argue that the casting director, Linney James, who also has red hair and resembles Aunt Ruth, could pose a problem, in that she acts differently. [/QUOTE]
Question, Rochas........

what do you mean 'she acts <i>differently</i>'? do you mean in the sense that she's not involved in a 'departure' scene? as far as personality goes, we really don't know how Aunt Ruth 'acts'......



*smiling* it's interesting.........Aunt Ruth seems to be the most elusive 'element' in the film, the thing everyone has the hardest time getting a handle on........

I'm anxious to see where this thread goes
Sep 28, 2002 12:02 PM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by Rochas
there are many unresolved questions surrounding the Aunt. Her reaction to the sound of the box dropping on the floor seems, I would suggest, to indicate that it is she that is still alive, and hearing the soft sounds of the ghostlike presences of the dead lovers as they re-visit the apartment, unaware of their status. [/QUOTE]
That scene is one of the more intriguing ones in the film to me.......

I agree with your supposition Rochas...........I also think it could be the <i>opposite</i> scenario. 'Where is Aunt Ruth?' well, she's dead, so perhaps the box dropping, etc happened in some kind of afterlife/netherworld........where Diane and Camilla <i>are</i> by film's end.

But my first reaction to the scene was that it was suggestive of some kind of 'temporal warp', where events from different times touch or overlap.........where different 'dimensions' coincide.....

or words to that effect
Sep 28, 2002 12:13 PM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by StellaBlue
I have always thought it very unusual that Diane and Aunt Ruth are trading places, and wonder if there is any meaning to that. Diane comes from Canada to LA, Ruth goes from LA to Canada.
Lynch could have selected any place in the world for Ruth to be filming a movie, why did he chose Canada.[/QUOTE]

I don't have a specific answer, but it does fit the general pattern of the movie of binary-opposites. First, there's Betty and Rita, who have a psychic exchange of mojo between them, first Betty being active and Rita being passive zombie, then later, the opposite. Then there's Diane and Camilla, who while interacting don't ever really occupy the same physic space. And of course Diane Camilla are the direct opposite of Betty-Rita. Adam is an arrogant powerful person one minute and a powerless child the next. Even the Cowboy is almost Godlike in one scene and a silent, passive figure in another, almost like hired help. The old people are kind one minute, and demonic later. And Diane goes up from the limosine one time and Rita goes down from the limosine in another scene. The hit man is a bumbling joker in one scene and a cruel pimp in another. It is Dan who stands near the cash register one minute but it is Herb who is there another time.

So, as you can see, it's not surprising to me that there exists a binary-opposition between Diane and Ruth, both going different directions, literally.

For me the question is: Which characters, if any, who exist in real life and in the dream too do <i>not</i> have such a binary opposition? Coco and Cookie. Coco is basically the same in both scenes. So is Cookie. (Coco/Cookie... similar sounding names.) So they must represent some axle around which things revolve.... You can say the Monster also exists in both worlds and does not change, but that's pushing it.

jk
Sep 28, 2002 4:53 PM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by jkandell


For me the question is: Which characters, if any, who exist in real life and in the dream too do <i>not</i> have such a binary opposition? Coco and Cookie. Coco is basically the same in both scenes. So is Cookie. (Coco/Cookie... similar sounding names.) So they must represent some axle around which things revolve.... You can say the Monster also exists in both worlds and does not change, but that's pushing it.

jk
[/QUOTE]
I wasn't aware that we saw Cookie outside the dream. Both of his scenes were in the dream: Park Hotel and Silencio.
Sep 28, 2002 5:14 PM
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i'm getting the distinct feeling that Aunt Ruth is destined to confound us forever........





Sep 29, 2002 6:28 AM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by woodlouse
I wasn't aware that we saw Cookie outside the dream. Both of his scenes were in the dream: Park Hotel and Silencio[/QUOTE]

You're right. Then that makes Coco the one character without an opposite in the dream, which accounts for her strange stability and importance even though it's hard to pin down what function she serves. She does show compassion for Diane at the party, maybe the only person in the movie who ever does.

jk
Sep 29, 2002 7:24 AM
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To clarify my earlier distinction between Aunt Ruth and the casting agent, I meant only that the latter does more than simply administer flunkeys, almost forget keys, wear scarves, hear boxes drop, and endlessly leave on trips for Canada without successfully arriving.

As for Coco, that is perhaps more interesting.

Firstly, her name suggests Coco Chanel, the designer who (re)introduced simplicity and elegance to European couture, and is known for giving us the timeless ?little black dress,? and indeed our Coco is wearing black when we first meet her. (Could someone have died, we wonder?) And what?s more, she also wears a great many pearls (another Chanel trademark) which is perhaps a point of resonance with the pearl earring found by the stereotypical dream police of the film?s opening.

And, to get really thorough, we might note that Ann Miller, the actress who plays Coco, apparently has owned a dog called Koko in the past. (Don?t ask, and I won?t tell.)

Coco?s manner in the Havenhurst scenes, I?d argue, suggests a person who has come to a kind of sartorial acceptance of her situation: she is sensible, businesslike, knows when she is being misled, has a sense of humour, and also knowingly represents a particular kind of faded glory. (The hooded psychic who knocks on Aunt Ruth?s door and rattles Betty is similar, especially in the moment when Coco arrives to say that she has pages of a scene to deliver to Betty-the-actress. The appraising look the psychic gives Betty is hardly acting in this moment, and is the better for it.) This characteristic mutates, when Coco Lenoix becomes Coco Kesher, into a kind of vaguely annoyed irony; both about the haphazard arrival times of her son?s guests, and the movie-making social scene generally (which may also be less than acting on Miller?s part).

As for the famous ?pat on the hand,? I would suggest that this gesture is actually much more disturbing than generally regarded. If one revisits ?Lost Highway,? there is another, very similar gesture which diminishes and even shames the recipient during a time of particular vulnerability.

I?d suggest something very similar may be happening here.

The gesture seems condescending in an almost haphazard, careless way: Coco doesn?t know enough (or care) to act differently. She is simply obeying the Darwinian rules of Hollywood; the only real measure of success is success itself, and the feedback loop of consensual reaffirmation. After all, no-one knows what is ?good? or ?bad? any more; only the marketplace matters.

As for the pecans (or walnuts?) they have an oddly cranial suggestion: it looks as though she is eating tiny, ossified cerebrums, and one wonders if Hannibal Lecter would approve.

But before we get sidelined, however, I?d suggest we think laterally about Diane and Coco, and the links between them.

Leonard Maltin apparently has this to say about Ann Miller, the actress and former dancer who plays the two Coco?s:

"By the time Miller reached MGM, home of the most lavish movie musicals, she was too old and too brassy to play ingenues, so she played secondary leads, some of them manipulative, temperamental dames."

Did Lynch select Ann Miller ? a dancer who moved into acting - to be one of the characters to sympathise with Betty/Diane (the ingenue par excellence) for a related reason?

Could Coco be an indication of who Betty/Diane - a dancer hoping to become an actress - might have become if her career had not been interrupted by suicide, but had simply continued downhill? A somewhat jaded, hard-bitten woman who has demarcated an area she will dominate, in spite of the best efforts of pooping pooches and pugilistic marsupials?

Not to mention (literally) glittering young starlets who ? on the face of things ? might not be as young as they seem?
Sep 29, 2002 8:55 AM
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[QUOTE]Originally posted by jkandell
that makes Coco the one character without an opposite in the dream, which accounts for her strange stability and importance even though it's hard to pin down what function she serves. [/QUOTE] kinda like Ann Miller in real life


*rim shot*
Sep 29, 2002 8:59 AM
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I mentioned in an earlier thread that I believed the reason that Coco stayed the same in both portions was that she symbolized to Diane a certain type of wisdom: the type that can only come through age. Coco had been through the wringer - a veteran of old Hollywood. Diane's subconscious clung to that perception of Coco and thus maintained it throughout the cathartic dream (or alternate reality, however you choose to view the experience.)
Sep 29, 2002 12:53 PM
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