Mulholland Drive, The Diner Scene – Why Is It So Mesmerizing?

I saw David Lynch’s film Mulholland Drive a couple months ago.  The film is rather long at a running time of 147 minutes.  I liked it as a whole, but it didn’t stick with me.

Well, this one scene stuck with me.  It’s a scene set in a diner, and occurs about 10 minutes into the movie.  It’s somewhat of a self-contained short film within the larger film.  You don’t really need to know anything about what precedes or follows it. The scene features two characters that don’t figure prominently in the plot (one shows up in a cameo later — if the other one shows up, I missed it).

The movie was available via Netflix Streaming, and I found myself watching the diner scene again and again.  Sadly, the film isn’t available to stream any more, though some kind soul has uploaded the scene in its entirety to YouTube Vimeo.

Here, watch it (my apologies for the poor quality – there was a nice clip of this on Vimeo that has since been taken down):

Why does this scene resonate so much with me?  There are strange things about it.  Dan, the dark-haired man, seems to vacilliate between naturalistic acting and a more stilted line delivery.  It’s hypnotic.  Also, note how the camera doesn’t stay still during what could be a very static, stereotypical two-person dialogue scene.  The camera seems to be handheld, and actually is very slightly raising and lowering, hovering during the scene.

By the time they leave the diner to see if “the  man” is back behind the alley, the tension is already ratcheted up to a high level.  The scene takes mundane things and somehow makes them terrifying.  The pay phone, the taped-up back door spooks Dan because of its familiarity to him, and we are spooked in the process because Dan is spooked.

The use of sound contributes to the scene.  Dan says something to his friend as they leave the diner, but you can’t hear him.  When “the man” appears, the sound gets incredibly loud, then becomes muffled as Dan collapses.

Hell, I’m describing WHAT happens, but I don’t know HOW it happens.  I don’t know why this scene is so riveting to me.

Thoughts? Does it affect you?  If so, why?


Here’s a snippet of the script for this scene, taken from  LynchNet:

I think the movie improves upon the script (for example, showing Dan didn’t eat his breakfast right before they leave the diner, rather than have Herb announce that Dan is not hungry).


Two well-dressed men HERB and DAN (mid 30's) are sitting at a
table drinking coffee. Herb has finished eating his
breakfast, but Dan hasn't touched his bacon and eggs - he
appears too nervous to eat. A blonde waitress with a
nameplate saying "DIANE" lays the check on their table
smiles, then walks off.

		Why did you want to go to breakfast if
		you're not hungry?

		I just wanted to come here.

		To Denny's? I wasn't going to say
		anything, but why Denny's?

		This Denny's.

		Okay. Why this Denny's?

		It's kind of embarrassing but,

		Go ahead.

		I had a dream about this place.

		Oh boy.

		You see what I mean...

		Okay, so you had a dream about this
		place. Tell me.

		Well ... it's the second one I've had, but
		they were both the same......they start
		out that I'm in here but it's not day or
		night. It's kinda half night, but it
		looks just like this except for the
		light, but I'm scared like I can't tell
		ya. Of all people you're standing right
		over there by that counter. You're in
		both dreams and you're scared. I get
		even more frightened when I see how
		afraid you are and then I realize what it
		is - there's a back of this
		place. He's the one ... he's the one
		that's doing it. I can see him through
		the wall. I can see his face and I hope
		I never see that face ever outside a

Herb stares at Dan to see if he will continue. Dan looks
around nervously, then stares at his uneaten food.

				DAN (cont'd)
		That's it.

		So, you came to see if he's out there?

		To get rid of this god-awful feeling.

		Right then.

Herb gets up, picks up the bill and goes to the cashier to
pay. Dan just sits.

As Herb is paying the bill he looks over at Dan just as Dan
is turning to look at him. From Dan's point of view Herb is
standing in exactly the same spot as he stood in the dream.
Herb gets a strange feeling, turns back and finishes up with
the cashier. He motions for Dan to follow him. Dan rises
reluctantly and he and Herb make their way outside.

							CUT TO:


Now Herb waits for Dan to lead the way.

		Around here.

Dan takes Herb across the front of Denny's to a narrow
sidewalk that leads down the side toward the back.

They begin walking down the narrow sidewalk - past a
payphone. Dan begins to sweat the nearer he gets to the rear
corner of the building. Red bricks glide by slowly.


Beads of sweat cover his face. He finds it difficult to
breathe. Herb is just behind him unable to see the fear
overtaking his friend, but Herb can feel something himself.

The red bricks moving by now are coming to an end - the
corner is coming closer - the corner is now very close.

Suddenly a man - a face ... a face dark and bum-like- moves
quickly out from behind the corner and stops - freezes -
staring into Dan's eyes.

Dan lurches back. All his breath is suddenly gone. He falls
back into Herb who tries to catch him as he's falling. Dan
hits the ground unable to breathe - his eyes wide with

Herb looks up - the man is gone. He looks down to Dan.

		Dan! ... Dan! You all right? ... Dan!

He kneels down and studies his friend. He feels for a pulse
in the neck. He listens for breathing. His friend is dead.

				HERB (cont'd)
		My God!