The Movie: Mulholland Drive (2001)
Spoiler Level: Low
The Setup: Two guys are sitting in a café. With great trepidation, Guy #1 recounts to Guy #2 the details of a horrific, recurring nightmare that has haunted him. This nightmare not only occurs at the very café where the scene takes place, but stars both individuals. Guy #1, unable to shake the horrible feeling he’s had from the nightmare, has brought Guy #2 to help alleviate his fears. Guy #2 is slightly humored by the retelling of the nightmare as well as by Guy #1’s actual fear of it coming to fruition. After Guy #1’s account of his nightmare it indeed begins to play out as he described. Guy #2 pays the bill and they leave the café; all in accordance with the dream. However, Guy #1, as he stated earlier, knows that there is something or someone very horrible behind the building. Both individuals make a slow walk outside toward the back of the café even though Guy #1 knows it is hidden there looming. Everything else has gone according to the nightmare, yet they make their slow death march in the direction where the evil resides. You can see the hesitance and dread in Guy #1’s manner, but determined he treads on. All the while the eerie score of Angelo Badalamenti helps to set the mood and the occasional first-person camera angle adds to the effect. The editing cuts from Guys to dumpster seem to lengthen the scene and strengthen the suspense.
Why It’s Great: The scene as a whole comes out of nowhere and has very little to do with the rest of the film. Mulholland Drive is an enigma in and of itself and this particular scene only adds to the mystery. It comes a few minutes into the film and has absolutely nothing to do with anything that has happened up to that point. It takes you completely by surprise. The audience is not expecting a scary scene at this point.
David Lynch takes Hitchcock’s “Bomb-Under-the-Table” theory and merges both the surprise and suspense elements. The audience is experiencing the effects of both aspects of this theory.
- Suspense: We know what’s going to happen because Guy #1 told us. The viewer can either believe it, like Guy #1 or can be skeptical, like Guy #2. Either way, you’ve got some idea of what may or may not happen. The description of the nightmare and the long walk to the back perfectly captures the suspense.
- Surprise: The fact that we have been told what is about to happen in no way weakens the scare. In fact, I wager that it increases the scenes potency. The suspense is true, but when the time comes for the payoff, no matter how ready we think we are, it still takes us completely by surprise.
The great acting by Patrick Fischler, the creepy, ambient score and editing of the walk to the back make this an incredible scene and one that I will never forget.