Study Guide

David Lynch

David Lynch Essay - Critical Essays

Lynch, David

Introduction

David Lynch 1946-

(Full name David Keith Lynch) American director and screenwriter.

The following entry presents criticism on Lynch's career through 2002. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 66.

Regarded as one of the most creative and unusual filmmakers of his generation, Lynch has earned a reputation for confronting audiences with his distinctive personal vision, showing physical and psychological deformity with unsettling frankness. His works often focus upon innocent, alienated, or obsessive individuals who reflect either his own personality or those of characters drawn from American popular culture and cinema. By emphasizing protagonists entangled in sinister situations beyond their control, Lynch explores the unpleasant and grotesque realities hidden beneath the placid surface of everyday existence. He adopts an intuitive, surrealist approach to present viewers with images suggestive of sex, birth, and death—including womblike settings, phallic symbols, and mutilated bodies—while avoiding overt explanation. His best known works include Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), and the critically acclaimed television series Twin Peaks (1990-91).

Biographical Information

Lynch was born January 20, 1946, in Missoula, Montana. His father was a scientist who worked in the United States Department of Agriculture, conducting forestry research. When he was fifteen, Lynch moved with his family to Alexandria, Virginia, where he attended the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Boston Museum School. From 1965 to 1969, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. While studying in Philadelphia, Lynch made his first film, Six Men Getting Sick (1966), a repeating loop in which the heads of six different figures vomit and then burst into flames. Lynch was later awarded a $5,000 grant from the American Film Institute that enabled him to produce a half-hour film, The Grandmother (1970), which combined animation with live action. The Grandmother received several awards at film festivals, including the special jury prize from the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival. In 1970 Lynch enrolled in the Center for Advanced Studies of the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, California. During this period, he began work on his first feature-length film, Eraserhead. The film was funded primarily by the American Film Institute and actress Sissy Spacek and took five years to produce. To support himself while filming, Lynch held a variety of jobs, including delivering newspapers, and often lived on the set of the film. Eraserhead became a cult success after its release and Lynch was hired to direct his first major Hollywood production, The Elephant Man (1980). The Elephant Man received widespread critical acclaim and was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including best director, best picture, and best adapted screenplay. The British Film Academy awarded The Elephant Man a British Academy Award for best film in 1980. Lynch was nominated for an Academy Award for best director for Blue Velvet in 1987. His 1990 film Wild at Heart received the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival. Lynch's film Mulholland Drive (2001) earned him an Academy Award nomination for best director and won him the best director award at the Cannes Film Festival. Among his other projects, Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti co-wrote Industrial Symphony No. 1, an experimental theater piece that was released on videotape in 1990. In addition, Lynch's still photography and mixed-media artwork have been exhibited in major cities and collected in the book Images (1994). Lynch has also composed the lyrics for a number of the songs used in his films and has appeared as an actor in several productions, most notably as the recurring character Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks.

Major Works

Lynch's first feature-length film, Eraserhead is shot in murky, black-and-white tones and is set in an industrial wasteland. The film revolves around Henry, a modern Everyman who agrees to wed his girlfriend, Mary, when he discovers she has become pregnant. Their baby, born prematurely, is a squalling, alien creature resembling a skinless animal, its organs bundled together by strips of bandages. Mary, unable to withstand the constant crying of the infant-creature, abandons Henry, leaving him to care for their offspring on his own. In desperation, Henry cuts open the bandages in which the baby is wrapped and the child explodes like a bomb. Henry then retreats back to his apartment and loses himself in the comforting world he imagines behind his radiator. The Elephant Man is set largely in Victorian London and is based on the true story of John Merrick, a victim of what is today believed to have been neurofibromatosis, a rare disease of the central nervous system that causes the formation of thick, fibrous tissue beneath its victim's skin. In the film, a physician named Frederick Treves discovers John Merrick in a traveling side-show of “freaks.” Treves rescues Merrick from his squalid conditions and presents him as a medical anomaly before an audience of physicians. Treves befriends Merrick and is amazed at how intelligent, gentle, and utterly lacking in bitterness Merrick is, despite his physical deformities. In 1984 Lynch directed Dune, an expensive Hollywood epic based on the best-selling science fiction novel by Frank Herbert. The story is set on a barren desert planet where a precious spice known as “mélange” is the source of an interplanetary war. Lynch's next film, Blue Velvet, is considered to be his masterpiece by several critics. The film is a modern day film noir, set in the Northwestern town of Lumberton. Blue Velvet focuses on Jeffrey Beaumont, a young college student who returns home to care for his ailing father and finds a severed ear in a vacant lot near his house. He begins investigating where the ear could have come from and is eventually led to Frank Booth, a sadistic drug dealer who has kidnapped the husband and son of a local nightclub singer named Dorothy Valens, in order to force Dorothy to perform bizarre and fetishistic sexual acts. Jeffrey becomes Dorothy's sympathetic lover, but one night he ambivalently indulges her masochistic desire to be hit; following a brutal confrontation with Frank, he is forced to acknowledge his own guilt for victimizing Dorothy. Wild at Heart is a black comedy road movie based on the novel by Barry Gifford. The film revolves around Lula, a sexually aggressive young woman whose mother orders the contract killing of her boyfriend, Sailor, because he may have witnessed the murder of Lula's father. Sailor, who strives to look, sing, and behave like singer Elvis Presley, decides to violate his parole and flee to California with Lula. The film features a wealth of imagery from the film The Wizard of Oz, including a scene where Lula's mother appears as the Wicked Witch of the West, riding her broomstick alongside the road.

After spending almost three decades as a professional filmmaker, Lynch chose to work in television in 1990 and—in collaboration with Mark Frost— created a thirty-part television series called Twin Peaks. Lynch wrote and directed several episodes of the series and served as a producer and creative consultant throughout the show's run. Named for its small-town setting, Twin Peaks makes use of multiple characters involved in continuous betrayals, secrets, mysteries, and conspiracies. Early episodes focus upon the efforts of Special Agent Dale Cooper, an eccentric boyish hero sent to Twin Peaks by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, to aid local law enforcement in locating the murderer of Laura Palmer, a popular homecoming queen with a suspicious past. Adultery, drugs, mystic visions, and the supernatural all figure into the serial narrative, which also features puns and non sequiturs, situation comedy, and a cast of eccentric characters, including the Log Lady, a widow who talks to a seemingly prescient log she carries with her. The series was cancelled after two seasons, but Lynch continued the Laura Palmer mystery in his feature-film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Lynch's next film, Lost Highway (1997), once again shows the influence of the film noir genre. The film has been noted for its rejection of conventional storytelling techniques, as evidenced by the protagonist metamorphosing into another character halfway through the film. In the first half of Lost Highway, Fred Madison, a saxophone player, finds a videotape that implicates him in the murder of his wife. Fred attempts to solve the crime but is eventually apprehended by the police as their prime suspect. While in jail, Fred “changes” into Pete Dayton, a young auto mechanic who is having an affair with the girlfriend of a gangster. The Straight Story (1999) represents a radical departure in style for Lynch. The film has a traditional linear narrative, there is no sexual or surrealistic imagery, and the film received a “G” rating from the Motion Picture Association of America—a rating typically reserved for children's films. The Straight Story is based on the true story of Alvin Straight, an Iowa man in his seventies. Alvin learns that his long-estranged brother is dying and decides to visit him to repair their relationship. Because Alvin cannot drive a car, he decides to drive his riding lawnmower over three hundred miles to his brother's home in Wisconsin. During his trip, which takes several weeks, Alvin encounters a variety of Midwestern characters, most of whom are eager to aid him in his journey. Marking a return to Lynch's signature film style, Mulholland Drive was originally produced as a pilot for a television series. After the network rejected the pilot, Lynch obtained funding to add another forty-five minutes to the original version and released it as a feature film. The plot of the film—named after a hilltop road that runs through Los Angeles—follows a young woman who survives a violent car crash but loses her memory. She eventually takes the name Rita, after actress Rita Hayworth in the film Gilda. Rita meets Betty, a young woman from Canada who has come to Los Angeles with the hope of becoming a film star. Together, Rita and Betty attempt to solve the mystery of Rita's true identity. The plot of Mulholland Drive is narrated as a dream which deviates from conventional expectations of narrative coherence and plot resolution. Like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive features characters who switch identities or assume double identities throughout the film.

Critical Reception

Though Eraserhead opened to scathing reviews and ambivalent audiences, it eventually became a cult favorite and critics have compared it to the surrealist films of Luis Buñuel, most notably Un Chien Andalou. Reviewers have been divided on Lynch's cinematic treatment of John Merrick's physical deformities in The Elephant Man. While some critics have commended the emotional elements of Merrick's story, others have criticized Lynch for exploiting the sensational elements of his subject matter. Dune was both a critical and commercial failure—a number of reviewers have criticized the length and lack of suspense in the film. Opening to critical acclaim and box-office success, Blue Velvet has been praised by several critics as Lynch's best film to date. Critics have admired the film's bold neo-noir cinematic style, especially its use of highly saturated colors to create a surreal atmosphere. Blue Velvet has been considered to be highly controversial by some, due to its graphic display of sex and violence towards women. Commentators have debated whether Lynch's portrayal of sexual violence was gratuitous and exploitative or intentionally shocking in order to provide an alternative perspective to the emotionally distant violence portrayed in many mainstream films. Twin Peaks has received widespread critical acclaim and held a large audience during its first season. Reviewers have praised the series' effective combination of a conventional detective story with quirky humor and pathos. Feminist critics have debated whether Lynch's treatment of Laura Palmer's sexual abuse exploited women or expressed a feminist perspective on family violence. Much of the critical response to Lost Highway has revolved around its unconventional narrative structure and the inexplicable transformation of the central protagonist halfway through the film. Critics have variously defended Lost Highway, with some arguing that the film's narrative is based on a dreamlike framework. The Straight Story has received a mixed critical response with some reviewers complaining that the film was too blandly sweet and sentimental. A number of critics have disagreed with this assessment and have praised Lynch for constructing his most fully realized and skillfully constructed narrative yet. Commentators have often compared Mulholland Drive to Lost Highway, noting that both films are structured around dreamlike sequences and recurring visual motifs rather than following a traditional storyline. Many critics have found the absence of closure in Mulholland Drive to be disappointing, revealing an overall lack of meaning and substance in the film.

Principal Works

Six Men Getting Sick [director] (short film) 1966

The Alphabet [screenwriter and director] (short film) 1968

The Grandmother [screenwriter and director] (short film) 1970

Eraserhead [screenwriter and director] (film) 1977

The Elephant Man [screenwriter with Eric Bergren and Christopher DeVore; director] (film) 1980

*Dune [screenwriter and director] (film) 1984

Blue Velvet [screenwriter and director] (film) 1986

The Cowboy and the Frenchman [screenwriter and director] (short film) 1989

Twin Peaks (television...

(The entire section is 155 words.)

Criticism

Charles Champlin (review date 28 September 1980)

SOURCE: Champlin, Charles. “Portrait of the Monster as a Human Being.” Los Angeles Times (28 September 1980): 34.

[In the following review, Champlin argues that The Elephant Man presents a story of human compassion and avoids the subject's potential for exploitation.]

“There stood revealed,” Sir Frederick Treves wrote later, “the most disgusting specimen of humanity that I have, ever seen … From the brow there projected a huge bony mass like a loaf, while from the back of the head hung a bag of spongy, fungous-looking skin. …”

Another bony mass protruded from his mouth like a half-swallowed stake, making speech almost...

(The entire section is 1581 words.)

David Sterritt (review date 9 October 1980)

SOURCE: Sterritt, David. “Undaunted Moral Strength—The Elephant Man's Story.” Christian Science Monitor 72, no. 223 (9 October 1980): 18.

[In the following review, Sterritt praises Lynch for his bold cinematic style in The Elephant Man, observing that the film expresses faith in “the ultimate goodness of mankind.”]

The story of The Elephant Man has become a modern myth. Books have been written about him, he is the subject of a long-running Broadway hit, and now a new movie [The Elephant Man] tells his history.

Does all this interest amount to a positive sign of the times? I think so. Despite the sad underpinnings of the tale,...

(The entire section is 1577 words.)

John Coleman (review date 10 October 1980)

SOURCE: Coleman, John. “Monstrous.” New Statesman 100, no. 2586 (10 October 1980): 25-6.

[In the following review, Coleman characterizes The Elephant Man as a sensational film that exploits the “horror film potential” of its subject matter.]

It was David Lynch who made the squalid and diseased fantasy Eraserhead in 1976 and the first difficulty in dealing candidly with his The Elephant Man is exactly that knowledge. Had I seen the new film unascribed would I have felt the same initial unease, verging on queasiness, during its portentous opening sequences, which offer trumpeting pachyderms on the move, a woman's face, a form of mushroom...

(The entire section is 612 words.)

Henry Baker (review date spring 1981)

SOURCE: Baker, Henry. Review of The Elephant Man, by David Lynch. Cineaste 11, no. 2 (spring 1981): 28-9.

[In the following review, Baker praises The Elephant Man as “a grim fairy tale,” applauding the film's black-and-white cinematography and the visual depth of its subject matter.]

David Lynch's extraordinary film, The Elephant Man, begins with a dream vision of a beautiful woman, and then plunges us into a nightmare—the loud, steady beats of elephant feet, the approach of the herd, and the woman, struck down by one of them, writhing in pain. The sequence ends with a rising cloud of vapor and the sound of a baby crying. Lynch conjures up a...

(The entire section is 1723 words.)

Michael Wilmington (review date 14 December 1984)

SOURCE: Wilmington, Michael. “Dune Is Slow Going but Apt to Stick in the Mind.” Los Angeles Times (14 December 1984): section 6, p. 8.

[In the following review, Wilmington assesses Lynch's use of dark, obsessive, and bizarre visual imagery in Dune, noting that the film as a whole is not necessarily successful.]

The multimillion-dollar adaptation of Frank Herbert's best-selling science-fiction novel, Dune with its evocative and densely detailed vision of a desert planet where mammoth worms capable of swallowing whole express trains burrow through the sand, is one of the year's most peculiar films. It's cold, strange and remote. It's lit in such...

(The entire section is 763 words.)

Tom O'Brien (review date 11 January 1985)

SOURCE: O'Brien, Tom. Review of Dune, by David Lynch. Commonweal 112, no. 1 (11 January 1985): 18.

[In the following excerpt, O'Brien criticizes Dune, describing the film as unoriginal and meaningless.]

Dune and Starman—two … big budget sci-fi films—provide major disappointments. Dune is pseudo-inventive; despite all its arcana it is basically nothing more than an old shoot-'em-up-plus-adolescent-rite-of-passage in outer space. Of course I must confess a prejudice: Dune is faithful to its source, Frank Herbert's 1965 “classic” novel that became a big hit in some quarters, a book I detested for its freakish...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Lynda K. Bundtzen (essay date autumn 1988)

SOURCE: Bundtzen, Lynda K. “‘Don't Look at Me!’: Woman's Body, Woman's Voice in Blue Velvet.Western Humanities Review 42, no. 3 (autumn 1988): 187-203.

[In the following essay, Bundtzen examines Blue Velvet from a feminist and psychoanalytic perspective, challenging some of the methodologies’ assumptions.]

… woman as representation signifies castration, inducing voyeuristic or fetishistic mechanisms to circumvent her threat. None of these interacting layers is intrinsic to film, but it is only in the film form that they can reach a perfect and beautiful contradiction, thanks to the possibility in the cinema of shifting the...

(The entire section is 8696 words.)

Devin McKinney (essay date winter 1991-1992)

SOURCE: McKinney, Devin. Review of Wild at Heart, by David Lynch. Film Quarterly 45, no. 2 (winter 1991-1992): 41-6.

[In the following essay, McKinney discusses the excesses and graphic violence of Wild at Heart, contending that Lynch intentionally subordinated conventional narrative expectations to the power of recurring visual motifs.]

Apparently, no one ever instructed David Lynch in the rules that govern what a work of art should be—the forms it should take, the boundaries it should honor—let alone the accepted truisms on what a modern audience expects in return for its admission. But through a serendipitous (and fairly mystifying) configuration...

(The entire section is 3433 words.)

Jonathan Romney (review date 20 November 1992)

SOURCE: Romney, Jonathan. “Nothing to Declare.” New Statesman & Society 5, no. 229 (20 November 1992): 33-4.

[In the following excerpt, Romney criticizes Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me as having nothing new or original to offer its audience.]

David Lynch's long-awaited Twin Peaks film would have provided the ideal opportunity to mull over, for one last time, cinema's obsession with America's dark underbelly. The Twin Peaks TV series was the last word in the suburban surreal, which had already received its definitive expression in Blue Velvet. But that once-disturbing genre has become so thoroughly domesticated that it now provides the...

(The entire section is 644 words.)

Martha Nochimson (essay date winter 1992-1993)

SOURCE: Nochimson, Martha. “Desire under the Douglas Firs: Entering the Body of Reality in Twin Peaks.Film Quarterly 46, no. 2 (winter 1992-1993): 22-34.

[In the following essay, Nochimson discusses the character of Agent Cooper in Twin Peaks, asserting that Cooper represents a new kind of movie and television detective.]

The dazzled affection that Dale Cooper, hero of Twin Peaks, inspired in a large television spectatorship can only partly be explained by the appeal of actor Kyle MacLachlan. Nor can it be ascribed merely to the time-tested popularity of the detective figure; on the contrary, Cooper lays waste to a multitude of film and...

(The entire section is 7670 words.)

Greg Olson (essay date May-June 1993)

SOURCE: “Heaven Knows, Mr. Lynch: Beatitudes from the Deacon of Distress.” Film Comment 29, no. 3 (May-June 1993): 43-6.

[In the following essay, Olson discusses Lynch's spiritual vision in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.]

A few minutes into David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, loud-talking, dual hearing aid-wearing FBI chief Gordon Cole, played by the director himself, gives Agent Chet Desmond (Chris Isaak) and his assistant Stanley (Kiefer Sutherland) a briefing on their new case. Cole doesn't verbalize information to Desmond—he has him stare at Lil, a gawky, pinch-faced woman in a red dress who makes odd, dancelike motions. Without explanation,...

(The entire section is 2707 words.)

Randi Davenport (essay date October 1993)

SOURCE: Davenport, Randi. “The Knowing Spectator of Twin Peaks: Culture, Feminism, and Family Violence.” Literature Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (October 1993): 255-59.

[In the following essay, Davenport discusses the representations of sexual abuse and violence against women in the television series Twin Peaks, arguing that Lynch's portrayal of family violence reflects a feminist bias.]

Twin Peaks is unusual in that it participates in recent public conversations about the effects of child sexual abuse, the victimization of the daughter, and the culpability of the adult male aggressor. I would like to suggest that in its exploration of the behavior...

(The entire section is 2363 words.)

Lenora Ledwon (essay date October 1993)

SOURCE: Ledwon, Lenora. “Twin Peaks and the Television Gothic.” Literature Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (October 1993): 260-70.

[In the following essay, Ledwon examines Lynch's use of and innovations on conventional Gothic themes and motifs in Twin Peaks.]

I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out
Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

Sylvia Plath, “Elm”

The twentieth century has proven congenial to the Gothic. Gothic literature and film attest to the continuing vitality of the genre. Examples of today's popular Gothic include such works as Stephen King's The Shining with its Gothicized haunted hotel,...

(The entire section is 6646 words.)

Nicholas Birns (essay date October 1993)

SOURCE: Birns, Nicholas. “Telling Inside from Outside, or, Who Really Killed Laura Palmer.” Literature Film Quarterly 21, no. 4 (October 1993): 277-86.

[In the following essay, Birns asserts that the television series Twin Peaks combines postmodern elements of self-referentiality with Romantic elements of heightened emotional affect.]

The question of “Who Killed Laura Palmer?” received its determinate answer on November 10, 1990. But this does not mean that the question has been fully decided. Indeed, much of the force and interest of the mystery in the first place proceeded from the inherently undecidable fashion in which the series posed the...

(The entire section is 6277 words.)

Kenneth C. Kaleta (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: Kaleta, Kenneth C. “Early Lynch—Eraserhead.” In David Lynch, pp. 1-30. New York: Twayne, 1993.

[In the following essay, Kaleta discusses the themes, style, and main metaphors of Lynch's early short films that culminate with his first feature-length film Eraserhead.]

Suppose yourself in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving up … until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars' faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions … it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality.

—Salman Rushdie

...

(The entire section is 11944 words.)

Cyndy Hendershot (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: Hendershot, Cyndy. “Postmodern Allegory and David Lynch's Wild at Heart.Critical Arts 9, no. 1 (1995): 5-20.

[In the following essay, Hendershot defines postmodern allegory within the context of Wild at Heart.]

In Postmodernist Fiction Brian McHale discusses the resurgence of the allegorical mode in the postmodern era, a resurgence in both critical analysis of the mode and artistic practice of it1. Maureen Quilligan sees the postmodern and allegorical linked so closely as to assert that “we seem in the last quarter of the twentieth century to have reentered an allegorical age”2. Many critics see postmodern allegory...

(The entire section is 5727 words.)

Diana Hume George (essay date 1995)

SOURCE: George, Diana Hume. “Lynching Women: A Feminist Reading of Twin Peaks.” In Full of Secrets: Critical Approaches to Twin Peaks, edited by David Lavery, pp. 109-19. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995.

[In the following essay, George provides a feminist analysis of the representation of violence against women in the television series Twin Peaks.]

Should I call this a double-breasted approach? Laura Palmer had a double, so that's at least four breasts, but the show fairly crawled with creepy sex and grand tetons. They didn't eat with forks—the brothers with the yuppie ice cream names were devotees of primary process. Everything longer than it...

(The entire section is 5168 words.)

David Lynch and Psychology Today (interview date March-April 1997)

SOURCE: Lynch, David, and Psychology Today. “Naked Lynch.” Psychology Today 30, no. 2 (March-April 1997): 29-33, 74.

[In the following interview, Lynch discusses Lost Highway and his creative process.]

Famous for evoking the eerie undertow of everyday life, David Lynch—the director whose films include Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart and who created the television show Twin Peaks—fearlessly projects his own psyche onto the screen. But the man with the eccentric sensibility says we shouldn't read anything into the fact that in his latest effort, Lost Highway, he takes on the meaning of identity.

...

(The entire section is 2419 words.)

Marina Warner (review date August 1997)

SOURCE: Warner, Marina. “Voodoo Road.” Sight and Sound 7, no. 8 (August 1997): 6, 8, 10.

[In the following review, Warner examines the doppelgänger motif of Lost Highway as a metaphor for identity crisis in the modern world, but concludes that Lynch's treatment of this theme is ultimately lacking in substance.]

The plot of Lost Highway binds time's arrow into time's loop, forcing Euclidian space into Einsteinian curves where events lapse and pulse at different rates and everything might return eternally. Its first and last shots are the same—the yellow markings of a straight desert road familiar from a thousand movies scrolling down as the camera...

(The entire section is 2916 words.)

Kim Newman (review date September 1997)

SOURCE: Newman, Kim. Review of Lost Highway, by David Lynch. Sight and Sound 7, no. 9 (September 1997): 48-9.

[In the following review, Newman assesses Lost Highway as a “noir horror film.”]

Los Angeles. Saxophonist Fred Madison discovers on his doorstep a videocassette of his house, shot from the outside. The next day, another videocassette includes footage of a track through his home, showing Fred asleep with his brunette wife Renee. The Madisons call the police, who have no explanation. Renee takes Fred to a party thrown by Andy, a shady character, and Fred is accosted by a mystery man, whose face he has glimpsed in the shadows. The mystery man...

(The entire section is 1437 words.)

Eric Bryant Rhodes (review date spring 1998)

SOURCE: Rhodes, Eric Bryant. Review of Lost Highway, by David Lynch. Film Quarterly 51, no. 3 (spring 1998): 57-61.

[In the following review, Rhodes asserts that Lost Highway's narrative is based on a theme-and-variation structure in which recurrent visual and thematic motifs take precedence over conventional narrative coherence.]

The ever quotable pop artist and underground filmmaker Andy Warhol reportedly stated that films are “better talked about than seen.” With his latest film adventure, Lost Highway, David Lynch has given audiences a complex and perplexing story to ponder and some astonishingly brilliant images to enjoy. Yet the majority...

(The entire section is 3250 words.)

David Sterritt (review date 15 October 1999)

SOURCE: Sterritt, David. “David Lynch Plays It Straight.Christian Science Monitor (15 October 1999): 15.

[In the following review, Sterritt comments on the dark undertones beneath the superficial sweetness of The Straight Story.]

Starting today, the biggest surprise of this year's Cannes film festival will be stirring up talk in theaters. David Lynch, known for ultraviolent movies like Blue Velvet and surreal TV fare like Twin Peaks, has found still another way to give audiences a jolt of astonishment: He's made a G-rated picture for the Walt Disney Company, spinning a tale so kind and gentle that it makes his previous career seem like a...

(The entire section is 731 words.)

Stanley Kauffmann (review date 15 November 1999)

SOURCE: Kauffmann, Stanley. “Character as Destiny.” New Republic (15 November 1999): 28.

[In the following review, Kauffmann praises The Straight Story as “a small epic” that embodies the American ideal of rugged individualism.]

The viewer need not know David Lynch's reputation before seeing The Straight Story, but it helps. Here is a writer-director celebrated for his eccentricities, his disregard for convention, in such works as Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, who has done a picture released by Disney, a picture based on the true story of an old man making a sentimental journey. Anyone ignorant of Lynch who sees The Straight...

(The entire section is 1076 words.)

Kevin Jackson (review date December 1999)

SOURCE: Jackson, Kevin. Review of Straight Story, by David Lynch. Sight and Sound 9, no. 12 (December 1999): 57-8.

[In the following review, Jackson characterizes The Straight Story as blandly sweet.]

Laurens, Iowa, 1994. [In The Straight Story,] Alvin Straight, a stubborn 73-year-old widower who lives with his adult daughter Rose, suffers a bad fall and is sent to the local clinic. The doctor warns him he is in dangerously poor health and needs to take better care of himself, but Alvin shows little sign of mending his ways. Rose takes a phone call and learns Alvin's estranged older brother Lyle has had a stroke. Despite Rose's warnings and the...

(The entire section is 830 words.)

Chris Tayler (review date 17 December 1999)

SOURCE: Tayler, Chris. “Life in the Slow Lane.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5046 (17 December 1999): 17.

[In the following review, Tayler praises Lynch's restrained cinematic style in The Straight Story.]

David Lynch's new film, The Straight Story, is about a stubborn, laconic old widower who chooses to drive 300 miles on a lawnmower to visit his estranged and ailing brother. Sometimes charming and sometimes sentimental, it is an uncharacteristically restrained piece of filmmaking: quiet, autumnal and, above all, slow. Not that it is unclear whose work we are watching; during The Straight Story, we are shown such Lynch-film staples as wood being...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

John Simon (review date 21 February 2000)

SOURCE: Simon, John. “Life in the Slow Lane.” National Review 52, no. 3 (21 February 2000): 59.

[In the following review, Simon praises The Straight Story for its gentle tone and refreshing simplicity, noting that despite its sentimentality, the film avoids becoming sappy.]

Alvin Straight is a nice old man living—we don't quite know off what—in Laurens, Iowa, with his daughter Rose, who talks haltingly and whose four children have been taken away from her because she is slightly retarded and because one of them was badly burned in a fire. Alvin says, “She is a little bit slow, but her mind is like a bear trap.” Laurens is a small town, and on the...

(The entire section is 757 words.)

Bert Cardullo (essay date summer 2000)

SOURCE: Cardullo, Bert. “Getting Straight.” Hudson Review 53, no. 2 (summer 2000): 299-307.

[In the following essay, Cardullo praises The Straight Story for its restraint and serenity, asserting that it is one of the greatest films ever made.]

David Lynch, best known for exploring the darker recesses of the human psyche as well as the darker corners of the American landscape in such cult films as Eraserhead (1977), Blue Velvet (1986), and Twin Peaks (1992), has created an eloquently simple, representatively American, straightforwardly emotional, and extraordinarily moving picture titled The Straight Story (G-rated and released by...

(The entire section is 4682 words.)

Tim Kreider (review date fall 2000)

SOURCE: Kreider, Tim. Review of The Straight Story, by David Lynch. Film Quarterly 54, no. 1 (fall 2000): 26-33.

[In the following review, Kreider asserts that, despite its superficial sweetness and light tone, The Straight Story reveals a dark undercurrent of alcoholism and family abuse.]

The Straight Story begins a lot like a David Lynch film, specifically like Blue Velvet: first we see a dreamy montage of slow-motion scenes from a small-town, middle-American Eden (cinematographer Freddie Francis filling in for Norman Rockwell and composer Angelo Badalamenti for Aaron Copland), and then the camera drifts down to a neatly mown suburban...

(The entire section is 5536 words.)

Kent Jones (review date October 2001)

SOURCE: Jones, Kent. “Trading Faces.” Artforum International 40, no. 2 (October 2001): 36.

[In the following review, Jones praises Mulholland Drive for thematic focus on sexual abuse.]

That David Lynch is a genuine visionary may be indisputable, but he has often seemed like an artist with a set of primal obsessions in lieu of a subject. Compelled to plunge headlong into his darkest fears, Lynch has conjured up some of the most mesmerizing passages in American cinema. But the imbalance between the hallucinatory and the desultory has been a constant in Lynch's work—and a nagging source of frustration. It's easy to understand his artistic dilemma, though:...

(The entire section is 530 words.)

Wendy Lesser (review date 19 November 2001)

SOURCE: Lesser, Wendy. “In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.” American Prospect 12, no. 20 (19 November 2001): 36-7.

[In the following review, Lesser argues that the lack of narrative closure in Mulholland Drive leaves the viewer disappointed.]

Many people will love Mulholland Drive, I am sure; and the fact that my admiration is mingled with profound annoyance perhaps says more about me than about the movie. It is David Lynch's best film since The Elephant Man (which remains, for me, the pinnacle of his achievement). It is better than the goofy Eraserhead and the creepy Blue Velvet, and far, far better than Lynch's terminally...

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Graham Fuller (review date December 2001)

SOURCE: Fuller, Graham. “Babes in Babylon.” Sight and Sound 11, no. 12 (December 2001): 14, 16-17.

[In the following review, Fuller asserts that the narrative structure of Mulholland Drive follows “dream logic,” rather than the Hollywood narrative conventions.]

Mulholland Dr. unwinds in a benighted LA dream-scape where two girl detectives fall into lipstick-lesbian embraces, a Mafia power play is sublimated in a menacing Pinteresque discussion of an espresso's drinkability, smug studio types commingle with doo-wop-singing starlets, Sunset Boulevard riff-raff and the ghosts of Hollywood past, and shattered identities are mosaicked back together in...

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Philip Kerr (review date 14 January 2002)

SOURCE: Kerr, Philip. “LA Confident.” New Statesman 131, no. 4570 (14 January 2002): 44-5.

[In the following review, Kerr recommends Mulholland Drive as Lynch's “best and most erotic film since Blue Velvet.]

Mulholland Drive is a road in Los Angeles that twists and turns for ten miles along the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains, and connects the Encino Reservoir, made famous in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, with the Hollywood Hills, made famous by that eponymous, cliched and ultimately irrelevant hillside sign. Mulholland is quite a drive, especially at night, and between Coldwater and Laurel Canyon there are lots of places to pull over,...

(The entire section is 946 words.)