David Lynch Films

David Keith Lynch is known for his surrealistic movies. His style of film is so unique and peculiar that it was even given its own name: “Lynchian”. The term stands for Lynch’s trademarks such as dream images, a careful sound design as well as surreal and violent elements that are known to “disturb, insult and confuse” viewers.

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Lynch’s oeuvre includes feature films as well as short films, documentaries, and music videos, but in this article, the focus will be clearly on the feature films. His engagement covers a wide range of areas, reaching from direction to production and script, to sound design and even acting. Lynch’s very first project was the short animated film Six Men Getting Sick (Six Times) from 1967, in which he combined sculpture and painting elements. His first feature film titled Eraserhead (1977) became a cult movie and represents the beginning of his mainstream career. In this movie, he also worked with Jack Nance for the first time, an actor who appeared in numerous other Lynch productions until his death in 1996. Among Lynch’s critically acclaimed and also commercially most successful films are The Elephant Man (1980), Blue Velvet (1986) and Mulholland Drive (2001), for which he received Oscar nominations. His desert epic Dune, however, flopped.

Eraserhead (1977)

Eraserhead was written, directed, produced and edited by Lynch. The film can be assigned to the genres horror film, surrealistic, fantastic as well as science fiction and punk movie. However, none of these specific genres fully apply to Eraserhead, which is why the film is also called “completely sui generis“.

The story revolves around Henry Spencer’s paternity, which afflicts him both physically and mentally. Not only do Henry’s problems dissolve with the death of the baby, but also he himself along with them.

As Lynch wanted to enter the film for the New York Film Festival, the movie was rejected. So he submitted the movie at the Los Angeles Film Festival Filmex, where it was played in its 108-minute original version. Because of the reaction of the audience, he came to the conclusion that the film was too slow and tedious, which is why he shortened it to 89 minutes later on.

The first public film review in the US film magazine Variety turned out a total disaster. The movie was labelled an “unbearably tasteless experience”. Furthermore, Eraserhead was accused of lack of subtlety as well as inadequate action. Nonetheless, Lynch’s festival presentation was his artistic breakthrough. Thanks to independent New York-based film distributor Ben Bahrenholz, Eraserhead became a midnight underground insider tip.

From 1979, the film was also the center of attention in the UK and Germany. The reviews were mostly positive and considered Eraserhead an artistically ambitious film in the tradition of Surrealism and Expressionism. In the weekly newspaper Zeit the film was termed the “cult film of the coming years”, in Cinema there was talk of a “fascinating concoction”. Eraserhead was also compared with Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s surrealistic work An Andalusian Dog, Ridley Scott’s Alien and George A. Romero’s Zombie.

Eraserhead was also a big commercial success. While the production costs were $ 20,000, the film grossed $ 7 million in the US alone. Directors such as John Waters and Stanley Kubrick called Lynch’s work one of their favorite films, which made Eraserhead even more popular.

In the Entertainment Weekly Magazine‘s The Top 50 Cult Movies list, the film ranked 14th. In 2010, it was ranked 2nd in the list of the 100 Best First Feature Films of All Time by the Online Film Critics Society.

The film influenced the works of various renowned directors such as Shining by Stanley Kubrick, Tetsuo: The Iron Man by Shin’ya Tsukamoto or Darren Aronofsky’s Pi. Lynch’s film also had an effect on the work of Terry Gilliam or David Cronenberg.

Musically, the film has entered pop culture as well. The Pixies, for instance, interpreted the song the woman sings behind the radiator: In Heaven. The radiator song, which was written and performed by Peter Ivers for the film, was also covered by artists like Keith Kenniff or Zola Jesus.

The Elephant Man (1980)

David Lynch directed this black-and-white movie drama. John Hurt played the “elephant man” John Merrick, who was disfigured by a disease, and Anthony Hopkins was cast for the role of doctor Frederick Treves. The film is based on a true story. Due to his bizarre physical deformity, John Merrick becomes an attraction on the fairs. The physician Frederick Treves frees him from this situation, recognizes in him an eloquent and sensitive man and takes up the attempt to integrate him into society.

The Elephant Man celebrated its world premiere on October 3, 1980 in New York City. In Europe, the film first aired in 1981, but it was poorly attended. Despite that, it became a financial success and grossed five times the movie’s budget in the US alone.

The film was well received by both critics and audience. The most noted feature was the detailed reconstruction of the Victorian era. Lynch later admitted that at the beginning of the filming, he had very little knowledge of the era, which is why he had to do extensive research on it.

With regard to sentimentality, the critics’ opinions diverged. Some claimed that Lynch avoided sentimentality in the film, while others opined that sentimentality was well used and that it benefited the film. Still others viewed its use negatively and described it as very “superficial”. While film critic Roger Ebert praised Lynch’s theatrical performance as well as his directing work, he labelled the opening and closing scenes as “idiotic” and “inexcusable”.

The Elephant Man helped Lynch establish himself as a director in Hollywood. As a result, he received many film offers. George Lucas, for example, offered him to direct The Return of the Jedi Knights. However, Lynch opted for Dino De Laurentiis’ desert planet Dune because of the greater artistic freedom.

At the Academy Awards in 1981, The Elephant Man was nominated in a total of eight categories.

Dune (1984)

Dune, based on the eponymous novel by Frank Herbert, is considered to belong to the genre of science fiction. Lynch directed the film. The main roles were played by Jürgen Prochnow, Kyle MacLachlan, Patrick Steward and Sting.

Prior to Lynch, author and director Alejandro Jodorowsky made an attempt at the adaptation of the novel. In the mid-1970s, even design studies were created for this purpose by the Swiss artist H. R. Giger. At the same time, the British artist Chris Foss also created several design drafts of spaceships. Jodorowsky also wanted to win Salvador Dali for this project for a fee of $ 100,000 per minute. Toward the end of 1976, Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis acquired the rights to Dune and commissioned Herbert in 1978 to write a screenplay. In 1979, Laurentiis hired Ridley Scott to direct the film. By that time the script had been revised by Rudy Wurlitzer. The project dragged on.

In 1981, Dino De Laurentiis’ daughter Raffaella, a film producer herself, saw The Elephant Man and asked Lynch to take over the project. He agreed to direct and write the script without knowing the book or having any experience in the science fiction field. Lynch worked with Christopher De Vore and Eric Bergen on the screenplay for six months. Due to artistic differences, the team of authors dissolved, and Lynch wrote five other drafts by himself. Eventually, the sixth draft, which ended up being 135 pages, was filmed. The movie was shot in Mexico with a crew of 1,700 people and required 80 sets. The budget was over $ 40 million. The original version of the film took about 3.5 hours, but was cut by the producer to less than two hours.

Dune was premiered on December 3, 1984 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, after several magazines had followed the production work and praised it in articles prior to the release of the film. On its opening weekend, the desert epic grossed over $ 6 million and a total of nearly $ 31 million. Taking into consideration that the budget was over 40 million, this was a huge disappointment.

Also the reviews were far from being satisfying. Robert Ebert gave Dune one of four stars and wrote, ‘This movie is a real mess, an incomprehensible, ugly, unstructured, pointless excursion into the murkier realms of one of the most confusing screenplays of all time.’ He continued, ‘The movie’s plot will no doubt mean more to people who’ve read Herbert than to those who are walking in cold’. Ebert finally called Dune “the worst movie of the year”. Gene Siskel said in his review: ‘[I]t’s physically ugly, it contains at least a dozen gory gross-out scenes, some of its special effects are cheap – surprisingly cheap because this film cost a reported $40-45 million – and its story is confusing beyond belief. In case I haven’t made myself clear, I hated watching this film.’ Other reviewers criticized the same aspects as well as the length of the film.

According to film critic and science fiction writer Harlan Ellison, the negative reviews were brought about by the fact that the screenings not only were postponed over and over again, but the critics were also denied to see them. Apparently, these circumstances had upset the film community and influenced the reception of the film. Daniel Snyder also praised Lynch’s work, describing it as ‘… a deeply flawed work that failed as a commercial enterprise, but still managed to capture and distill essential portions of one of science’s fiction densest works.’ According to Snyder, Lynch’s surreal style had created “a world that felt utterly alien”, full of “bizarre dream sequences, rife with images of unborn fetuses and shimmering energy, and unsettling scenery like the industrial hell of the Harkonnen homeworld”, with which he came closer to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey than George Lucas’ work.

Due to commercial failure as well as the scathing reviews, the plans for a Dune sequel vanished into thin air. In respect, Lynch admitted that it would have been better if he had not directed the movie: ‘I started selling out on Dune. Looking back, it’s no one’s fault but my own. I probably shouldn’t have done that picture, but I saw tons and tons of possibilities for things I loved, and this was the structure to do them in. There was so much room to create a world. But I got strong indications from Raffaella and Dino De Laurentiis of what kind of film they expected, and I knew I didn’t have final cut.’

In 1985, the film received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture as well as Saturn Award nominations in the categories Best Costumes, Best Mask, Best Special Effects, and Best Science Fiction Film. Dune was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Drama Presentation.

Blue Velvet (1986)

This film was written and directed by David Lynch. Blue Velvet belongs to the neo-noir mystery genre, and blends psychological horror with film noir. It was produced and financed by the independent studio De Laurentiis Entertainment Group. The cast includes Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Laura Dern. The film’s title derives from the eponymous song by Tony Bennett from 1951. The film tells the story of a young college student, who returns home to visit his sick father. He discovers a severed human ear in a field that leads to his uncovering a huge criminal conspiracy and entering a romantic relationship with a problem-plagued lounge singer.

The reception of the film was initially divided. Many stated that its unsavory content served little artistic purpose. Nonetheless, Blue Velvet earned Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director, rocketing him to cult status. As an example of a director casting against the norm, Lynch has been credited with getting Hopper’s career back on track and giving Rossellini a chance to express herself dramatically beyond her former work as a cosmetics spokeswoman and fashion model.

The film mainly attracted attention because of its thematic symbolism, and is now considered one of Lynch’s major works as well as one of the greatest films of the 1980s. This opinion was also shared by various publications such as Sight & Sound, Time, BBC Magazine and Entertainment Weekly. In 2008, the American Film Institute chose the movie as one of the greatest American mystery films ever made.

Several then-relatively unknown actors were cast for the main roles. Isabella Rossellini was actually only known for her Lancôme commercials and the fact that she was the daughter of actress Ingrid Bergman and Italian film director Roberto Rossellini. Dennis Hopper was the actor with the highest profile. He previously starred in Easy Rider (1969) and was the third choice for the role of Frank. Harry Dean Stanton and Steven Berkoff had turned down the role because of the violent content of the film. Kyle MacLachlan played the main character in Lynch’s commercial flop Dune. Laura Dern, who was 19 years old by that time, was only cast for the role for the reason that the other successful actresses had rejected the role, including Molly Ringwald.

Blue Velvet has won a total of 22 film awards, including the National Society of Film Critics Award and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award. In addition, the film received 12 other nominations.

Wild at Heart (1990)

David Lynch wrote and directed this neo-noir black comedy-crime film, which is based on a 1989 novel of the same name by Barry Gifford. The cast includes Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd, Harry Dean Stanton, and once again Isabella Rossellini. The story revolves around a young couple from Cape Fear, North Carolina – Sailor Ripley (Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Dern) – who are on the run from Lula’s domineering mother as well as the gangsters, who had been hired to kill Sailor.

Originally, Lynch only planned on producing the film, but after reading the novel, he decided to write and direct the movie as well. As he did not like the novel’s ending, he altered it according to his vision of the main characters. Wild at Heart is in fact a road movie and includes a number of allusions to Elvis Presley and his movies and The Wizard of Oz.

In Lynch’s opinion, one of the film’s main themes is “finding love in Hell”. Nonetheless, he strove to consciously change the original darker ending of the story to a “happy” one. This aspect was severely criticized by some critics, who maintained that the sudden idealistic ending of perfect happiness is far too ironic.

Due to the strong violence in some scenes, early test screenings went far from well. At the first test screening eighty people left the room during a torture scene involving Johnnie Farragut. Despite this, Lynch decided to leave the scene in the film. Yet at the second test screening a hundred people walked out during the same scene, which is why he softened the film a little in this regard.

At the time of its release, the movie received mixed critical reviews. Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Sight & Sound magazine, for example, stated, ‘Perhaps the major problem is that despite Cage and Dern’s best efforts, Lynch is ultimately interested only in iconography, not characters at all. When it comes to images of evil, corruption, derangement, raw passion and mutilation (roughly in that order), Wild at Heart is a veritable cornucopia’. Time and the Cineaste magazine pretty much shared this view. Whereas Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone magazine, ‘Starting with the outrageous and building from there, he ignites a slight love-on-the-run novel, creating a bonfire of a movie that confirms his reputation as the most exciting and innovative filmmaker of his generation’.

Despite these diverging initial reviews, Wild at Heart was ranked the 26th greatest film of the 1990s in a Complex poll, the 47th best film of the same period in an IndieWire critics’ poll, and the 53rd best in Rolling Stone’s poll. The movie was a moderate success at the US box office though, grossing only $14 million, above its $10 million production costs.

In regard to accolades, Wild at Heart won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990, at which it received both positive and negative attention from the audience. Diane Ladd was nominated for Best Support Actress at the 1990 Academy Awards and at the 1991 Golden Globes.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

David Lynch directed this psychological horror movie and co-wrote the script with Robert Engels. It is a prequel to the television series Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and belongs to genres of thriller, surrealist and horror film. The movie premiered on May 16, 1992 at the 45th Cannes International Film Festival. The story revolves around the investigation into the murder of Teresa Banks, played by Pamela Gidley, and the last week in the life of seventeen-year-old Laura Palmer, played by Sheryl Lee. Similar to Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks is a maze of sex, drugs and violence, which hides behind the facade of the idyllic small town ot the same name. With the exception of Lara Flynn Boyle and Sherilyn Fenn, most of the television cast reprised their roles for the movie.

Fire Walk with Me initially received negative reviews in the United States. Janet Maslin from the New York Times, for instance, stated, ‘Mr. Lynch’s taste for brain-dead grotesque has lost its novelty’, while USA Today called the movie “a morbidly joyless affair”. An exception among these reviews was by novelist Steve Erickson, who challenged the film’s negative reception and defended it in the L.A. Weekly. In Europe, the film was reported to have been greeted with boos and jeers from the audience at the 1992 Cannes Film Festival. Co-writer Robert Engels, however, denies that such an event ever took place.

Financially, Fire Walk with Me was a box office bomb in the United States. Nonetheless, it managed to inspire several critics around Europe and fared much better in Japan. Overall, the movie won three film awards and was nominated for another five. All three awards were given to film composer Angelo Badalamenti for his musical performance.

Lost Highway (1997)

David Lynch directed this neo-noir film and co-wrote it with Barry Gifford. It features Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, and Robert Blake in the main roles. The story revolves around a musician (Pullman), who starts receiving mysterious VHS tapes of him and his wife (Arquette) in their home, and is suddenly convicted of murder. After this he inexplicably disappears and is replaced by a young mechanic (Getty).

Lost Highway was largely shot in Los Angeles and was financed by the French production company Ciby 2000. On this film, Lynch collaborated with cinematographer Peter Deming and producer Mary Sweeney. Lynch views the movie as a “psychogenic fugue” rather than a logical, conventional story. Lost Highway is characterized by a surreal narrative structure, which has been likened to a Möbius strip. The film’s soundtrack was produced by Trent Reznor and features an original score by Barry Adamson and Angelo Badalamenti, as well as songs from artists including Marilyn Manson, Rammstein, David Bowie and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Although being generally classified as a neo-noir movie, Lost Highway also borrows elements from genres like French New Wave or German Expressionism. Its narrative elements have also been described with the terms “horror film” and “psychological thriller”. According to Thomas Caldwell from the Australian Metro Magazine, Fred Madison is ‘a typical film noir hero, inhabiting a doomed and desolate world characterised by an excess of sexuality, darkness and violence.’ Another typical film noir feature that is present in the movie is the femme fatale, epitomized by Alice Wakefield. Lost Highway was also noted for its sexual themes and graphic violence, which Lynch defended by stating that he simply wanted to stay true to his own vision for the film.

Resembling Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 movie Vertigo, the film tackles the topic of male obsessions with women along with the emotions that are related to them. While the film is definitely about “identity”, it is very abstract and leaves the interpretation of the events to the viewers.

As already mentioned, the movie’s circular narrative has often been likened to a Möbius strip. According to cultural critic Slavoj Žižek, the circularity represents the psychoanalytic process. He states, ‘there is a symptomatic key phrase … that always returns as an insistent, traumatic, and indecipherable message, and there is a temporal loop, as with analysis, where the protagonist at first fails to encounter the self, but in the end is able to pronounce the symptom consciously as his own.’

Upon release, the reviews on Lost Highway were quite mixed. Roger Ebert as well as Gene Siskel gave the film “two thumbs down”, which Lynch later commented with ‘two more great reasons to see’ the film. Ebert argued that despite the effective use of images combined with a strong, mood-creating soundtrack, the movie does not make much sense. To him the film is not about cinema, but merely about design – an opinion shared by Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, to whom Lost Highway is a “beautifully made but emotionally empty” movie that “exists only for the sensation of its provocative moments”. Still, the film has since attracted critical praise, scholarly interest as well as a cult following.

After a modest three-week run the film grossed $3.7 million in North America and was also adapted as an opera by Olga Neuwirth, an Austrian composer.

The Straight Story (1999)

The Straight Story was directed by David Lynch and is an internationally co-produced biographical road drama film. Mary Sweeney, Lynch’s co-worker and longtime partner, edited and produced the movie. She also co-wrote the screenplay with John E. Roach. The film is based on a true story of Alvin Straight, who travelled across Wisconsin and Iowa on a lawn mower. Alvin, an elderly World War II veteran played by Richard Farnsworth, lives with his intellectually disabled daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek). When his estranged brother Lyle, epitomized by Harry Dean Stanton, suffers a stroke, Alvin decides to pay him a visit and hopes to make amends before he passes away. As he does not own a driving license, because his eyes and legs are too impaired, he hitches a trailer to his old John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor, which has a maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour, and sets off on the 240 mile journey from his hometown to Mount Zion, Wisconsin.

Upon its release, The Straight Story was lauded by critics for this very un-Lynchian subject matter. A review in Entertainment Weekly described it with the phrase “celestial piece of Americana”, whereas Chicago Tribune marvelled at the “unsentimentalized beauty of the rural American Midwestern landscape” American studio movies usually don’t give their viewers. Years after its release, it still holds an average rating of 8.1/10 on Rotten Tomatoes characterizing the movie as “Slow-pace but heart-warming”. Based on reviews, The Straight Story also scored 86 out of 100 on Metacritic, which indicates its “universal acclaim”. According to AllMovie, ‘David Lynch offers an uncharacteristically straightforward and warmly sentimental approach to his material in this film’. Robert Ebert, who usually had given Lynch’s films scathing reviews, graded it with four of four stars, and gushed ‘The movie isn’t just about the old Alvin Straight’s odyssey through the sleepy towns and rural districts of the Midwest, but about the people he finds to listen and care for him’.

The overall gross of The Straight Story, however, proved less than was originally expected. Yet it received 12 awards and 29 nominations, including a nomination for the Palme d’Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival. Moreover, Richard Farnsworth earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Alvin Straight.

Mulholland Drive (2001)

This is another neo-noir mystery film that David Lynch wrote and directed. The cast includes Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, Ann Miller, Justin Theroux, and Robert Forster. The story revolves around an aspiring actress by the name of Betty Elms, played by Naomi Watts, a fresh L.A. inhabitant, who befriends an amnesiac woman, starring Laura Harring, recovering from a car accident. The plot also follows other characters and vignettes, as, for example, a Hollywood film director (Theroux).

A large portion of the movie was shot in 1999 with the intention to keep it open-ended, since it was originally conceived as a television pilot. After having viewed Lynch’s cut, however, the TV executives rejected it. So he provided it with an ending and made a feature film out of it. Lynch gave the film the tagline “A love story in the city of dreams” and declined to offer an explanation of Mulholland Drive’s meaning or symbolism, thus sparking multiple interpretations and much discussion. According to actor Justin Theroux, the diverse perceptions of the film where much desired by Lynch, as ‘he loves it when people come up with really bizarre interpretations.’

In order to deceive and confuse the viewers even more, David Lynch uses archetypal, clichéic characters like the femme fatale, the new Hollywood hopeful, the maverick director or the shady powerbrokers in scenarios that have components and references to dreams, nightmares and fantasies. He leaves it to the viewers to decide what is reality.

Overall, scholar Curt Hersey claims, that Mulholland Drive is actually a sequence of avant-garde techniques like nontraditional camera movement, motion speed, abrupt transitions, lack of transitions, computer-generated imagery, nondiegetic images, intertextuality and nonlinear narration.

Since its release, the film has received the most lavish praise as well as the harshest epithets in recent cinematic history. Chicago Sun-Times’ Robert Ebert, who had primarily been dismissive of Lynch’s films, awarded four or four stars and wrote, ‘David Lynch has been working toward Mulholland Drive all of his career, and now that he’s arrived there I forgive him for Wild at Heart and even Lost Highway … the movie is a surrealist dreamscape in the form of a Hollywood film noir, and the less sense it makes, the more we can’t stop watching it’. Subsequently, he even added the movie to his “Great films” list. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gushed, ‘Mulholland Drive makes movies feel alive again. This sinful pleasure is a fresh triumph for Lynch, and one of the best films of a sorry-ass year. For visionary daring, swooning eroticism and colors that pop like a whore’s lip gloss, there’s nothing like this baby anywhere.’

Rex Reed of The New York Observer, on the other hand, called Mulholland Drive the worst film he had seen in 2001, describing it as ‘a load of moronic and incoherent garbage’. James Berardinelli criticized it, claiming: ‘Lynch cheats his audience, pulling the rug out from under us. He throws everything into the mix with the lone goal of confusing us. Nothing makes any sense because it’s not supposed to make any sense. There’s no purpose or logic to events. Lynch is playing a big practical joke on us.’

Nonetheless, Mulholland Drive was later named the best film of the decade by IndieWire, Slant Magazine, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Cahiers du cinéma, Reverse Shot, The Village Voice and Time Out New York. It received four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture. Beside this, Lynch was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director for the movie.

Inland Empire (2006)

Besides writing, directing and co-producing, David Lynch also helmed editing, cinematography, sound design and score for this experimental thriller film. Lynch’s then-wife and longtime collaborator Mary Sweeney co-produced the movie. It features not only Lynch’s regulars such as Harry Dean Stanton, Justin Theroux, Laura Dern, and Grace Zabriskie, but also Karolina Gruszka, Jeremy Irons, Krzysztof Majchrzak, Peter J. Lucas, and Julia Ormond. Moreover, a host of additional actors, including Laura Harring, Terry Crews, Nastassja Kinski, William H. Macy, and Mary Steenburgen make a brief appearance. The film derives its title from an actual residential area in Southern California.

Taglined “A Woman in Trouble”, the movie follows the nightmarish and highly fragmented events surround a Hollywood actress, embodied by Dern, who gradually takes on more and more personality traits of the character she plays in a movie. An international co-production between the United States, Poland, and France, Inland Empire was shot primarily in Los Angeles and Poland, and was completed within three years. The making process marked a number for firsts for Lynch: the movie was largely developed on a scene-by-scene basis, doing without a finished screenplay; and it was shot in low resolution digital video by Lynch himself with a handheld Sony camcorder.

When asked for an explanation of Inland Empire, Lynch merely answered that it is “about a woman in trouble, and it’s a mystery, and that’s all I want to say about it”.

Reception-wise, Richard Peña, an official of the New York Film Festival, described the film as “a plotless collection of snippets that explore themes Lynch has been working on for years”, such as “a Hollywood story about a young actress who gets a part in a film that might be cursed; a story about the smuggling of women from Eastern Europe; and an abstract story about a family of people with rabbit heads sitting around in a living room”. Critic Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian summerized the movie as “a meditation on the unacknowledged and unnoticed strangeness of Hollywood and movie-making in general”. According to Slate’s Dennis Lim Inland Empire is “a three-hour waking nightmare that derives both its form and its content from the splintering psyche of a troubled Hollywood actress”. Lim compared Lynch’s use of digital video with the way viral video, home movies, and pornography are made. Other critics remarked that the movie resembles a website’s hyperlinked layering of screens, “constantly disclosing new worlds from new points of view”.

The film earned Lynch a National Society of Film Critics award for Best Experimental Film as well as the Future Film Festival Digital Award in Venice. Furthermore, Laura Dern was nominated for the National Society of Film Critics award and the Toronto Film Critics Association award in the category Best Actress. Inland Empire received a New York Film Critics Online Award nomination for Best Picture.