Fourteen years ago today, David Lynch’s haunting masterpiece Mulholland Dr. opened in theaters across the United States. Take a look back at critics’ initial reactions to Lynch’s mystifying “love story in the city of dreams.”
It tells the story of . . . well, there's no way to finish that sentence. . . . This is a movie to surrender yourself to. If you require logic, see something else. Mulholland Dr. works directly on the emotions, like music. Individual scenes play well by themselves, as they do in dreams, but they don't connect in a way that makes sense—again, like dreams. The way you know the movie is over is that it ends. And then you tell a friend, “I saw the weirdest movie last night.” Just like you tell them you had the weirdest dream.
— Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
It encourages multiple viewings, partly to solve its riddles but also because it has that seductive, languid tempo that bears revisiting. In that sense it belongs to a newly evolving genre (such as Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood For Love) that operates like a fusion of movie and pop music; one can either keep seeing it in theaters or put on a DVD of it, like a favorite music CD. The languid, seductive rhythms, the unresolved, circular, less-than-overbearing narrative, the sexy actors all contribute to a kind of personal, open-ended fantasy, or pornography, of yearning.
— Phillip Lopate, Film Comment
The worst movie I’ve seen this year is Mulholland Dr., a load of moronic and incoherent garbage from David Lynch that started out as a rejected TV pilot and predictably ended up at the New York Film Festival, where pretentious poseurs sit with their eyes glued to any screen as long as the projector is still running. From this bizarro atrocity, they should get astigmatism.
— Rex Reed, Observer
Those sulky viewers who deserted the pop surrealist master with the psycho-fugue of Lost Highway, and may have been gratified with the ultra-linearity of The Straight Story, might as well stay on their couches, because Mulholland Dr. is Lynch at his most structurally ambitious and mind-blowing best. In Mulholland Dr., the underlit and overimagined streets of Los Angeles are used as a launching point for the exploration of the dark recesses of the mind; loosely connected ideas ebb and flow and leave psychic scars in their wake. Like the mode of transportation L.A. is most noted for, the film speeds up and down, shifting gears, and runs down a road full of twists and turns, ultimately ending up with . . . Silencio.
— Mark Peranson, Indiewire
Looked at lightly, it is the grandest and silliest cinematic carnival to come along in quite some time: a lurching journey through one filmmaker's personal fun house. On a more serious level, its investigation into the power of movies pierces a void from which you can hear the screams of a ravenous demon whose appetites can never be slaked.
— Stephen Holden, The New York Times
A film that, crossing Vertigo with Persona (and maybe Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon), is one of the most disturbing portraits of woman as patriarchal pawn and victim in American movie history. Lynch situates his doomed lesbian love story within a classically paranoid, though not necessarily untrue, vision of the industry as a closed hierarchical system in which the ultimate source of power remains hidden behind a series of representatives.
— Amy Taubin, Film Comment
Mulholland Dr. turns as perverse and withholding in its narrative as anything in Buñuel. Similarly surreal is the gusto with which Lynch orchestrates his particular fetishes. In Mulholland Dr., the filmmaker has the conviction to push self-indulgence past the point of no return.
— J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
If you understand what Mulholland Dr. is about, operators are standing by right now, waiting for a clue.
— Desson Howe, The Washington Post
For its first ninety minutes the film motors along this noirish route—Raymond Chandler shops at Frederick’s of Hollywood—then goes defiantly, wondrously weird. This handsome, persuasively inhabited spook show reveals Lynch’s talent for fooling, unsettling and finally enthralling his audience. Viewers will feel as though they’ve just finished a great meal but aren’t sure what they’ve been served. Behind them, the chef smiles wickedly.
— Richard Corliss, Time
The question is not “Does Mulholland Dr. make sense?,” or even “Is it meant to make sense?,” but, rather, as Laurence Olivier once demanded of Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe?” If, as happens in the new movie, you come out of the theater feeling half as secure as you went in, then the mission has been accomplished. All Lynch's work is hit and miss, but whenever he hits (and I'm not sure that he even knows when, let alone why, he has pulled it off), the role of common sense is flooded and short-circuited by the uncommon gratification of the senses. When David Hockney painted a picture entitled Mulholland Drive, he explained that the word “Drive” was “not the name of the road but the act of driving,” and although Lynch's shadow-caked palette could not be more different from Hockney's, his motive is the same. This film is the record of a journey, and it leaves us with the dreadful possibility that all highways are lost.
— Anthony Lane, The New Yorker