Director: David Lynch
(WARNING: Contains spoilers) Although not exactly a horror movie, David Lynch’s Lost Highway is without a doubt creepy and disturbing, and does have the underpinnings of that genre, but like some of Dario Argento’s films, specifically Susperia, it defies any sort of genre categorization. Perhaps his darkest movie, unrelentingly so, the film leaves so many questions on the minds of viewers as to its intentions. Its ending is its beginning, the movie twisting in on itself like a Mobieus strip. And unlike most of his films, there is no redemption at its closing, its characters don’t emerge from the darkness for the better (think Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, even Inland Empire and Eraserhead to lesser extents). In this respect, it is the most terrifying of “horror movies” because there is no way out for the characters, nor is there one for the audience.
When I first saw Lost Highway in the theaters I wasn’t immediately struck by it like other Lynch films. The images were astounding as usual, the music amazing, the pacing precise, but nothing stuck with me save a few amazing shots. But over the years it’s impression has grown on me; the themes of doppelgangers alternate worlds and questions of identity (very similar to its almost twin Mulholland Drive) are at once immersive and challenging because Lynch gives the audience no easy answers only more questions, the pieces of the puzzle never coming together exactly as you think they should. Without going into a Freudian/psychological dissection of the movie (it’s been done enough certainly), I will simply say that it’s amazing film, one that is indeed watchable over and over simply because there is so much about it that reveals itself over time.
The plot pulls heavily from film noir, but at the same time subverting expectations of that genre. An avant garde jazz musician, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is living a strange, distant marriage with his femme fatale wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). They begin to receive videotapes in the mail, video footage shot from inside their home, while they are in bed, asleep. Soon Renee is murdered and Bill is sentenced to death. But while in prison, a bizarre transformation occurs and he becomes Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) an auto mechanic who works for a mob boss named Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). The plot then shifts to an entirely different set of characters and circumstances that we later learn are strangely related to the first.
From the opening scene—a car speeding down a lonely highway at night, headlights cutting a path through the darkness with David Bowie’s amazing track “I’m Deranged” pulsing in the background—it is clear that this is a David Lynch movie, this is his universe and nothing is what it seems. The title itself is evocative; all at once calling up images of b-movies and film noir which again Lynch uses as a basis for luring the audience into a more desne, surrealistic movie than any standard film noir would offer. Co-written with author Barry Gifford (whose book Wild at Heart Lynch had previously made into a film) the story is laced with dead-ends and strange, awful coincidences, giving the audience a feeling of uneasiness, that they t00, like Fred Madison, are trapped in a nightmarish world that loops endlessly. The tag line at the top of the script sums of Lynch’s intentions in typical Lynch fashion:
A 21st Century Noir Horror Film.
A graphic investigation into parallel
A world where time is dangerously out
A terrifying ride down the lost highway.
Nothing is ever what it seems in a Lynch movie, but even more so in Lost Highway. Just when it seems there might be a resolution, a way out so to speak, Lynch turns the film in on itself again. By the end we know who spoke into the intercom at the beginning of the film, but, as we soon realize, this doesn’t give us any sort of standard conclusion. There are allusions to further transformations, to more parallel lives, identities yet to be defined, another part of the film that will never be made, but exists, nevertheless, and continues to evolve in utterly phantasmagoric ways in the audience’s mind. As the tag line states, time is fragile in this film, not to be trusted, it is continually unraveling.
And as usual, it is the photography and lighting that play a big part in solidifying Lynch’s dream world upon the screen. Lurid, technicolor colors swirl around everywhere; Renee’s jet black Betty Page hair, the strikingly blonde of Alice’s gangster moll; dark reds throbbing and flashing in clubs; the humming, static blues of rolling videotapes. And more than any other Lynch movie this is a film about darkness, degrees of visual darkness that slowly swallow up characters. The darkness that envelopes Fred down the long narrow hallways of his house at the beginning of the film become almost a representation of his mind unraveling, of his very identify coming into question. Lynch has an eye for detail, for unearthing the strangeness in everyday objects. People, bedrooms, chairs, phones, curtains all become something beautiful to photograph.
From Bill Pullman to Patricia Arquette to Robert Blake giving an amazing turn as the Mystery Man, the casting is perfect; the characters are at once cartoonishly pulpy and thoroughly engaging and believable. There is tension between the characters that is unrelenting, even in the quieter scenes. It is especially devastating in the relationship between Fred and Renee, their distance personified by how they sit across from one another in the living room, to the strained and desperate love-making scenes. And of course there are those great Lynchian moments; the psychotic Mr. Eddy reacting to a tailgater and the Mystery Man telling Fred that he has phone call in a way that is anything but mundane.
In the end, Lost Highway is a film without any easy answers, one that stays with you until you see it again. And as a police investigator quips towards the climax of the film: “There’s no such thing as a bad coincidence.”