Director: David Lynch.
Screenplay: David Lynch, Barry Gifford.
Starring: Patricia Arquette, Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, Robert Blake, Gary Busey, Richard Pryor, Jack Nance, Michael Massee, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Jack Kehler, Michael Shamus Wiles, Lucy Butler, Mink Stole, Greg Travis, Scott Coffey, Giovanni Ribisi, Henry Rollins, Marilyn Manson.
“l like to remember things my own way”
Whenever you approach a David Lynch film, you really have to be prepared for a surrealistic, mind-boggling challenge. His films rarely come as an easy pass to answers or entertainment and can even frustrate to the point of absolute bewilderment. Lost Highway is no different and ranks alongside Inland Empire as, probably, Lynch’s most difficult film to date.
Jazz saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) awakes one morning to find a video tape lying on his doorstep. He and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) watch the tape only to find that someone has been filming the inside of their house. The tapes appear with increasing regularity, each time revealing more and more footage. This only adds to Fred’s suspicions of his wife and her friendships outwith their marriage. Not before long Fred is drawn into a labyrinthine plot with a Mystery Man (Robert Blake), ferocious gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), pornography, murder and teenage mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) who may, or may not, be involved.
Working on the script alongside Wild At Heart author Barry Gifford, Lynch crafts an experience that truly is a hallucinatory nightmare and one of the most effective horrors I’ve ever seen. It’s a great combination of noir and horror with shady characters, femme fatales and downright freakish oddities and there’s an ambience that’s classic Lynch with his very unsettling and minimalist approach. The man can craft sinister from absolutely nothing; bare lamps, shadows and vacant spaces speak volumes and he’s aided considerably by – regular collaborators – Angelo Badalamenti’s foreboding score and Peter Deming’s hugely effective cinematography (which was supposedly shot in one of Lynch’s own L.A. homes).
Some critics have been harsh on Lost Highway, claiming that it’s self-indulgent and lacks depth but it’s one of those films where you really have to pay attention. Even the minutest detail can be so important to unraveling the mystery.
It’s a film of two halves and the trick is in trying to piece the two to make a complete whole. The first half of the film is fairly linear but in the second, a metamorphosis takes place that really is a bizarre and confounding plot twist. From that moment on, nothing is as it seems and it just gets weirder and weirder. Only Lynch can get away with this kind of mind fuck. And get away with it he does. It’s a hugely involving and complex piece of work. So much so, that you actually question whether you’re intelligent enough to understand it at all.
Is there a point? Who knows for sure. I have my theories as I’m sure many others do but the beauty in this film is that it’s a transcendental piece of art. Does there need to be a point or is it like all other great art, whereby you interpret the voids for yourself. The voids where the artist isn’t readily giving you clarity. How it affects each viewer will, no doubt, be different and unique and there’s not many filmmaker’s or artists out there can still achieve such an impact.
If you’re reading this review, looking for definitive answers, then you’re looking in the wrong place. If I did offer my answers to the conundrum, it would only rob you of your own experience. And anyway, like all great works of art, you already have the answers. The answers that make sense to you. They’re not mine, they’re not anybody else’s, they’re yours. And that’s what I love about this filmmaker. There’s no-one quite like David Lynch and his idiosyncratic genius.
One things for sure, it explores the themes of sexual insecurity, jealousy and paranoia but when it operates on a metaphysical level that’s when things get very challenging. You could view it from a schizophrenic angle, it could be an alternate reality, an underworld purgatory or you could be trying to interpret dream hallucinations and suppressed memories. It could be many things and although I have settled on a particular meaning, my reasoning could be entirely different to another’s. Put simply, it’s open to interpretation and will depend on each and every individual viewer and what they bring to the experience themselves. You just have to open yourself up and embrace it. And therein lies the art.
You could argue that this is Lynch’s most cerebrally nihilistic film to date and a variation on the same themes explored in Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. Like those films, I have seen it many times and each time I manage to decipher another piece of the puzzle. For years, I couldn’t make heads nor tales of it but now I have a better grasp on what (I think) it’s all about. However, trying to work it out is not in the slightest bit easy. All I know is that I love the experience, each and every time, and sometimes I even question why.
Trivia: David Lynch said he has only recently (2002) realized what subconsciously inspired the film: the O.J. Simpson trial. He said that the trial was a major influence on his mind during the stage of writing this script, which deals with a man who killed his wife. Curiously enough, Lynch cast Robert Blake to play the Mystery Man, who is a major character in the film – years later, Blake would be put on trial for killing his own wife.