Dir. David Lynch
It's the image that opens Lost Highway, the image that closes it, of an unknown entity barrelling down a road, first person, in the middle of pitch black wilderness, never ending with yellow road divider markings barely glimpsed as they hurdle pass. It's the image that always comes to mind first, followed by the image of a man stood up as a statue in Blue Velvet (1986), when I think of David Lynch. Amongst such other films that people throw up as his best, I hold Lost Highway as my personal choice. After attempting, with messy results, to write a university dissertation on what makes a David Lynch film a David Lynch film, I'll be as simplified as possible explaining my admiration for Lost Highway.
Interpretations do vary, but that the film was inspired by Lynch's interest in the infamous OJ Simpson court case, this leads to an obvious frame of reference. Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) are suffering from a strain relationship. With further confoundment by the result of videos of their home being sent to them by mail, it eventually leads to Fred being put on death row for the graphic murder of Renee. However, abruptly in his prison sentence, the guards find a completely different man in his cell, young mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty). Dayton has direct interaction with mob boss Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) which leads him to meet Eddy's new, younger girlfriend Alice (also played by Patricia Arquette). It becomes clear something is utterly amiss. Lynch's obsession with alternative realities, duplicate/mirror personalities and dream logic permeates this film as much as the others. It qualifies as much as part of the post noir subgenre that, for me, really became prominent in the nineties despite existing in films from the sixties onward. From direct period set films to modern day reinterpretations, post noir took the femme fatale, the detectives, the crime bosses and the criminal underbelly of the original film noirs and filtered them through (usually) more violent and gritty content, both being meta-textual and subverting tropes (like Bound (1996)) or being straight forward pulp movies. Lost Highway pushes the tropes further than even Blue Velvet into a more abstract tone, pieces of a psychosis, watched over by the Mystery Man (Robert Blake), a being who in his few appearances is both a figure of either the superego or ego of a mind and one of the creepiest creations Lynch has committed to screen.
Lost Highway is the only film that can be date stamped to the time era it was made in. Lynch blurs the lines in terms of era in his films, Blue Velvet more a re-imagining of the fifties, Eraserhead (1977), Mulholland Dr. (2001) and INLAND EMPIRE (2006) ageless, Wild At Heart (1990) too quirky to sit in any time space comfortably. Lost Highway is definitely a nineties film, but for the post noir vibe but especially for the music - Rammstein, Marilyn Manson, Trent Reznor contributing instrumental tracks etc.. But it never feels dated, only dependant on your taste in the music, and even then, the songs chosen are deliberately unconventional choices that have unnerving sounds within them, especially the German language prelude to a Rammstein song that sounds more like an occult chant. Lost Highway has always been an unnerving experience for me to sit through. A curious one in hindsight actually - starting off as a psychodrama but splitting off, using noir pastiche, into new tangents. The tropes of the more lurid post noir sub-genre, of porn and violent murder, becomes a fitting metaphor for the denials and delusions of the main protagonists. While the interpretation is left for you the viewer to figure out, the obvious central idea of the film is that Patricia Arquette is a figure out of reach of the male protagonist, who transmutes into different forms and feels their world fall down continually as she still stays the same. No matter how much he depicts her as a being from a dirty, lurid underworld, he is the only one who delves into violence and falls apart.
Lynch has always danced between the quirky and the disturbing, but the melding is much more subtle barring a few examples like Wild At Heart. For a film that has a cast as diverse in terms of unconventional casting, including small roles for Richard Pryor and Gary Busey, to moments of incredibly black humour like Mr. Eddy accosting someone for tailgating, the film never becomes purposely strange. Instead, like many of Lynch's films, these aspects placate the viewer with moments of tranquillity, with humour and with odd juxtapositions, but eventually pull you slowly into a darker mood in the narratives until everything becomes a prolonged nightmare. Sound is as integral as music in this sense, and if my recent viewings of the director's films have shown anything, there is on one hand the sense that I will get a lot seeing these films on the largest screen possible, but hearing them wearing headphones, even watched on a tiny screen, will have a greater impact in drawing you into the movies' worlds. Lost Highway does not feel as confusing as it could when this aesthetic is noticed, especially with how it's endings works to the beginning. There are clearly signposted motifs that suggest what we are in for throughout. It is, like a dream, connected by symbolic tissue of a narrative but that narrative is constructed by logic of tone, not constructed by a rational, easy-to-negotiate plot.
Abstract Plot (High/Medium/Low/None): High
Lost Highway depicts a form of Hell. While there are more abstract films in terms of structure, Lynch's films crawl into your skin. From an idiosyncratic take on performances, prolonged and stilted, to the jarring use of violence, Lynch's ability to switch between the light and vaguely silly to the disturbing is masterful, entirely done in a carefully constructed way. With Lynch¸ a person entering a darkened corridor becomes a literal act of entering an alternative reality, powerful just by itself, which happens in Lost Highway and results in the most horrifying event imaginable taking place. But it feels more abstract because Lynch, baring flirting with a curse in INLAND EMPIRE, never draws from folklore, horror tropes or anything supernatural, but from the perspective of a man raised in the 1950s who is able to picture the worse in humanity as well as the best (and mundane) of it.
This is my favourite Lynch film. Favourite knowing something this disturbing is strange to say is your "favourite", but even when a film disturbs you, you can feel exhilarated as a result. In placing oneself in the position of a potential wife murderer and someone who is losing their mind, as we see the architecture from the inside of this taking place, there is no sense of being morbid, but a journey that goes pass for its two hours like an actual dream.