Friday, December 6, 2013

Lost Highway (1997)

Title: Lost Highway (1997)

Director: David Lynch

Cast: Patricia Arquette, Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty, Robert Blake, Gary Busey, Robert Loggia

I’ve been re-watching all of Lynch’s films these past few days for my Lynch blog-a-thon and watching Lost Highway it dawned upon me how much Lynch had been playing with the same themes ever since he made Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). You see, in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me Lynch told a story about a secret group of people hell bent on taking over other people’s bodies, kind of like possessing them, so they can live forever. Then there’s MulhollandDrive (2001) which some people seem to interpret the same way, Betty wants to turn Camilla into herself. So while watching Lost Highway (1997) I realized it also played with this premise of people taking over other people’s bodies. In many ways, Mulholland Drive was the result of Lynch playing with these themes for years, it was the culmination of many years of ruminating these premises, which is why Mulholland Drive is so damned perfect in my book. This of course is not to say that these films are all the same, in fact, they aren’t, they vary in mood and look, but they do play with similar ideas. In fact, Lynch stated in a recent interview that Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Lost Highway exist in the same universe, so I guess I’m not that far off with my assumptions. So what sets Lost Highway apart?

In Lost Highway we meet Fred Madison, a Jazz musician who’s experiencing marital troubles. Though not entirely obvious at first, little things let you know that they’ve grown apart. She won’t go to his Jazz shows because she’d rather stay home and read a book? We see she feels kind of sorry for him during sex when she taps him in the back while having it, as if saying “there, there”. Fred tells his wife “I’m glad I can still make you laugh” the key word being “still”. Finally, he remembers her walking away with some guy during one of his performances at the Jazz club, so he suspects she is also being unfaithful, which fires up a furious jealousy. All these negative feelings in his relationship bring forth an unusual situation in his life! A mysterious man dressed in black begins to visit him in his mind and his dreams. Who is this Mystery Man? And how and why does he keep sending ominous video tapes of Fred and his wife sleeping in bed? How does the Mystery Man invade their home?

So once again Lynch visits the world of relationships, Lynch has been commenting on the intricacies of relationships since his very first film, Eraserhead (1977) which was all about that awkward situation of suddenly finding yourself entangled with someone you do not love. On Lost Highway Lynch explores a similar subject manner, the little tattle tale signs that let you know something is just not right in a marriage, signs that let you know in an indirect way that though this person is still with you, she or he has already moved on to the next relationship and is actually already contemplating how to dump you. In Lost Highway Fred has already detected this in his wife Renee and so he welcomes a dark being into his mind, the creepy ‘Mystery Man’, the one who can help him escape and become somebody else, somebody younger! The difference on this film though is that Lynch focuses on how we don’t have to stay in this situation, Lynch actually comments on how we can and probably should change our life before the darkness takes over, but this being Lynch, well, he goes into dark, dark territory to tell this tale.

So once again we enter the realm of switching bodies and lives. Remember how in Mulholland Dr. Diane changed her dark depressive life as a wannabe actress, for the life of Betty, an up and coming actress who blows everybody away with her acting abilities? Something similar happens on Lost Highway with Fred the Jazz player. As we can see by these films, Lynch likes telling stories about people who aren’t happy with their lives and want to change them somehow. In Twin Peaks we get a whole group of people trying to posses others lives, but in that film these mysterious people want to posses bodies so they can live out their own lives. So this is actually a very positive thing about Lynch’s films, he tells us that we can become whoever we want to become, no matter how dark the situation.

Lynch transmits his ideas through a very dark and disturbing prism and that’s one of the funny things about Lynch, his films aren’t horror films, but they have horrifying elements to them that make them scarier than any horror film you’d see. I think this trio of films, Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway and Twin Peaks are some of his scariest ones, they all deal with supernatural elements, and they all stir up dark situations and emotions. Other similarities that these films share: females as central characters of the story, which is really a Lynch staple. In all three films women are either femm fatales you don’t want to mess with, or women in peril at the hands of abusive psychotic men. In Lost Highway’s case, it’s an incredible mixture of both; awoman in peril desperately trying to escape the grip of a gangster/mad man, but also, a femm fatale, a woman with great allure, leading men into dangerous situations. In Lost Highway’s case, the femm fatale is played by the beautiful Patricia Arquette. I want to take this time and point out just how obvious it is that Lynch loves and appreciates women. I mean, he not only makes them the central characters in many of his films and shows sympathy for them, he also chooses true beauties for his films. I mean, Laura Dern, Naomi Watts, Laura Harring, all bombshells in my book, we  can add Patricia Arquette to that list. On this film she looks incredibly beautiful; a woman that any man would do anything for. So out of Wild at Heart, MulhollandDr. and Lost Highway which one is the most erotic? That’s a tough one, I thought Mulholland Dr. would be it with it’s amazing sex scene between Watts and Herring, but after having seen Lost Highway, I think Lost Highway wins, Patricia Arquette is just too stunning. I can now see why Nicholas Cage proposed to her on the spot, the first time he saw her!

So anyhow, that’s my two cents on Lost Highway. It’s a very slow paced movie, but then again, that’s the way most of Lynch’s films are, slow, sultry and seductive, and then blamo, he hits you in the head with disturbing imagery. At the end of the day it’s a satisfying film. By the way, though Lynch usually works with the same group of actors, most of the actors on this film were working with Lynch for the first time. Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Gary Busey, Robert Loggia and Robert Blake are all Lynch rookies; the only Lynch regular that I spotted was Jack Nance in a cameo as a mechanic. By the way, this was Nance’s last performance before he passed away two months before the film was released. Look for an avalanche of amusing cameos from guys like Henry Rollins, Marilyn Manson, Giovanni Ribisi. Even Richard Pryor cameos here in his last on screen performance as a guy running an auto shop. Last words on Lost Highway: it’s another spooky unsettling gem in Lynch’s crown of masterpieces. My only true problem with it is the open ending; the film ends rather abruptly which leaves you sort of begging for more, this small quibble aside, Lost Highway is another Lynch masterpiece, I gotta say, I’ve yet to be disappointed by a Lynch film.

Rating:  5 out of 5  


robotGEEK said...

Nice one man. I really enjoyed this one as well. It took me a while and lots of discussions to put it all together, but I think I have a good grasp of what the story is supposed to be. Even then, it doesn't necessarily make sense. But overall, a great film. Definitely one of his best. I think I still consider Mulholland Drive as my favorite of his though.

Roman J. Martel said...

As I mentioned in your Mulholland Drive review, I think Mullholland Drive is his best made film, but "Lost Highway" is my favorite.

You mentioned something that I really believe, "Lost Highway" and "Fire Walk With Me" are horror films done in David Lynch's wonderful style. "Fire Walk" is the horrors of Laura's life and destruction. "Lost Highway" is the horror of letting jealousy consume your mind, body and finally soul. In a way it is Lynch's surreal take on the play "Othello".

I believe that Bill Pullman's character, Fred, is an insanely jealous man. Hard not to sympathize, because as you point out Patricia Arquette is just oozing sexuality and is so damn alluring. I'm with you in thinking she is the most deliciously diabolical of all of Lynch's sirens. Fred can not imagine anyone else having her - in any way. So he snaps completely, and destroys any and all people that could have any power over her.

To do this he personifies his anger into a cold, cruel and angry man - the mystery man. This personification of anger drives Fred to destroy his wife, and then grants him the power to destroy the other men who had power over her. But as Fred transforms so does the Mystery Man. Now Fred is younger, more virile. And mystery man has become the blonde bombshell version of Arquette. She is still a personification of Fred's anger, but now is uses sex and lies to drive him and destroy others.

After all the offending men are dead, Fred drives through the desert and returns home. His mission is complete, and he must tell himself this. "Dick Laurant is dead". It almost become a signal to Fred to unleash his anger.

But Fred drives away pursued by the police and starting to change again - or maybe starting to deconstruct. I think the finale is showing that his anger has consumed his mind, caused him to embrace his horrific anger and now it is taking its toll. He is falling apart, mentally, physically and caught in a loop of his own making, forced to dwell in hate and rage for eternity - a very unique and horrifying Lynchian version of hell.

That's my take on it any way.

I love the camera work in this one. You captured some of my favorite noire images. This film drips with darkness. There are scenes where shadows literally absorb characters. The lighting in this film is used with amazing skill to create one of the best but rarely used emotions in horror films - dread. That is something this film (and Fire Walk with Me) excel at. You can feel something horrible is going to happen, and in those slow pressure cooker scenes, that dread builds and builds.

I could go on and on, but I just love this dark excursion into the depths of rage. I can revisit this film time and again and love that journey into hell, so beautiful and horrific it all is. :)

Franco Macabro said...

Robot Geek: Agree on Mulholland Drive being his best one!

Roman J. Martell: The cabin in the dessert is like hell; same as the blue box in Mulholland Drive. Agree, he has commited the ultimate sin, now he pays for it, similar in that way to what Betty and Camilla go through in Mulholland Drive.

Yeah, I like the lighting on this one as well, shadows over power the film, this is what gives Lost Highway it's unique look and fell, it exists within shadows for most of its running time.

Agree on the dread as well, it's all over this thing. That scene where we see the footage of Frank and Rennee sleeping in bed as someone tapes them...eeerie stuff!

Unknown said...

Nice review! Love this film as well and I believe Lynch has said that LOST HIGHWAY was his reaction to the whole O.J. Simpson murder thing so it is interesting to watch it with that in mind.

This film is brilliantly constructed because it reveals more of itself upon subsequent viewings but can't be tied down to any single theory.

Best as I can surmise, Fred is trapped in purgatory as symbolized by the lost highway he is forever doomed to travel. He is trapped in an endless loop where he tries to warn himself but is doomed to repeat the same scenario over and over again. A rather fitting punishment?

Franco Macabro said...

True J.D., he has said that the film came as a subconscious result of the OJ Simpson trials, we can obviously see some parallels with the story there.

I saw it as a film about a man who had the ability to steal peoples bodies and take over them, but didn't know he could do it. He didn't know he could be so violent, he didn't know he could kill. He didn't know he could steal Pete's body and take over it, which happens at that moment when Pete dissapears from his home as his girlfriend screams at him.

But, same as in Mulholland Dr., he might have changed bodies, but he still ends up meeting up yet again with the love of his life, Renne. Or at least he thinks its Renne, I got the impression that it was her twin sister, at least thats what I got from that scene where Alice looks at a picture with Alice and Renne together, then Alice points at the blond one and says "thats me". But she never says if the other one is her sister or what....

Your idea of purgatory being the road was interesting, a lot of people seem to think that the cabin is hell. Other interpretations say that the Mystery Man is Satan! I think the Mystery Man is a figment of Frank's own psyche, evidenced by that moment when he suddenly dissapears from Franks thing is clear, same as in Mulholland Dr., in Lynch's films, evil doers pay for what they've a sort of Karma for their evil actions. The girls in Mulholland Dr. do not have a happy ending either, in fact, it is my understanding that they go to hell at the end of the film!

So many interpretations for one movie!


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