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