Film Reviews

Lost Highway David Lynch

Rating - 6/10

David Lynch's Lost Highway is an alluring if fragmented and polarizing neonoir-thriller that feels a bit too indulgent and indigestible.  Although Lynch presents competent ideas of identity, surveillance, memory, and dream manifestation, the film's purposely convoluted structure ultimately implodes.  The most notable dearth is the disappearance of main character and avant-garde tenor saxophonist, Fred Madison, after 49 minutes; in a seemingly complete do-over, Lynch instigates a separate narrative with young mechanic Pete Dayton, forcing the viewer to shift emotional investment and ploddingly link signifiers and dialogue together while sifting through an assortment of red herrings.  Lynch's signature psychological touches pervade each progressive section, which naturally demand an almost anticipatory cognition, but only true Lynch fanatics will lap up the narrative's unending riddles.  To those possessing an unprecedented dedication, an initial viewing of Lost Highway is a stimulating if wholly confounding process.

Although matters of mistaken identity are prevalent in nearly all of Lynch's work, and Lost Highway comes replete with doppelgangers and surrogates (Fred/Pete, Renee/Alice, and Dick Laurent/Mr. Eddy), the concept of surveillance is more central and unique to this film.  Introduced with a series of mysterious invasive videotapes dropped on the doorsteps of Fred's house, Lynch overtly demonstrates notions of an omnipotent force, an enigma that distorts or reveals an underlying truth or inherent fabrication.  In "Lynchesque" fashion, absolute information is withheld to maintain a sense of insecurity and uncertainty in audiences as much as the characters.  Additional surveillance is provided by two patrolling detectives, Hank and Lou, in Pete Dayton's narrative arc, which further mystify the events and identifies of the two different detectives in the former half of the film, suggesting their collective association with Fred and Renee's unidentified stalker.  Of course the Pete's surveyors' efforts are passive to a point of comical scrutiny, while the videotapes represent a disturbing glimpse into the nether-regions of the soul, concluding with the exposure of Fred as a supposed murderer kneeling over his dismembered wife.  The most alarming and perplexing scene in the entire film is deliberately rushed, its contents confined to a recording, which prompt questions of the polarity between surveillance as truth or fiction. Without divulging plot actualities, Lynch distinctively taps into American audiences' irrational governmental paranoia, that "big brother" is capable of infiltrating personal lives.

Fred's dislike of cameras is a seemingly fleeting notation in the first quarter of Lost Highway, yet his oration is so crucial to deconstructing former and subsequent images.  When questioned by the detectives about recording his unabashedly improvised musical performances, Renee remarks that he hates video cameras.  "I like to remember things my own way... not necessarily the way they happened," Fred firmly affixes.  This tenacious philosophy evokes David Lynch's construction of the film, the most significant being the concept of subjective or distorted recollection.  When reliant on memory entirely to recite specific details, one is inevitably forced to second guess or recreate separate scenarios entirely.  Central to the theme of the film, the phrase "Lost Highway" recalls an ambiguous memory, with a dynamic opening title sequence on an empty road, later complemented by scenes of characters' erotic explorations in vehicles at night and the turbulent conclusion.

The ghostly pale Robert Blake, in his final pre-murder trial appearance, also forms the centrality of Lost Highway as the "mystery man."  Less of a man and more of an apparition, presence, or memory, the mystery man's elusive existence transcends traditional boundaries as he is ostensibly able to materialize in multiple places simultaneously.  With the most direct tie to the surveillance nightmare that plagues Fred, the mystery man is first seen advancing toward Fred at a mutual acquaintance's house party, questioning him in the most haughty and secretive way imaginable.  "We've met before, haven't we?"  His words form a question, but his tone radiates certainty even as Fred denies the meeting.  The mystery man's inquiry is followed with a stark, "at your house, don't you remember?"  Even through this short dialogue, it's obvious that the walking enigma is Lynch's attempt to startle the human memory and initiate the concept of its potential unreliability.  In classic Lynch fashion, the mystery man laughs maniacally, then disappears into the crowd without answering Fred's apprehensive question of his identity.

While frequently a structural mess, David Lynch's signature camerawork is an adhesive element in the film, providing appropriate mood for every scene of disorientation as well as an artful reminder of the director's previous filmography.  The presences of dark and deep colors, particularly with the blood red curtains, seem to suggest the entrance to the lodges in the groundbreaking early 1990s television series Twin Peaks.  Even Bill Pullman's character, Fred, with his slicked black hair and perturbed expressions beckon recollections of Kyle McLaughlin's portrayal of Special Agent Dale Cooper.  Lynch's sentiments about Lost Highway and Twin Peaks occurring in the same eerie universe have been documented in interviews, and this link is furthered by the film's dominance of shadows and a gothic rock soundtrack augmented with Angelo Badalamenti's moody ambient score.  Yet, ultimately, it seems that Lynch was too accustomed to the gradual exposition and leisurely pacing of his former show to properly transition, evident by Lost Highway's somewhat excessive 135-minute running time, cut from 160 at the original screening.  Lost Highway finds Lynch simultaneously racing and plodding through the night.