Lost Highway

A disquieting sense of dislocation, a ghoulish “Mystery Man”, some hyperkinetic highway tarmac, and characters that change names and faces faster than you could say “Killer Bob” only one man could tie these disparate elements together into one brilliant, cohesive whole, and then title it Lost Highway. David Lynch is back to theatres after a five-year absence, and after partaking in his phantasmagorical film noir musings, audiences will never be the same. Hallelujah.

Lost Highway is split up roughly into two narrative movements - in the first, saxophonist Fred Madison (played by Bill Pullman, here making up easily for his disastrous President in Independence Day) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) are the recipients of three increasingly disturbing videotapes. Then, Fred gets creepy with a Mystery Man (Robert Blake), a murder is discovered, and Fred is imprisoned, where a prison guard intones, “This is some spooky shit we got here.” No shit. Suddenly it’s the young auto mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) that’s in Fred’s cell, and with his appearance we’re eased into the movie’s second movement.

Up to this point, Lost Highway is a constant stream of the willy-nillies. Lynch is a consummate manipulator of suspense, and with his disturbing sound design and masterful use of darkness within the frame, even the simple entrance of a character onscreen gives one the creeps. Director of photography Peter Deming deserves an award for his work here - he dishes up some of the most evocative blackness seen since Stanley Cortez enveloped The Night of the Hunter in ebony darkness. Here, shadows rule, and they contain such an overwhelming menace it’s hard to completely relax in their presence.

After Fred’s transformation/sublimation into Pete, the narrative seemingly doubles back on itself and begins anew. Pete does automotive work for the sadistic Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), who comes in one day with Alice (Patricia Arquette, again), a pneumatic blonde moll with a hankering for some Pete-to-cheek action, which Dayton is happy to oblige. Mr. Eddy gets suspicious, the Mystery Man makes a few more creepy appearances, and a plan is hatched to knock off a cheesy pornographer of his riches. Of course, everything goes disastrously wrong, but this is David Lynch, after all, so both movements somehow manage to beautifully weave together for the spine-chilling climax.

Lynch delves deeper into themes here he has worked with before, with very satisfying results. The duality of humanity, the changing face of evil, and the connections between the conscious and subconscious mind are all present here, as they were in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. By wrapping these idioms within a film noir context they burst forth anew with fresh revelations - Lost Highway may be another trip down the road with the ol’ insatiable id, but Lynch makes it a trip you just cannot pass up. Simply put, this is Lynch’s best film since Blue Velvet.

On a sad note, Lost Highway is the last film that veteran Lynch player Jack Nance appears in, after his horrific beating and subsequent death late last year. As Henry Spencer in Eraserhead, Pete Martell in Twin Peaks, and appearances in Blue Velvet, Dune, Wild at Heart and The Cowboy and the Frenchman his contributions are as much a part of David Lynch’s accomplishments as Kyle MacLachlan’s. He will be missed.

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