The cinematic creations of David Lynch in any language are grotesquely odd. With a narrative thought to be loosely based on celebrated author Ambrose Bierce’s An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) remains one of his most disturbingly convoluted psychological thrillers in recent years - invariably drenched or mired (depending on one’s point of view) in the iconic trappings of a classic film noir.
Lynch formulated the general concept for his film after falling under the spell of author Barry Gifford’s Night People. Employing Gifford to help write the screenplay for his movie, the director and author clashed repeatedly over content and characters until Lynch had a moment of clarity while driving home one evening from the set of his famed television series, Twin Peaks. Reportedly, the film’s publicist, Deborah Wuliger came up with the concept for the central character’s psychogenic fugue – a rare mental condition wherein a person suffers a total eclipse of their former life but is able to convince themselves into becoming a completely new personality.
To this end, the Lynch/Gifford screenplay opens with angst ridden jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) who suspects that his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette) is having an affair. After overhearing the words ‘Dick Laurent is dead’ on his intercom, Fred discovers a package on their front porch. Inside is a video cassette. On the tape is a recording of the couple fast asleep in their bedroom, alerting Fred and Renee to the fact that someone has gained entry to their home and violated their sense of security. Previously, the couple had disarmed their security system because of a series of false alarms. However, after consulting local detectives, Al (John Roselius) and Ed (Louis Eppolito), Fred agrees to have the alarm reinstated.
Presumably to alleviate suspicion of an extramarital affair, Renee takes her husband to a somewhat pornographic party hosted by third rate sleaze-ball, Andy (Michael Massee). There, Fred meets the very creepy Kabuki-styled Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who informs Fred that he is already at his house, in fact, at the very moment that their conversation is taking place.
To dispel this outlandish claim, Fred telephones home only to have the Mystery Man pick up on the other end. Understandably disturbed, Fred hurriedly rushes home to conduct a thorough search that yields virtually no clues of anyone having been inside since he and Renee left for Andy’s party. While Renee prepares for bed, Fred discovers a 5th dimensional corridor that he walks through and disappears, returning moments later with an ominous shadowy figure.
From here on, the story takes a quantum leap forward into bizarro-land. Fred discovers a videotape showing him next to the bisected remains of his wife. He is physically assaulted by Det. Al and Ed who accuse him of murder. Incarcerated, Fred suffers headaches and a reoccurring vision of a burning house in the desert before morphing into garage mechanic, Peter Raymond Dayton (Balthazar Getty).
Unable to assess Peter’s culpability in Renee’s murder or even answer the question of how he came to be in the cell that once housed the now presumed escapee Fred, the police release Peter from custody. He returns to his motorcycle parents, William (Gary Busey) and Candace (Lucy Butler) and place of work - Arnie’s Garage - but is placed under 24 hour surveillance.
At the garage, Peter meets local gangster, Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) who is also identified as Dick Laurent, and Eddy’s mistress, Alice Wakefield (Arquette again). Not long afterward, Peter and Alice begin their notorious affair. The two conspire to rob Andy and use the money to run away together. Suspicious, Eddy threatens to kill Peter if he learns that the two are lovers.
Peter arrives at Andy’s home and sadistically murders him. Alice and Peter drive into the desert where they arrive to the same house envisioned by Fred while in prison. After an erotic night, Alice informs Peter that he will never ‘have her’ before leaving the house naked. Perplexed, Peter morphs back into Fred. The Mystery Man reappears, presumably from nowhere and with a video camera in hand to explain to Fred that Alice is actually Renee.
Terrified and confused, Fred comes in contact with Mr. Eddy again who – oddly enough – recognizes him. A struggle ensues whereupon the Mystery Man hands Fred a knife he uses to slit Eddy’s throat. The dying Eddy is shown porn made with Alice on a portable television before being shot to death by the Mystery Man who then vanishes.
Discovering Andy’s body, detectives Al and Ed also find a picture of Renee that supplies them with the perfect motive for Fred being implicated in the crime. As the dawn breaks, Fred arrives home to utter the words first heard on his intercom ‘Dick Laurent is dead’ before being pursued by an armada of police down a dark 5th dimensional stretch of ‘lost highway’. Fred suffers another seizure and the film ends.
Lost Highway is unconventional viewing to say the least – its alternate states of consciousness in both Fred and Peter’s character (or are they one in the same?) creating liquid palettes of unhinged and incoherent tension and frustration for the audience that, quite frankly, still do not add up by the final fade out.
True, Lynch is known for his reveling in the abnormal and the macabre. However, none of the elements in Lost Highway mesh together to produce a satisfying feeling of great uncertainty, but rather some great cyclical nightmare from which no awakening towards any truth, clarity or even modest explanation seems possible. In the final analysis, the film is a fractured erotic noir – a prelude to a premise never entirely fleshed out.
Universal Home Video’s reissue of Lost Highway has been long overdue. At last, presented in anamorphic widescreen, the image continues to fall short of expectations; appearing much too dark and with its red hues seemingly oversaturated. Overall, fine details are nicely realized. The image is reasonably sharp. Whites are clean. Blacks are murky. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and aggressively realized. Universal provides us with NO extras to help explain exactly what the point of Lynch’s movie is. Perhaps, there simply is NO point.
FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)