After spending much of his career making stories about small towns like Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, director David Lynch created one of his most bizarre pictures and his most surreal film since Eraserhead: Lost Highway. Lost Highway is as unique a film Lynch has ever made, and also is one of his best. Like many David Lynch movies, it received mixed review in its initial opening but only by now has it been recognized for its ingenuity.
Describing the story of Lost Highway will be difficult, as it’s even more cryptic than Mulholland Drive. The film begins with a couple, a sax-player named Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). They live in a small, stylized home that echoes the Red Room from Twin Peaks as well as Henry’s apartment in Eraserhead. One morning, Patricia discovers a videotape of their house and the next day, another tape arrives showing the couple asleep.
Confused and baffled? So are Fred and Renee, as well as the pair of detectives who are sent to investigate this case. The film grows even more surreal and bizarre as one day Fred finds another tape that shows him killing his wife. He is imprisoned and sentenced to death, but overnight he disappears in his prison cell and a teenager named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) is there instead. The police, who are stupefied by this occurrence, release him, and Pete returns to his normal life. He works as a mechanic for gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), and his life becomes intertwined with a whole new series of circumstances he has never experienced before.
Lost Highway is a very complex and intricate movie, even for a David Lynch film. I could barely understand or comprehend the plot, written by Lynch and Barry Gifford. Yet like David Lynch’s other films, Lost Highway is so engrossing that it doesn’t matter and like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway’s thrill is its story. Lynch directs scenes that are so claustrophobic that he matches the visual perfection of Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock. As the movie progresses, Lynch paces the picture quicker and quicker to its conclusion, which is as unpredictable as endings are made.
Lost Highway is full of the director’s hallmarks. While Lynch doesn’t direct the movie in a campy style a la Blue Velvet, it is full of dark humor. He also calls upon the supernatural through a mysterious character played by Robert Blake, reflecting Bob from Twin Peaks. There are callbacks to his earlier movies, such as the typical David Lynch shot of a car speeding down the road. Another scene is reminiscent to when Isabella Rossellini stood undressed in public in Blue Velvet. But the most similar films Lynch has made to Lost Highway are Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead. Though Mulholland Drive debuted four years after Lost Highway, both share the loss of a character’s identity as well as similar camerawork. And like Eraserhead, Lost Highway is a horror picture, though it also could be classified as a thriller.
But Lost Highway is different from Lynch’s other movies. Most of Lynch’s other pictures are rooted in the 1950s, as they reference the decade through old vinyl rock songs and a sitcommy feel. Lost Highway, on the other hand, is based truly upon the 90s. Lynch’s soundtrack is primarily made up of heavy metal songs and I would argue it features a better selection than even Blue Velvet. The film entices the audience as Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas did, that I felt that I could watch the picture untwine forever.
Lynch is lucky to have a superb cast in his movie. Pullman is superb, as well as Arquette and Getty. But Robert Blake steals scenes as his character, an unnamed man who appears as an open threat. Blake originally wanted to star as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, and his role here is similar, particularly in a profanity-filled scene. Blake’s character is one of Lynch’s most eerie, frightening, and best creations.
Lost Highway, like David Lynch’s other pictures, will not be in everyone’s taste. It is dark, bleak, and very harrowing. But it is a superb movie that will transport the viewer into a world of evil of vileness. It is a fantastic and very misunderstood classic.