Returning to the Lost Highway

ImageThe late author and culture commentator David Foster Wallace once wrote, “The absence of point or recognizable agenda in David Lynch’s films lets Lynch get inside your head in a way movies normally don’t.” “Lost Highway,” Lynch’s seventh feature film, does just this and resonates in your subconscious long after the first viewing.

This is the grand trick of David Lynch. While disguised as motion pictures, Lynch’s films are more an exercise of the inner psyche than anything else–a film going experience rather than merely just an entertaining piece of cinema.

Trying to classify the films of David Lynch is one of those futile exercises that is undoubtedly part of the reason his works are so polarizing for filmgoers. Neo-noir is a term that has been thrown around when discussing Lynch–an appropriate tag for a handful of his films, mainly Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, but still just the icing on the cake when looking at his canon more closely. Many have applauded Lynch as a master of suspense–a modern day Hitchcock who can make the most unassuming scenes or situations frightening through the masterfully crafted use of sound, lighting, and camera trickery.

To say however that Lynch makes horror films, in the traditional sense of the medium, is like pinning Tarantino down to one sole genre. Lynch has always drawn from a number of influences molding them into a truly one of a kind final product. Lost Highwaymay be Lynch’s closest attempt at true horror but in end is yet another genre bending, mind-blowing experience that tugs at your emotions and senses long after the first viewing.

For the record I have seen Lost Highway at least five times. It’s not because it is a masterpiece, or that I’m some kind of Lynch fanatic (although admittedly I have always garnered a child like fascination for the director’s work) it’s because like all great filmsLost Highway keeps you guessing and pondering long after each viewing. Trying to make sense of a Lynch film is often as pointless as trying to get to the soul of a Pollack painting–it’s best to just let the work suck you into its world.

Like many of Lynch’s works Highway fails to follow the linear formula of the average movie. The first half plays out like a creepy home invasion thriller. Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette play a married couple confronted with a terrifying scenario after finding videotapes on their doorstep every morning featuring footage of their home’s interior and of them asleep in bed (the mere thought of this premise sends shivers down the spine). Both are typical inhabitants of the Lynchian world. He being a jealous, rage filled soul, she being of the sexy femme fatale type.

After Lynch introduces the menacing Mystery Man, a simple but horrifying pale-faced Robert Blake sans eyebrows, the film takes a sharp turn in terms of storyline (a good Lynch film will always have at least one WTF moment that turns the film’s flow upside down, and Lost Highway does this with flying colors at the film’s halfway point).

ImageThe second half of the film follows a completely new character played by Balthazar Getty, a promising young actor during the mid 90s who has since disappeared. Getty’s Pete character may or may not be the reincarnation or alter ego of Pullman’s Fred character, this tasty tidbit is just part of what one must chew on long after the first viewing. The film’s final act is also familiar Lynch territory showing the dark underbelly of society, in this case modern day Los Angeles, a world inhabited by mob bosses, pornography director’s who may or may not also dabble in snuff, and yet another tempting femme fatale, this time with Arquette re-imagined as a blonde.

The allure of Lost Highway is the difficult task of interpreting everything that Lynch throws at the viewer during the film’s two-hour plus run time. Released after the media frenzy of the OJ Simpson trial, many people believe Highway to be a reflection of lust-fueled murder, and escaping the consequences. Some look at it as a more basic example of marital woes including jealous and how these dark emotions will ultimately swallow your soul (the looming mystery man character seems to be a representation of the dark side of the human psyche). Finally careful viewers of Lynch films might view Lost Highway as the surreal nightmare world imagined (and/or lived) by a sinful man.

Lynch has always been interested in the idea of escapism, dream worlds, and then the idea that all surrealism is rooted to a harsh reality. Mulholland Drive was a surreal allegory for the pitfalls of the Hollywood dream and the seedy underbelly of L.A.’s bourgeois society. Blue Velvet and later the masterful Twin Peaks television series showed the evil of small town America, erasing all cliché misconceptions about suburbia and the blue-collar proletariat. Lost Highway is, at its core, about what Lynch views is the modern marriage–filled with jealousy, lust, a lack of communication and trust between spouses and ultimately the wrath that unfolds. Along the way Lynch takes the viewer on a mind-bending roller coaster.

“Lost Highway” is often overlooked amidst the auteur’s more renowned films but it remains one of his most puzzling and definitely his creepiest. While not a horror movie Lost Highway is one of the most suspenseful films out there, creating an uneasy feeling that lasts throughout the film and long after the viewing. Much of this can be attributed to Lynch’s use of light and shadow and the film’s eerie soundtrack-a blend of Angelo Badalamenti’s creepy sonic ballads and 90s industrial rock.

Lost Highway was recently given a formal U.S. DVD after years of being restricted solely to international DVDs and older videotape copies. While one could go fork over ten bucks to see Saw V or any other predictable horror film inhabiting theaters and televisions this Halloween, a trip down Lynch’s Lost Highway will tug at your emotions like no film before it and possibly well into the future, until of course we get the next Lynch experience. The film is not for everyone and requires more focus than what the average popcorn moviegoer might expect but the payoff is worth it and like all great pieces of art (and Lynch has always been an art house auteur) the film keeps you guessing long after the closing credits.


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