robotGEEK'S Review: Lost Highway

Poster courtesy of JapanMoviePosters.blogspot.com

Directed by: David Lynch
Category: Psychological Thriller

Up until this point, I considered myself a "casual" David Lynch fan, never really being a big fan growing up. Especially not after the mindfuck that was Eraserhead. I have friends who are obsessed with his work, but I never was. I found his style of "weird" too much for my taste. That is until Twin Peaks came out, one of my favorite shows at the time. Even so, I never grew an appreciation for his brand of filmmaking until recently, when I was encouraged to watch Mulholland Dr., a film I already knew was initially intended to be a television series and then re-edited with more footage shot to make the film. It just didn't seem like anything I'd personally want to invest any time in. But boy was I wrong. In fact, I fucking loved it. To this day I would consider Mulholland Dr. my favorite Lynch experience. While not a perfect film, it's beautifully made and wonderfully surreal and odd. And yes, also confusing....naturally. But I can certainly now add Lost Highway to my list of favorite David Lynch films. Absolutely.

Confusing would be an understatement in trying to describe Lost Highway. It's probably one of Lynch's most profoundly confusing and surreal works to date. Hell, when the cast who actually acted in the damn thing can't tell you what it's about, then it's safe to say the general movie-going public is going to be completely lost, as was I for a good half of the film. It's funny, because for the first half, you pretty much get what's going on. It's pretty straightforward in terms of story progression, yet not without plenty of Lynch quirks and oddball characters and completely random and unexplained bits of weird. But hey, that's why we love the guy! So it's flowing pretty naturally (as naturally as a Lynch film can), until you have the rug pulled out from under you smack in the middle of the film and you're completely taken in a different direction with no rhyme or reason or explanation and you are now pretty much watching an entirely different film, with different characters and a different storyline. That is until slowly, but surely, these two seemingly different storylines begin to converge.

Of course, even when it's over, nothing is laid out all nice and neat for you. It just wouldn't be a David Lynch film that way. Instead you're left pretty dumbfounded and more accurately "lost"; much like I was when I finished Mulholland Dr. But I enjoy these kinds of films, because they bring up some incredible discussions among your friends when trying to decipher what it all means. Expectedly, Lynch does this on purpose. Even Rob Zombie has adopted this approach recently with his Lords of Salem. He stated in an interview "Why does every fucking thing need to be explained?". Good point my man. I dig that approach from time to time. I enjoy being able to sit down and discuss and dissect what it was and what it all meant. Stanley Kubrick did that with 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as Richard Kelly with Donnie Darko. Even to this day, I doubt anybody undoubtedly knows what that ending meant in Kubrick's 2001, not even Arthur C. Clarke, who has repeatedly stated so in interviews. The beauty of these types of films, and David Lynch films in general, is that they are open to multiple interpretations; no two are alike. You are forced to think.

Recently, the more I find myself exploring Lynch's filmography, I find myself enjoying them. Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway, all great films in their own right. Sure he doesn't always deliver (Inland Empire?), but when he's firing on all cylinders, Lynch delivers something wholly and truly unique the only way he can. Nobody makes films the way he does, and that's what I respect most about him. He's one of my generations most gifted, daring and original filmmakers.

So before I go into a Spoiler Heavy dissection of what I think Lost Highway means, in case it wasn't necessarily made clear by now, I really enjoyed this film. David Lynch has crafted a stylish, surreal film noir that while not quite as enjoyable as Mulholland Dr., still comes pretty damn close. It's a bold and accomplished vision from someone who doesn't cater to the masses. Someone who's made a reputation out of making "weird" films.

So here's my attempt at trying to understand Lost Highway based off of a discussion I had with my girlfriend that followed immediately after. She could just see the confusion on my face for those last 30 minutes, so she was ready for a good discussion.
Basic plot is as follows:
Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a hip saxophone player living a very posh life in a very dull and unhappy marriage. He seems to be going through the motions until he randomly meets a mysterious stranger at a party dressed in black (Robert Blake), where a series of odd events begin to unfold that ultimately leads to him discovering his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) murdered in their bed. Blamed for her murder he is sent to prison and it is here where the film takes a complete shift at the halfway point and practically becomes another film altogether. On a daily check up on the prisoners, one of the guards notices that there is someone else in Fred's cell. Fred is gone, and we then see the story of Pete (Balthazar Getty), a young mechanic who wakes up in this prison cell and doesn't know how he got there or where he's been for the last few days. In this storyline we follow Pete as he works his job as a mechanic, does some side work for mob boss Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), and has an affair with Mr. Eddy's girl Alice (Patricia Arquette again), who ultimately seduces Pete into committing a murder.

Here's our interpretation, with a LOT of input coming from my my partner Kat. When Fred (Bill Pullman) is sent to prison for the murder of his wife (which he's committed but doesn't remember), he decides to create a fantasy world and live out the remainder of his last days as someone else entirely in his head. This is all based on comments he made earlier in the film. This is one of those films where it's important to pay attention and to catch everything that's said. Everything has a meaning and whether it makes sense or not, comes into play later in the film. So from the moment he's put into his cell he has a mental breakdown and from that point on we are seeing a story that is playing out in his head in his final days. A life much more exciting than his reality. And this is where the tonal shift happens because it sort of becomes more of a pulp/film noir kind of film. Sounds odd, but it works amazingly well. So here we have a good looking young guy who falls for the mob boss's girl, and ultimately gets seduced into doing something incredibly stupid with dire consequences. Sounds like your typical film noir from the 50's right? And it certainly plays out like one, yet with plenty of oddities to boot. This is where things get really confusing. You wonder if Renee is pretending to be Alice, or vice versa. You wonder if Pete is imagining some of this, or if the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) even exists. At the end of the film Fred (Pete has transformed back to Fred at this point with no explanation) is on the run leading a trail of cops in a police chase where he all of a sudden begins another sort of transformation where it looks like he's being electrocuted when the film suddenly ends. My theory is that is the moment Fred is being fried in the electric chair, thus ending his fantasy adventure and the film.

Of course there are lots of unanswered questions, lots of things that don't add up and things that still don't make sense, but I feel confident in this theory, which most of comes from my girlfriend. Of course, there are lots of other theories I've read online, but I find this one the most plausible. In my opinion, the Mystery Man didn't exist. He was more of a scapegoat for Fred's actions. The first time he appeared was the first moment Fred began to crack and unravel believing his wife was having an affair and just being in an unrelentingly dull marriage and existence. In the very beginning of the film a completely random and inexplicable thing happens. Early one morning Fred hears the buzzer of his callbox at his door. When he answers it from another room inside his home, a stranger's voice speaking into the box outside his front door says "Dick Laurent is dead". When Fred goes out to investigate, there's nobody there. Confused, he ponders this for a while. My feelings are that this was someone at the wrong address delivering a message. But it set's into motion a story in his head about a mob boss named Dick Laurent and your typical run-of-the-mill-don't-sleep-with-the-bosses-wife type of crime story that plays out as an alternate reality the moment he realizes his life is over after he's finally understood that he murdered his wife and will be sent to the electric chair.

In closing I'll say that of course, David Lynch's brand of films aren't for everyone. I didn't particularly enjoy them myself until recently. But I've learned to appreciate his unique and original voice in an industry filled with copycats and talentless hacks. The more the film industry keeps going in the direction it's headed, the more I seek out film's from 10, 20 and 30 years ago and the filmmakers who made them. That was the way to make a film.

No comments:

Post a Comment