Follow TV Tropes


Film / Lost Highway

Go To

"Dick Laurent is dead!"

Describe Lost Highway here.

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a jazz saxophonist married to Renee Madison (Patricia Arquette). Fred wakes up one morning to answer the door intercom, where a mysterious voice gives him the message: "Dick Laurent is dead." After this, Fred and Renee begin to receive a series of videotapes on their doorstep, showing the interior of their house and even images of them asleep. Fred also begins to suspect that Renee may be cheating on him, and begins experiencing nightmares in which he wakes up next to his wife, only to discover she is somebody completely different.

After a terrifying encounter with a Mystery Man (Robert Blake) at a party, Fred receives a final video which shows him killing Renee. Fred doesn't remember himself committing the murder, but confronted with such convincing evidence, he feels he has no other recourse that to resign the idea that he did. He is arrested for the murder and after being found guilty and sentenced to death, Fred is locked away in his cell...


Wait... let's try that again...

Describe Lost Highway here.

Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) is a young mechanic who wakes up in a death row prison cell despite having committed no crime. Pete is released into his parents' care, while being trailed by two detectives who want to know how he came to end up in Fred Madison's cell. On returning to work at his garage, Pete crosses paths with the volatile gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) and his beautiful mistress Alice Wakefied (Patricia Arquette). Pete embarks on an affair with Alice, who fears being discovered by Mr. Eddy, who isn't actually Mr. Eddy at all but a porn producer called Dick Laurent who...

Oh, dear.

Released in 1997, Lost Highway remains not only a key David Lynch work, but a surprisingly influential film, despite its rather outre qualities and mixed critical reception. The twisting, neo-noir plot revolving around identity is echoed by films such as Fight Club, Donnie Darko, and Memento. Lynch would further develop the theme in Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire, this film's Spiritual Successors.


The best way to watch this film is with an open mind, preferably in a well-lit room with the phone unplugged.

Not to be confused with the classic Hank Williams song, or with Bon Jovi's country album of the same name.

This film contains examples of:

  • All Just a Dream: One interpretation is that it's the fantasy of a Death Row prisoner who's about to be executed and at the very end, dies in the electric chair. This may be the intended interpretation as Lynch admits the film was partially inspired by his fascination with O.J. Simpson's psychogenic fugue or self-delusion that he was innocent.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Renee fits this as she is a tall brunette who remains rather composed during her lovemaking with Fred.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Mystery Man. How exactly could he be at the party and at Fred's house at the same time?
  • Arc Words: "Dick Laurent is dead." and "We've met before, haven't we?"
  • Author Filibuster: Fred's (Bill Pullman) distaste toward camcorders is Lynch's own.
  • Berserk Button: Tailgating for Mr. Eddy. Seriously, don't even think about it, or you WILL be sorry.
    • That's nothing compared to what he'll do when some other man gets too close to Alice...
  • Book-Ends: The film begins and ends with a camera shot of the titular highway while David Bowie's "I'm Derranged" plays
  • The Cameo:
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Mr. Eddy drops an epic one on a tailgater after driving him off the road while simultaneously whacking him with his gun for his reckless driving. A very satisfying moment for anyone who doesn't like tailgaters. For more about why that scene was put in there, see Expy below.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Mr Eddy and possibly Fred Madison.
  • Cult Soundtrack: The Trent Reznor-compiled soundtrack includes music by David Bowie, The Smashing Pumpkins, Lou Reed and Marilyn Manson. Lynch himself chose the Rammstein tracks because he's a fan of the band.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Mr. Eddy's slight overreaction to a tailgater.
  • Enigmatic Minion: The "Mystery Man" has no clear goals or motivation, looks somewhat strange, and only shows obvious threatening behavior towards the end of the movie. His role in the movie is, along with everything else in it, open to interpretation (though it is generally agreed that it involves a kind of symbolism)... It is a David Lynch film, after all.
  • Evil Laugh: The Mystery Man gives Fred a considerably sinister laugh during the phone call at the party.
  • Expy: Mr. Eddy is remarkably similar to Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. There's even a fairly similar "joy ride" scene. The character was written for actor Robert Loggia after he waited several hours to audition for Frank, only to be told that the role had already gone to Dennis Hopper. Loggia dropped a serious Cluster F-Bomb that impressed Lynch so much he gave Loggia his own version of Frank to play.
  • Fan Disservice: Only David Lynch could make sharing a bed with Patricia Arquette the stuff of nightmares, when she has that face. The porn flick seen near the end of the movie also certainly qualifies.
  • Fanservice: You see a lot of Patricia Arquette in this movie. Balthazar Getty too, but not as much.
  • Femme Fatale: Renee/Alice fits this as she is in a relationship with a gangster.
  • Film Noir: The film is a crime drama about a wife killer before becoming a crime drama about a gangster.
  • Gainax Ending: On the run from the police, Fred drives in a car unto a dark highway. He then screams in pain as light flashes within his car. The film then ends with a view of the titular highway.
  • Gorn: You'll never look at coffee tables the same way again...
  • Gothic Punk: Sort of.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Robert Loggia's performance as Mr Eddy/Dick Laurent has two modes: Charming ebullience and terrifying, psychotic rage.
  • Hand Cannon: Mr. Eddy's Desert Eagle.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The film begins with a couple receiving disturbing tapes from an anonymous sender. Halfway through, it turns into a crime drama involving a young man, a Femme Fatale, and a villainous gangster.
  • I Can See You: Lynch manages to give this trope a genuinely unsettling new spin with the Mystery Man.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: If the tapes are to be trusted, then Fred.
  • In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Pete gets in deep with Alice, the gangster boss' girl.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Arguably the second half of the movie, as wife killer Fred re-imagines himself as the more innocent, down to earth Pete while at the same type villainizing both Dick Laurent as a dangerous gangster and his wife as a lying tramp.
  • Louis Cypher: The Mystery Man, obviously. Robert Blake himself stated that he played him as this.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: In the grand David Lynch tradition. Some kind of weird shit is definitely going down, but whether it's truly supernatural or not depends heavily on the viewer's interpretation.
  • Meaningful Name: The sleazy porn producer is named Dick. No laughing, please.
  • Mind Screw: Similarly, the viewer will vacillate between terror and confusion throughout the movie.
    • The point at which it goes off any possible rails is hard to tell, but a good guess is when the Mystery Man tells Fred he's "In your house... Call me"; Fred calls his house, and the same man answers him.
      • Foreshadowing: As Fred tells himself via intercom that Dick Laurent is dead.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Renee/Alice, given that they're played by Patricia Arquette.
  • Mundane Horror: The main character goes to a party and is approached by a pale man with black lips and eyes. The sounds of the party go silent. The man then says they've met before, at the main character's house, and that he's there right now.
    The Mystery Man: [producing a cell phone] Call me. Dial your number. Go ahead.
    [The call connects]
    The Mystery Man: [over the phone] I told you I was here.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Dick Laurent threatens to kill any other man who would get too close to Alice about half-way in the movie. Shortly before the end of the movie, Laurent is himself killed by Fred for his affair with Renee.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: Done in a really creepy manner. When the Mystery Man approaches Fred at the party, the music fades out the closer he comes, and comes back when he leaves, as if he occupies his own travelling pocket dimension.
  • No Brows: The Mystery Man doesn't have eyebrows. It makes his face look all the more skull-like.
  • Production Foreshadowing: There are several for some of Lynch's future works.
    • At one point, Dick Laurent deliberately crashes his car into a tailgater on Mulholland Drive. Four years later, Lynch would create a film called Mulholland Dr., which even features a similar car crash on the aforementioned street.
    • Camcorders are very significant in Lost Highway as not only are they used to record certain scenes, they act as symbolism in regards to the protagonist. Nine years later, Lynch would use camcorders once more to shoot Inland Empire for better surreal effect.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Based on the O.J. Simpson murder case. Like Simpson, Fred murders his wife and his wife’s new lover. Later, he gets into a car chase with the police pursuing him on the highway.
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly: The first forty-five minutes of the movie with the videotapes is eventually revealed to be a delusion of an Unreliable Narrator. Then, things get stranger when Fred transforms into another person called Pete. It is up to the viewer to decide which parts of the movie are actually real.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Fred's statement: "I like to remember things my own way. How I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened."
  • Sequel Escalation: The videotapes.
  • Shameful Strip: Alice is forced to strip in front of the baddies at gun point.
  • Split Personality: One possible interpretation with the characters transforming into new characters.
  • Stable Time Loop: Subverted, it's not so much a stable time loop as a Möbius Strip as the film begins and ends with Fred on the highway.
  • The Starscream: The mystery man appears as the dragon to Dick Laurent / Mr. Eddy but ends up 'helping' Fred / Pete kill him.
  • Surreal Horror: The Mystery Man provides most of this horror although there are other horrifying dreamlike events that don't involve him.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: The Mystery Man.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Fred has a very interesting concept of truth and reality: "I like to remember things my own way. (...) How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened." Eventually, the film reveals that the first forty-five minutes were a self-delusion.
  • The Un-Reveal: We never find out what really happened to Pete during the night, when he was "transferred" to the prison, but there is one scene, where Pete's father is almost decided to tell us.
  • The 'Verse: If Word of God is any indication, that may just be Agent Jeffries singing "I'm Deranged" from inside the Black Lodge, and Phil the mechanic is probably Pete Martell's twin or something.
  • Voice of the Legion: When the Mystery Man laughs at the party with Fred, and also at Fred's house simultaneously.
  • Villain Protagonist: Fred, under many interpretations of the film, murdered his wife and is telling us a very unreliable account of the incident. Not that we have any way of knowing for sure.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: