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Film / Lost Highway

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"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 a 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 the police appear to arrest him for the crime. In a blur, he is convicted and sentenced to death. Locked away in his cell, he awaits his execution...

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 is a neo-noir film co-written and directed by David Lynch. While its outré qualities polarized audiences and critics alike upon release, later reevaluation deemed it not only a key Lynch work, but a surprisingly influential film, as its twisting, identity-centered plot was 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; both films alongside Lost Highway take place in Los Angeles.

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 dies in the electric chair at the very end. 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."
    • "We've met before, haven't we?"
  • Author Filibuster: Fred's 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: Exaggerated as the film has a narrative structure similar to a Möbius Strip with the ending looping back to the opening of the film.
    • The film begins and ends with a camera shot of the titular highway while David Bowie's "I'm Deranged" plays.
    • The first and last sentences spoken in the film are the words "Dick Laurent is dead."
  • Call-Back:
    • In the first half of the film, Fred plays a saxophone solo at a night club. In the second half of the film, Pete hears the same saxophone solo playing from a radio and immediately shuts off the radio after getting a headache.
    • Early on, Renee tells Fred that she became friends with Andy after meeting him at a place called Moke's. Later, Alice explains to Pete how she got a job after meeting a guy at a place called Moke's.
  • The Cameo:
  • Chekhov's Gunman:
    • In the first half of the movie, Andy is introduced as one of Renee's friends. In the second half, he plays a larger role as Dick Laurent's associate and is the one who got Alice into business with Laurent.
    • In the second half of the movie, Mr. Eddy is revealed to be Dick Laurent.
  • 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 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. Interestingly, while the film bombed in theaters, the soundtrack sold well enough for it to be classified gold by the RIAA (500,000 copies).
  • 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.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Fred invokes this when he reimagines his wife as Alice, a blonde Femme Fatale who attracts the attention of Dick Laurent and Pete.
  • 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: Patricia Arquette shows more skin than anyone in the film, with her sex appeal compounded by her Femme Fatale character; Balthazar Getty, too, but not as much.
  • Femme Fatale: 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.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Dick Laurent is dead.
    • Early on, Fred describes a dream in which he found someone, who looked like his wife but wasn't actually his wife, lying in their bed. This is meant to foreshadow the Mystery Man as Renee's face briefly shifts into his face in this scene, but it also foreshadows Alice, who resembles Renee but isn't Renee.
      • Later, Alice abandons Pete and walks into the nearby cabin. When Fred enters the cabin at the Mystery Man's beckoning, he notices that the Mystery Man is the only occupant in the cabin and finds no sign of Alice, further establishing the connection between the Mystery Man and Alice.
    • At Andy's party, the Mystery Man claims to Fred that he is currently at Fred's house. When Fred tests the Mystery Man's claim by calling his house's landline, Fred finds himself speaking to the Mystery Man both in person and on the phone, the Mystery Man seemingly on both sides of the phone call. Later, Fred pulls off the same trick by relaying the message "Dick Laurent is dead" to his past self on the doorbell's intercom.
  • Gainax Ending: On the run from the police, Fred drives his car onto 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 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.
  • Instant Seduction: Alice and Pete hook up after just two minutes of speaking to each other. It is then subverted when Alice tells Pete that he would never have her.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The second half of the movie is this as wife killer Fred reimagines himself as the more innocent, down to earth Pete while at the same time demonizing 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 that he's at Fred's house and asks Fred to call him. Fred calls his house, and the same man answers him.
    • The ending reveals that Fred told himself via intercom that Dick Laurent is dead. This deserves special mention as the police later chase the "future Fred" for the murder of Andy, the same Andy who was still alive when the "past Fred" met him at a party.
  • Motifs:
    • Camcorders are significant in regards to Fred, who doesn't like them because they record an objective view of events whereas Fred prefers to remember things his own way. Soon, Fred receives a camcorder tape of his murder of Renee, a murder that he doesn't remember committing, which suggests that he is in denial and indeed, it is then revealed that he is found guilty of murdering his wife. Later, the Mystery Man scares Fred by recording him with a camcorder.
    • The titular lost highway represents a shift in reality. Every time the highway appears, it plays as a Scene Transition notably at the opening and ending credits and whenever Fred/Pete changes into Pete/Fred. Because Fred is an Unreliable Narrator, it is suggested that this reality shift is actually metaphorical rather than literal.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Renee/Alice has nude scenes at certain points.
  • 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: 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.
  • Psychic Nosebleed: After Alice identifies herself in the photo of Dick, Andy, Renee, and her, Pete inexplicably gets a nosebleed and ends up hallucinating when looking for a bathroom to clean off the blood. Just another hint that something's wrong.
  • Rewatch Bonus: In the beginning of the film, after Fred hears the message "Dick Laurent is dead", one can hear the sirens from the police car chasing the future version of Fred.
  • 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: As Fred states at one point:
    "I like to remember things my own way: how I remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened."
  • Shameful Strip: Alice is forced to strip in front of the baddies at gun point. Despite this, her attitude hints at Defiant Strip, as if to say, "This is what you wanted to see, isn't it asshole? I don't care."
  • Split Personality: One possible interpretation with the characters transforming into new characters.
  • Stable Time Loop: It seems to be played straight with the ending reveal that Fred was the one who gave the message "Dick Laurent is dead" to his past self at the beginning of the film, but it is actually subverted. There is no mention of time travel, implied or otherwise, in the film, and the order of events are suggested to be in chronological order with the detectives chasing the "future Fred" after discovering the corpse of Andy, who was alive when the "past Fred" met him at the party. Given that Fred is acknowledged as an Unreliable Narrator at the beginning of the film, it is hinted that most of the film is a fantasy of Fred, who has twisted his delusions into a Möbius Strip to allow himself to repeatedly deny his own guilt and his inevitable death by electric chair.
  • The Starscream: The Mystery Man appears as The Dragon to Dick Laurent 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.
  • Take That, Critics!: An advertisement poster for the movie features the quote "Two Thumbs Down! — Siskel & Ebert" at the top in giant block letters. Below, it reads, "Two more great reasons to see... Lost Highway." When asked about the ad later on, Gene Siskel was said to have found it petty.
  • Two-Act Structure: The first act is about a man who struggles to make love to his wife while the second half is about a younger man who is a Chick Magnet. The Surrealism in both halves signifies that most of the movie is All Just a Dream, but the first half is more grounded in reality while the second half is much more fantastical.
  • 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." Given the sudden reveal that Fred murdered his wife and all the strange events occurring throughout the movie, the viewer has to question what exactly is the truth.
  • The Unreveal: 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 almost decides to reveal what exactly happened.
  • The 'Verse: If invokedWord 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.