Balthazar Getty

Lost Highway

1997

October Films

Produced by Deepak Nayar, Tom Sternberg and Mary Sweeney

Directed by David Lynch

Written by David Lynch and Barry Gifford

The word genius is thrown around far too often for my taste but in the case of David Lynch I would say it’s used in a legitimate fashion.  If David Lynch had done nothing else except for “Twin Peaks” he’d be a genius in my book.  “Twin Peaks” was a television show so far ahead of its time that it took 20 years for the rest of television programming to catch up to what Lynch was doing.  “Twin Peaks” was a landmark achievement in terms of storytelling, acting and cinematography, as “Twin Peaks” didn’t look like a regular TV show but a weekly feature film.  And it told its story as a season long story arc.  It’s a narrative technique that just about every major hour-long drama on television utilizes now but back in 1990 it was innovative and daring.  It’s a series that is still being debated and argued about today and with good reason: it was just that damn good.

Mr. Lynch’s film career has been just as baffling as his television show.  When he’s good, he’s very good.  Movies such as “The Elephant Man” “Wild At Heart” “Dune” “The Straight Story” and “Blue Velvet” are superior examples of what David Lynch is capable of when he steps on the gas.  And then we have those movies of his that leave you scratching your head and saying; “Okay, so what the hell was that all about?” and that leads us to what is one of the most baffling movies I’ve ever seen: LOST HIGHWAY

Successful jazz musician Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is awakened one morning by his front door intercom buzzing and answers it.  The message is cryptically horrifying in it’s simplicity: “Dick Laurent is dead.” Fred goes to the window and sees no one.  We’re introduced to his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) and it’s obvious that the Madisons have problems in their marriage that are complicated by Fred’s growing suspicions that his wife may be having an affair with a sleazy underworld type named Andy (Michael Massee).  Even more puzzling are the videotapes being left on their doorstep every morning.  Videotapes of the inside of their house and plainly show that somebody has free access since their mysterious visitor tapes them while they’re sleeping.   Fred and Renee contact the police who don’t seem very interested in the case but who promise to investigate.  The Madisons attend a party at Andy’s house where Fred meets a Mystery Man (Robert Blake).   He’s a bizarre character with a dead white face and jug ears.  Fred and The Mystery Man have a really crazy conversation where The Mystery Man gives Fred his cell phone and tells Fred to dial his own house.  Fred does so and apparently The Mystery Man answers, which is flat out impossible as Fred maintains that a person can’t be in two places at the same time.   Fred and Renee leave the party and go home and the next day Fred finds yet another videotape.  This one shows him in their bedroom sobbing over the dead and dismembered body of Renee.

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Now if LOST HIGHWAY had followed in this vein, we might have really had a truly memorable film.  But wait.  It gets weirder still.  The next time we see Fred he’s on Death Row apparently for the murder of Renee and waiting his turn to Ride The Lightning.  Fred is suffering massively painful headaches, accompanied by seizures and during one of them appears to physically transform him into another man.

In Fred’s place is auto mechanic Peter Drayton (Balthazar Getty) who has no memory of how he got in Fred Madison’s cell.  The police have no choice but to let Peter go since he’s obviously not Fred and Peter resumes his life, living at home with his parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) and working at a garage owned by Arnie (Richard Pryor).  But the police still have a watch on him and they notice that Peter seems to be pretty chummy with a local gangster named Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) but one of the cops points out that his real name is Dick Laurent.  Mr. Eddy has a drop-dead gorgeous blond bombshell of a girlfriend named Alice Wakefield (Patricia Arquette) who immediately is attracted to Peter who returns the attraction many times over in the roadside hotels they meet in for wild and prolonged bouts of hot sex.   The situation becomes more volatile when Mr. Eddy appears to have found out that Peter and Alice are sleeping together and that The Mystery Man knows Mr. Eddy and apparently is helping him.  Alice tells Peter that they have to get away and they need a lot of money to do so.  She cooks up a plan where she’ll seduce a guy she knows…a guy with a lot of money in his house…a sleazy underworld type named Andy who likes sleeping with other men’s wives…. she’ll keep Andy busy with plenty of horizontal exercise while Peter sneaks into the house and they’ll rob Andy.  But the plan doesn’t go the way Alice says it does and if you thought LOST HIGHWAY was bizarre up to this point then hold onto to the top of your skull because it gets even weirder.  “Is such a thing possible?” I hear you ask.  This is a David Lynch film; dear friends and it can always get weirder in a David Lynch film.

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Whether you want to see LOST HIGHWAY or not depends on how much of a David Lynch fan you are.  LOST HIGHWAY explains nothing and only leaves a maddening trail of clues that will either cause you to lose sleep trying to figure it out, kick in your TV screen in frustration or go watch reruns of“Roseanne” just to give your brain a rest.  The most popular theory I’ve heard is that the entire movie takes place in Fred Madison’s mind and he’s got multiple personalities as he’s trying to escape his guilt over murdering his wife but there’s too much evidence that Fred really does transform into a different man who has a different life.  I dunno.  I’ve seen LOST HIGHWAY three times now and it baffled me just as much the third time as the first.  Maybe the best way to watch the movie is to just sit back and watch the performances.  Balthazar Getty barely registers on the screen but Bill Pullman and Robert Blake are absolutely riveting to watch.  Patricia Arquette plays a role that basically requires her to appear nude most of the time and participate in some fairly graphic sex scenes.  Robert Loggia has the most fun with his role as Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent, especially in a scene where he gives a tailgater a profane and violent lesson in the proper rules and etiquette of the road and if you’ve even been tailgated then you’ll probably cheer like I did.  This movie also has Richard Pryor in his last film role but if you turn your head to pour yourself more soda or beer, you’ll miss him as his part comes and goes just that fast.

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So should you see LOST HIGHWAY?  I’d recommend it to David Lynch fans, sure.  It’s his movie all the way, filled with the symbolism and dream-like imagery that Lynch fans love.  There’s a story in here somewhere and if you’re the type who enjoys debating for hours with your friends about a movie’s hidden meanings then LOST HIGHWAY is your huckleberry.  For those of you who enjoy a more straightforward movie with a plot you don’t have to burn up valuable brain cells trying to figure out what it’s all about, I’d stay away.

Rated R

135 minutes