At a party, a mystery man in white-face, with black lips and no eyebrows,
approaches from across the room. Fred recognizes him from a dream. "We've
met before, haven't we?" the man says, smiling dangerously. "I don't
think so," Fred stammers, "Where was it you think we met?" "At your house.
In fact, I'm there right now." Fred twitches nervously and says "That's
fucking crazy, man!" Smoothly, the mystery man pulls out a cell phone and
barks "Call me. Dial your number." Fred calls his home phone number.
After two rings, he hears it answered. "I told you I was here," says the
voice of the mystery man over the phone. Astonished, Fred gazes at the
man standing in front of him and gasps "How'd you do that?" Staring
intently at the phone in Fred's hand, the man says "Ask me," then laughs
like a maniac.
Welcome to "Lost Highway," the latest offering from "Blue Velvet" and
"Twin Peaks" creator David Lynch. This time around, Lynch dispenses with
any semblance of traditional storytelling, pushing the weird-o-meter off
the scale in a baffling excursion into horror noir.
Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette play Fred and Renee, an edgy couple
who communicate in a halting, primary school form of dream-speech. Every
move these two make imparts a sense of dread, a Lynch specialty. Life in
their orange retro-trendy home goes from creepy to creepier as they find
a series of videotapes on their doorstep. After a tape reveals that
someone has filmed the couple while they were sleeping, they call the
cops. Fred tells the Dragnet boys of his disdain for camcorders, stating
blandly (and significantly,) "I like to remember things my own way. How I
remembered them, not necessarily the way they happened."
It's possible the whole film is presented from Fred's tortured point of
view. Mind you, I'm just guessing here. Anyway, after encountering the
aforementioned mystery man (played with psychotic gusto by Robert Blake,)
Fred finds another tape, showing him standing over Renee's dead body. In
quick fashion, Fred is convicted of murder and locked in a gothic prison
cell by guard Henry Rollins (whose neck, by the way, is now wider than
his head.) During a morning cell check, the authorities discover that
Fred has disappeared, and in his place is Pete (Balthazar Getty,) a dazed
young auto mechanic who squints a lot. Since Pete isn't Fred, he is
released from prison by the confused warden.
Are you still with me? Congratulations. Pete recuperates at home, where
his parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) watch produce documentaries and
make cryptic remarks that indicate they might know what happened to their
son. When he returns to work, psycho-gangster and regular customer Mister
Eddy (Robert Loggia) shows up with his girlfriend Alice (also played by
Arquette.) Despite having watched Mister Eddy pistol whip a discourteous
driver while screaming highway safety statistics, Pete decides to have an
affair with Alice. This leads to a numbing series of schemes and
surrealistic images, punctuated by lots of ultra-violence. Eventually,
just after having sex in the desert night beneath the headlights of a car,
Pete turns back into Fred, the mystery man pops up repeatedly, and the
film loops back around in moebius strip fashion.
So, what does it all mean? Well, maybe Fred killed his wife, but couldn't
cope with the consequences. Trapped in his cell, he falls into a dream
and imagines he is transformed into another man and freed. In short order,
though, he becomes involved with another incarnation of the woman he
murdered, finding that even a psychotic state of mind affords no escape
from his personal Hell. Or maybe he did change identities, only to be
pursed by the wrathful spirit of Renee. I'm just guessing here.
It's also possible that the whole thing is just beautifully photographed
smoke and mirrors from a gifted director who has painted himself into a
creative corner. David Lynch has been blending sex, violence,
doppelgangers, surrealism and deadpan humor for years, upping the outrage
level with each new work. Maybe this is just where he ended up, on his
own Lost Highway, performing dazzling, but meaningless cinematic card
tricks. I honestly don't know whether Lynch's work here is ballsy or
merely desperate. If you see "Lost Highway" and figure out what going on,
drop me a line, okay?
Copyright © 1997 Edward Johnson-Ott