Few directors have such a unique, some would say bizarre, style
as David Lynch. He received Academy Award nominations for THE ELEPHANT
MAN and BLUE VELVET, but other pictures of his, such as DUNE and WILD
AT HEART, have been panned by many. His latest, LOST HIGHWAY, is his
most unorthodox film yet, but one of his better ones.
The press kit describes the movie as a "psychogenic fugue" and a
"Moebius strip" with elements of Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka. Yes,
it is all of those and more.
LOST HIGHWAY blends film noir with the tension of a horror movie.
The power comes from the director's use of silence. Characters are
genuinely frightened by what is happening to them because they cannot
figure it out. They react with stunned silence. (As you read this
review you may be inclined to conclude that you have no interest in
seeing the movie, but the film works more effectively than any possible
verbal description of it might lead you to believe.)
When Renee Madison (Patricia Arquette) comes into the house with
an unmarked envelope she found on her front steps, her husband Fred
(Bill Pullman) inquires, "What's that?" After a long pause, she
answers, "a videotape." Another pregnant pause, and then he asks,
"Who's it from." She ponders for a while and then tells him, "I don't
know." When they play the tape, its abstruse message is a two second
video clip of the front of their house followed by the loud hiss of
The sound effects editing and the music enhance the heavy tension.
At first, the film has complete silence interspersed with dialog -- no
background ambient noise at all. Slowly, low natural background sounds
are introduced and then this gives way to music consisting of long, low
rumbling notes designed to frighten.
I see so many films that I get somewhat desensitized, but the
first part of this movie managed to scare me badly with devices as
natural as the sudden, loud ringing of a phone. An intense and very
disturbing film in the beginning. When the parameters of the mystery
are revealed, the tension stays, but the film becomes much less
I am not going to cover any of the film's details. I will just
set up the first few minutes of the film. Suffice it to say that the
film involves character transformation, reincarnation, surreal dreams,
To give a feel of what is in store for the viewers, consider
another early scene. Fred meets an inexplicable "Mystery Man," played
by Robert Blake, at a party at someone else's home. "I'm at your house
right now," the man tells Fred. Handing Fred a cell phone, he
challenges him to, "Call me."
The script by Barry Gifford and David Lynch perplexes the viewers
with all of the false views and disconcerting realities of an Escher
print. An omnipresent, but an identifiable fear dominates the
Some of the vignettes in the film are priceless. My favorite
could become an educational video for traffic schools. After viewing
how a gangster known as Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) treats tailgaters,
drivers will never dare follow too closely again.
The cinematography by Peter Deming pushes the limits of the film
noir motif. Not only are scenes dark but some characters walk into
the darkness and disappear as if into an astronomical black hole.
The costumes and sets, both by Patricia Norris, portray a world of
stark black and white images which, of course, make the red blood all
the more dramatic by contrast.
I was caught up in LOST HIGHWAY's labyrinth. You can think of
the show as a film constructed with non-Euclidean geometry. I still
don't understand it, but the movie is not made to be comprehensible.
What is less satisfying is the way characters caught in a deadly web
such as this never seek advice on what is happening to them. The
closest they come in LOST HIGHWAY is seen when mechanic Pete Dayton
(Balthazar Getty) laments, "Why me?" The answers to this and all of
the film's conundrums are in the final analysis, unknowable.
LOST HIGHWAY runs needlessly long at 2:15. It is rated R for
graphic violence, sex, nudity, and profanity. Teenagers should be
mature if they go. I was fascinated by this long enigma so I
recommend it to you and give it ***.
Copyright © 1997 Steve Rhodes