It must be coming up to two decades since I first (and, until now, last) saw David Lynch’s 1997 movie Lost Highway, it being one of the ‘set texts’ early on in my film course at university.
About all I remember from that viewing was a feeling of unsettled confusion and wondering quite what the preceding two hours had been about, so I was intrigued to see if I got anything more out of it this time with a bit more insight into Lynch’s work and a greater experience of film in general – and, I’m pleased to say, I think I did.
The basics of Lost Highway are that it starts off like a neo-noir styled film, somewhat following on from Wild At Heart (road movie) and Fire Walk With Me (murder mystery) in seeing the director exploring and subverting aspects of well known genres.
In this we meet saxophonist Fred Maddison (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) at their home in Los Angeles which appears to have been invaded by an unknown house breaker with a video camera, while Fred has also heard the message ‘Jack Laurent is Dead’ from an unknown voice on their intercom – of course he doesn’t know who Jack Laurent is… yet…
This sets in motion what feels like a fairly standard film noir plot with both the subject, look and location of the whole thing borrowing strongly from the conventions of the genre.
And then, about forty minutes in, as it feels like the film might be reaching a rather early conclusion, something happens that throws the whole thing on its head and sets up what may well lead to that level of confusion a lot of people seem to leave the film with.
I can’t really say much more about the plot without it being too much of a spoiler but the style of noir remains as it goes on with many of Lynch’s trademark elements appearing as well, and it’s hard to escape the feeling, as a Twin Peaks fan, that much pf what we experience feels like it could be related to that show’s Black Lodge sequences and concepts.
As it goes on it becomes clear that Lost Highway seems to be exploring many of the same themes as the TV series, particularly the more recent The Return, with identity, fugue states, alternate realities and timelines, and that ever present sense of mystery all being well and truly present.
Ultimately it does leave things on an open ended note that doesn’t really resolve any aspects of the story in a clear way, but, unlike the first time I saw it, this didn’t feel too confusing or disappointing but rather suited the nature of the film which is more about tone, mood and themes, that a conventional plot, with the broken linearity simply part of the wider piece.
The look and sound of Lost Highway also put it possibly closer to Eraserhead than anything else Lynch did in the twenty years between the two with some visual moments and lighting effects particularly harking back to that, albeit in a more naturalistic setting.
The music meanwhile builds on Blue Velvet and Wild At Heart’s use of songs (bolstering a score from regular Angelo Badalamenti) with it here borrowing from the alternative, industrial tinged, metal of the day including Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein and Marilyn Manson along with David Bowie and Smashing Pumpkins, all to startling and jarring effect even for a fan of the style.
Lost Highway then feels like Lynch let even more off the leash of any controlling studio and free to do as he pleases in both style and subject (which, of course, overlap strongly in his work) to produce a film that’s shocking, startling, intricate, malevolent, absorbing and transporting in equal measure.