#1 - Lost Highway (David Lynch)

note: this article analyzes the structure of the film and contains extensive spoilers within


This Magic Moment 

The films of David Lynch are something special simply because no other director captures the fault line between dream and film like he does. In the case of “Lost Highway” that dream could easily be summed up as a total nightmare, or in the least delusions of a very troubled mind.

It’s sometimes hard to say what’s real and what isn’t in the first half of this film, but certain events and details do ring true. Fred is a musician, married to Renee. Fred fails to satisfy Renee sexually.  Fred suspects that Renee is cheating. Fred is accused of killing Renee. Fred is sentenced to death by the electric chair. All this happens in the first half of the film, and what follows these events is a complete illusion. 

In the jail we practically see Fred’s mind collapse in on itself. He creates a delusion for himself where he becomes this cool kid Pete, who has cool parents and a cool girl friend. Pete replaces Fred in his jail cell, unaware of how or why he got there. No one knows why or how, it is never explained literally. And Fred’s delusion goes even further, distorting everything and creating this oddball Lynchian world that completely represses the reality of his life even to the point where he projects in to it his idealized version of Renee, a woman called Alice. 

Pete and Alice fall in love of course, but Alice turns out to be a liar, a fake and, in an amazing throwback to an earlier scene where Renee avoids Fred’s questions about her past, a porn actress. Of course this is just Fred assuming the very worst about Renee, and that assumption being materialized in his delusion.

And this is how the two segments of the film balance themselves out. A lot of the scenes from the first half of the film are mirrored in the second half and given new context. The irrational and unclear events of the first half are given basis in the second, and that basis is sometimes very absurd because Fred’s mind needs to rationalize in order to support the delusion. But it doesn’t do it always so well, and that’s when we see scenes where it feels like the reality is crashing in on the delusion.

Ultimately the reality and the delusion start converging after another mirrored scene*. Pete turns back in to Fred and the realization of his crime becomes more and more pervasive. Still, Fred sees himself as a complete rebel and his mind prepares him a real rebel’s end. He is being chased by the cops on the lost highway, while somewhere else electricity is surging through his body.

There is much more to be said and pondered over when “Lost Highway” is concerned, like for example the nature of the Mystery Man, the film’s most intriguing character.  There is much to theorize about but somehow that seems like a thankless and misguided task, like it often seems to be the case with certain elements of the films of David Lynch. But that doesn’t mean that there is no purpose behind such elements. In fact the complete opposite strikes me as true. The films of David Lynch are very calculated and sometimes even purposeful abstract constructs, and that’s why they lend themselves to almost endless and juicy discussion and analysis.

But for me personally the pleasure is in understanding the intent, the idea that is being communicated, not the minute intricacies of his films. Rationalizing them in such an over extensive way would rob them of their mystery, and maybe even their appeal and effect.

*The patronizing pat on the back in the first sex scene of the film is materialized here in the second; with Alice telling Pete “You will never have me.” and walking away.


Bill Pullman - Fred Madison
Patricia Arquette - Renee Madison / Alice Wakefield
Robert Blake - Mystery Man
Balthazar Getty - Pete Dayton
Robert Loggia - Mr. Eddy / Dick Laurent

Lost Highway on IMDb

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