Thursday, May 28, 2015

Lost Highway

LOST HIGHWAY (David Lynch, 1997)

LOST HIGHWAY follows the dual stories of tenor saxophonist Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and mechanic Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) and the women in their lives who bring about their ruination. Patricia Arquette plays Fred’s brunette wife Renee and Alice Wakefield, a gangster’s blonde squeeze who initiates a torrid affair with Pete. Fred suspects his wife may be cheating on him and becomes disturbed when videotapes with footage shot inside and outside his house are left on his home’s front steps. Pete struggles to explain how he is found in prison having taken another man’s place.

In David Lynch’s singular style the Möbius strip of a film addresses the insecurities men have about women. Dark interiors hint at endless mental corridors to get lost in as these curdled souls obsess over the true motivations of the femme fatales they’ve fixated on. The low, persistent white noise on the soundtrack suggests a nagging concern hissing inside the protagonists’ heads that the women they love will do them wrong even as they are helpless to resist. The pale-faced Mystery Man (Robert Blake) who greets Fred and Pete familiarly seems like a manifestation of the anger and fear they’ve invited into their thinking. LOST HIGHWAY is suffused with dead of the night dread, a half-lucid, creeping sensation that one’s doom awaits in the shadows.

Lynch’s mastery of sustaining an unsettling tone carries the film through patches when the opaque plot confuses, yet watching this film not quite two decades later reveals his use of doubling and dream logic and atmosphere as a rough draft for the greater achievement to come in MULHOLLAND DR. LOST HIGHWAY’s mystery does not grow as it continues to befuddle. Pete’s section builds to confirmation of the horrible things both character’s believe their women are capable of doing to them, yet Getty doesn’t convey the torment inside of him as tangibly as Pullman does in Fred’s scenes.

When Fred has the police searching his house for signs of unlawful entry, he’s asked if he has a video camera. Fred responds that he hates the devices because he likes “to remember things my own way”. The tension in LOST HIGHWAY comes from the disconnect between the way things are and how they are recalled or imagined. With memorable and disquieting imagery, Lynch’s terror-fueled exploration of how latching onto the virgin/whore dichotomy can destroy men’s minds, but LOST HIGHWAY also plays like a less coherent version of the director’s better work.

Grade: C

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