I think this is only my second time watching this film and it’s been a few years since I watched it last, so I was really excited to revisit it. I didn’t get a chance to go read the reviews from the earlier rounds, so there might be a lot of repetition. Apologies in advance.
I didn’t really remember a lot of details from the film but just based on reputation and memory, I expected this film to be rather incomprehensible and enigmatic. Surprisingly, I found that I was able to make up a rather simple explanation for what was going on with the film and while it’s certainly possible (and highly probable) that there’s a lot more to the film than what my plot synopsis talks about, this was sufficient to keep me engaged and interested throughout.
I admit that the film is a little deceptive in terms of where it’s going. For instance, especially during the first hour, there’s a ton of mystery and hints at a detective plotline that doesn’t really go anywhere. Fred (and the viewer) never really finds out whether or not his wife is cheating on him. The investigation regarding the video tapes never really takes off. These things are introduced and can feel like red herrings. But it soon became apparent that the film wasn’t going to focus on the mysterious video tapes or who sent them.
Rather the focus of the film is really Fred and his insecurities and his suspicious nature and what all of that leads to. So my simple explanation is that the entire 2nd and maybe even the last act of the film is simply Fred’s fantasy. Unable to cope with what he has done, he builds this elaborate alternate persona for himself and an alternate story for what happened.
But even before we get to that, I shouldn’t forget to mention how much I love the first 30-45 minutes of this film.
As matt the movie watcher mentions:
The first forty 40 minutes of Lost Highway are pretty darn spectacular. Had Lynch left it at that, it would have stood as a terrific movella (movie-novella). The sound design, the atmosphere, the tension, Robert Blake; its horror movie magic. The rest of the film is good, but it’s that first act that should be in Cooperstown.
I just couldn’t agree more. It’s perfectly done and creepy as hell and this was definitely the most enjoyable part of the film for me. And I love the way Lynch makes the film itself seem like a mystery that needs to be unraveled. For instance, I found myself wondering why Fred was so suspicious of Renee. It seems largely unfounded initially. He asks her if she is going to be at the club that night and she says that she isn’t. It’s an innocent enough response but seems to be filled with meaning for Fred. He ends up interrogating her:
Fred: What’re you going to do?
Fred: Read? Read what?
Renee laughs. This just seems to make Fred even more anxious. But then when Fred calls home from the club that night, she doesn’t answer. Lynch keeps cutting between a shot of Fred calling from this telephone booth in the club to a shot of the phone ringing at their house and no one picking it up.
By constantly cutting to the shot of the phone ringing in a house that seems empty even to us, I found myself getting suspicious of Renee too. And I am always impressed by the way Lynch manages to make even the most innocuous stuff feel so sinister. For instance, I find myself jumping out of my skin a little whenever a phone rings in a Lynch movie.
I think the point where I started suspecting that most of what is happening is just in Fred’s head is when the weird scary guy (WSG from here on) makes his first appearance in that dream sequence and then inserts himself almost literally between Fred and Renee.
And then at the party, as soon as the WSG approaches Fred, all the noise in the background pretty much dims to zero and as soon as he goes away the noises are back. The conversation about the telephone call only reinforces my theory that Fred is just imagining WSG.
I don’t even know if my explanation of what’s happening in the film is meaningful but the film worked really well for me with that explanation. For instance, I love how dark and mysterious and dull all the scenes in Fred’s house appear to be. The furniture is really boring and there’s no sign of any bright colors anywhere. Everything feels almost lifeless.
On the other hand, Pete’s first appearance outside prison is in this bright red shirt in a green lawn with a white picket fence. There’s even a puppy and a little toy sailboat in his parents’ backyard. In fact, everything looks starkly different after Fred transforms into Pete. There’s lots of light and everything feels really realistic and detailed and nothing seems to be lurking in the shadows like in Fred & Renee’s house.
Pete actually fits what I’d imagine Fred’s fantasy persona for himself would be. He is sorta sweet and naive. But he also seems to be do really well with women and seems to be good in bed (the first few scenes establish this to be a major area of insecurity for Fred).
Plus, in the first act, we see that Fred doesn’t really remember murdering Renee. He seems himself as innocent. He is able to reinforce this through his Pete persona. Pete seems like a victim of circumstance and it seems that he is being manipulated by this beautiful woman. Another hint that this is all a fantasy is via Pete’s parents who seem so odd and unrealistic. They wear leather and sunglasses but also seem really square in a TV sitcom sorta way.
I also thought it was interesting that Lynch uses two very different approaches to point out the relationship between characters in the film. For instance, one of the clues to the fact that Pete = Fred is given by the fact that even though they are played by different actors, they are always in the same physical space and in the same pose following a transformation. On the other hand, the Alice-Renee connection is more obvious at one level, given that they are both played by Arquette but there was at least one scene (probably more) where I wasn’t sure if we’re supposed to be seeing Alice or Renee.
I was also amused by the way Alice just seems like a more normal / less enigmatic version of Renee. For instance, early on in the film, when Fred asks Renee how she knows Andy, she says something about having met him at a place called Moke’s and him having offered her a job but she doesn’t seem to remember any of the details. Otoh, when Pete asks Alice about how she met these people, Alice has a clear response which is initially a verbatim repeat of Renee’s response to Fred except Alice is able to clearly remember and recreate the details of the job.
Where the film started to become a little more unclear for me was when the fantasy breaks down and Pete becomes Fred again. I wasn’t quite sure why Fred couldn’t sustain his fantasy. Maybe because it breaks down exactly when Pete is finally about to have Alice / Renee and that is not even conceivable in Fred’s fantasy? Anyway, the ending was all a bit confusing for me but nevertheless visually pretty awesome and all that.
Agree with matt that Loggia & Blake are the best in terms of the performances but wow, Arquette is smokin’ hot! I thought she was fine and Bill Pullman seemed okay to me given the nature of the character too.
Yep, it’s not Lynch’s best but it’s still pretty darn good and I really loved how twisted and sexy and confusing it all is. My only complaint is that the second act dragged for me a little. I think this is mostly because I missed the scary atmosphere from the first act too much and found Pete’s personality really boring. But all in all, it’s a heck of a lot of fun and I am glad I watched this again.