If you have ever watched ‘Twin Peaks’ the original or the revival, you will know that David Lynch as a certain style which can leave his viewers completely bemused. Granted he has a unique artistic style which elevates his films to cult classics, but he also likes to present his audiences with an almost unsolvable puzzle.
This film was made in 1997 so I don’t feel too bad talking through what happens (or what I think happens) in it, but if you are planning on watching it and don’t want to know what goes on… look away now.
Fred (Bill Pullman) and his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) live in Los Angeles. The film starts with Fred looking shifty around his house, when he gets a message through his intercom that “Dick Laurent is dead”. Fred then gets ready to go to his show (playing saxophone at a jazz club), as he is leaving Renee tells him that she is staying home that night to read. Fred plays an angry show and tries to call Renee as it ends, with no response, he goes home and finds her sleeping.
The next morning Renee totters out in her 6 inch heels to collect the morning paper and finds an envelope on their steps. In the envelope is a VHS video (the predecessor of DVDs in case you’re not sure) the pair watch the video, and it is a short clip of the front of their house. They both seemingly dismiss this as a real estate video.
Fred and Renee engage in some very disappointing sex (she pats him on the back and says “Its ok” after it) and he sees her face transformed into a pale old mans face. Fred then tells Renee of a dream he had where someone who looks like her gets violently attacked.
As the next few days pass, Renee finds more VHS tapes on the step and they watch them with alarming dismay as the footage creeps inside their house, peaking at showing them sleeping before they call the police. Two nonchalant detectives arrive, and watch the tape, asking questions and check the house out. They ask Fred if he owns a video recorder and Renee responds saying no and explaining that Fred doesn’t like them. Fred then expands saying he likes to remember things from his own memory, how he remembers they happened and not always exactly how they happened (remember this bit as my whole theory hinges on this line!).
Fred and Renee go to a party, when Renee is drunk and talking to her friend Andy (Michael Massee) (a seedy guy… you can tell from the pencil moustache), they get to talking about Dick Laurent and Fred says that he is dead, which no one else appears to know about. Fred goes to the bar to get more drinks and he is approached by a white faced man (Robert Blake), who says to him that they have met before. When Fred says that he doesn’t believe so and where does the man think that they have met, he responds “in your house”. He then tells Fred to call his own home, where the white faced man answers. Fred quite rightly gets a little freaked out and he pulls Renee out of the party and they make their way home.
During the ride home, Fred asks Renee how she knows Andy, and she says that he helped her get a job once and they met in a place called Mooks. She can’t remember what job it was. When they arrive home, Fred tells Renee to stay in the car, and he checks the house. Satisfied that no one is in there, they go in.
The next morning, Fred collects the paper and the VHS, he watches the film and it shows Renee’s mutilated body. Fred is arrested and sentenced to the electric chair. While in prison, Fred is plagued with headaches and visions of a burning cabin, a highway, the strange man and the desert. Eventually Fred appears to have some kind of melt down and changes in to a younger man named Pete (Balthazar Getty). This confuses the guards and after running some checks they call Pete’s parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) to come pick him up. Pete has what appears to be a bullet hole in his head. They go home, and two surveillance cops follow Pete around from a distance.
Pete’s friends come over and they go out, you see him with his “girlfriend” and the next day he turns up for his job as a mechanic. His boss (Richard Pryor) is happy to have him back and he gets to work. Soon Mr. Eddy aka Dick Laurent (Robert Loggia) turns up, requesting that Pete goes for a drive with him as his car is making a funny noise. Pete accepts and they drive around – Pete tunes the engine and they continue to drive around, until someone tailgates Mr. Eddy and he jumps out and pistol whips him, telling him to by a copy of the highway code and learn it. Mr. Eddy takes Pete back to the garage and offers him a porno which Pete declines.
The next day, Mr. Eddy turns up with another car and a girl in tow, Alice (also Patricia Arquette), they leave the car with Pete, who gets about fixing it. While he is working on the car, some jazz sax comes on the radio which he turns off stating he hates that music.
At the end of the shift, Alice turns up in a cab and asks if Pete wants to go to dinner with her, he says that they shouldn’t…but wouldn’t you know they end up in a hotel room for a bit of mad passion. Their affair is firey, until one night she calls and says that she thinks that Mr. Eddy knows about them. They plan an escape.
Pete then gets a phone call from Mr. Eddy and the white faced man, having a remarkably similar conversation to the one he had with Fred at the party. Pete goes to meet Alice, and they plot to rob Andy a friend of Alice’s from Mooks who pays girls to party. Pete instinctively knows that this means making pornos and they have a conversation about about what she has been doing and her relationships to the people involved.
They hatch out a plan in detail for robbing Andy, and they put it in to play that night. Pete breaks in to the house where Andy is, and sees a skin flick playing with Alice in it. He is momentarily distracted by this, but then grabs a wood carving and hides behind the bar. When Andy comes to the bar, Pete smacks him on the head with the wood carving knocking him out. Alice appears in her underwear, with a different attitude, just as they start to talk, Andy comes around and goes to jump on Pete, but Pete grabs him and throws him embedding his head on a glass table, getting a bloody nose along the way.
Alice starts to strip the body of its jewellery of and collects up money and other valuable items and Pete notice a photo of Alice, with Dick Laurent, Andy and Renee! He asks if it is both her, and she points to just one of the women and says that’s me. Pete then goes to find the toilet and has a weird vision of a woman in a red wig during the act of love making asking do you want to ask me why, as the house transforms into what appears to be a hotel. He wanders back down stairs and finds Alice holding a gun, which after pointing at Pete asking if he trusts her, she hands to him and they take off to find a fence in the desert that will give them passports so that they can get away.
They drive down a highway which is in the desert to a cabin which appears to reconstruct itself.
Alice goes to look in the cabin and no one is there, so she heads back to the car and says that they will need to wait. She and Pete make love on the floor in front of the car, after he has asks Pete if he still wants her. Throughout the sandy naked wrestling, Pete is telling her that he wants her continuously, as they conclude, she says to Pete, you will never have me, and she walks in to the cabin naked. Along and rejected Pete then turns back in to Fred, he quickly dresses and goes to the cabin looking for Alice to find the odd white faced man. He asks where Alice is and the white faced man tells him she was lying and her name is Renee. The mystery man then starts to record Fred on a hand held video, and chases Fred out of the cabin.
Mean while the police are investigating Andy’s murder and look at the photo and just see Renee with Dick and Andy.
Fred jumps in the car and drives to the Lost Highway Hotel. There he sees Renee and Dick Laurent having sex. Once Renee has left, Fred kidnaps Dick Laurent and pops him in the boot of the car. He drives out to the desert here the white faced man appears and films Fred beating Dick and then slitting his throat. It peaks with the white faced man shooting Dick and then whispering something in Fred’s ear.
Fred is then seen telling someone over an intercom that “Dick Laurent is dead”, then running away to be chased by the police.
Confused? I was too. I realise that this is quite a long post, but there is just no way to describe a David Lynch film in 500 words or less. Firstly, let’s talk about the sets and cinematography. The filming feels scratchy. It’s jerky and dull. The sets are classic Lynch, with mundanity highlighted as the theme, which then lead to the bizarre. There are elements of ‘Twin Peaks’ with red curtains and halls which lead to nowhere in place.
Al the way through the dialogue is stilted and slow. This film is probably about an hour and fifteen minutes too long in all honesty, and while I became a bit of a Peaks fan, this just left me thinking I had lost over two hours of my life on something incomprehensible.
I don’t like films that do this to me, so I had to have a think about what the hell was going on, and I think I have a theory, I have no idea if it is right or wrong, but it is a theory none the less.
Remember that line about Fred wanting to remember things as he wanted to remember them? Well I think it all hinges on that. The start of the film, loops around to the end of the film, which leads me to believe that this is all just his memories before facing the electric chair.
Pete is younger Fred and Alice is younger Renee. I feel that Pete/Fred probably did save Alice/Renee from her seedy life, and they made a new life where Pete/Fred changed profession. He probably did kill Dick Laurent and Andy to save Renee from falling back into the lifestyle, but knowing her background has an angry jealous streak which we see when he calls Renee at the start of the film and she doesn’t answer, ultimately leading to his mistrust of her, and his brutal murder of his wife.
I think that the white faced man, probably represents his own looming death in the electric chair and pops up as a reverent reminder of this. The videotapes and the camera an icon of the things Fred fears and hates.
Small elements of the Pete and Alice storyline intertwine with Fred and Renee, such as the music that Pete hates, alluding to his lifestyle as an older man and the things he gave up for Renee.
The desert and the burning cabin, showing Fred’s loneliness and destruction.
Really, this is a film that I would personally not recommend. No matter how much you may love David Lynch, this is slow and tiresome to watch. The sets are dated and not particularly pretty to look at, which then just makes this film drag even more.
With all this in mind, I have probably made the film sound a lot more exciting than it actually is, so while you may have waded through this long post, it really will save you a lot of time watching the film.
Have you seen Lost Highway? Why not tell me what you thought in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?