A mesmerizing meditation on the mysterious nature of identity, LOST HIGHWAY is the latest film by David Lynch,
creator of such modern masterworks as THE ELEPHANT MAN, BLUE VELVET and WILD AT HEART. Starring
Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia and Robert Blake, the film expands the horizons of
the medium, taking its audience on a journey through the unknown and the unknowable. Radical, even for a Lynch
film, LOST HIGHWAY is not only about the human psyche, it actually seems to take place inside it.
Set in a city that looks suspiciously like Los Angeles but which is actually a place of Lynch's own imagining, LOST
HIGHWAY like LA is both blazingly modern and resolutely retro in look and feel. Dubbed by Lynch and Gifford
"a 21st-century noir horror film," the film draws its plot, or rather, its plots, from classic film noirs filled with
desperate men and faithless women, expensive cars and cheap motels.
From this inventory of imagery, Lynch fashions two separate but intersecting stories, one about a jazz musician
(Pullman), tortured by the notion that his wife is having an affair, who suddenly finds himself accused of her murder.
The other concerns a young mechanic (Getty), drawn into a web of deceit by a temptress who is cheating on her
gangster boyfriend. These two tales are linked by the fact that the women in both are played by the same actress
(Arquette) and may, in fact, be the same woman. The men in each are connected by a mysterious, mind-blowing turn
of events that calls into question their very identities.
Unfolding with the logic of a dream, which can be interpreted but never explained, LOST HIGHWAY is punctuated
by a series of occurrences that simply can't have occurred: one man turns into another; a woman who may be dead
seduces the man who might have killed her; a man phones himself and - inexplicably - is at the other end of the line to
receive his own call! As post-modern noir detours into the realm of science fiction, it becomes apparent that in LOST
HIGHWAY, the only certainty is uncertainty. That, and the fact that David Lynch remains one of the most distinctive
and fascinating artists working in film today.
At its outset, LOST HIGHWAY appears to be the story of Fred Madison (Pullman), a successful jazz musician
married to Renee, a beautiful brunette who seems strangely withdrawn. A disturbing study of contemporary marital
malaise, this chapter of the film explores Fred's escalating anxiety and insecurity as he begins to realize that Renee
may be leading a double life. He has much cause for concern: though Renee says she will be waiting for him while he
is out performing, Fred's call home is unanswered and her bed lies empty. One night he escorts her to a party hosted
by a vaguely unsavory man, Andy (Michael Masee), whom he has not met before, and Renee is less than candid
about how she came to know Andy and his crowd.
At the party, Fred has an alarming encounter with a strange gnome-like man (Robert Blake, identified in the film's
credits as "The Mystery Man"), who insists that he has met Fred before and has even been in his home. The
"Mystery Man" then proceeds to place a call to Fred's house and somehow manages to be at the other end of the line
to take his own call. This shocking confrontation with the impossible - a person who seems to be in two places at
once - forces Fred (and the viewer) to ask certain questions: Why does Fred suddenly feel like a stranger in his own
life? Why does he know so little about his own wife? Why has he no recollection of encounters that would seem to be
unforgettable? And, who is sending him those mysterious videos that indicate that someone has access to his home,
and has been recording Fred and Renee's intimate moments?
Before Fred can decipher any of these strange occurrences, something even stranger happens. In a flash, Renee's
bloodied corpse is found in their bedroom. Though Fred has no memory of the events that led to her death, he is the
sole suspect. In fact, given his recent mental lapses, he could be the killer. The police apparently subscribe to that
theory and Fred, in short order, is arrested, tried, convicted, and incarcerated.
Layering yet another mystery upon these mysteries, Lynch next takes his boldest storytelling leap: one day, during a
routine cell-check, Fred is missing. In his place is a young man, Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), who has a
conspicuous wound on his head and who, like Fred before him, has no recollection of the immediate past. The
authorities can't begin to understand how Fred escaped a maximum security prison or how Pete gained entry.
Ultimately, they are forced to release Pete, who has no visible connection to either Fred or to Renee's death.
At this point, LOST HIGHWAY becomes Pete's story, and we soon learn that he is an auto mechanic with a
girlfriend, Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner), parents (Gary Busey, Lucy Butler), and a wealthy client, Mr. Eddie
(Robert Loggia), who is probably a gangster and who will let no one but Pete service his valuable cars. Still
disoriented from his "blackout," Pete has a chance encounter with Mr. Eddie's sultry blonde mistress, Alice (also
played by Patricia Arquette), and before long he finds himself embroiled in a torrid affair with another man's woman -
a woman about whom he knows nothing and who, like Renee, appears to be leading a double life.
In keeping with the Moebius strip concept, Pete's story is virtually the inverse of Fred's: one man is a middle-aged
artist who lives comfortably in the hills above the city, the other a youthful laborer from the blue-collar row-houses in
the valley. Fred loses his woman to another man, Pete steals another man's woman. Yet, for all these differences,
these two men function as each other's alter egos and their common, uncommon experiences in confused identity,
memory loss, depersonalized sex and, ultimately, betrayal and death, are equivalent. "They're living the same
relationship," observes Lynch, "but they're living it in two different ways. They're victims in different ways, in both
The "transformation" of Fred into Pete, which combines the fancy of Lewis Carroll
with the phantasmagoria of Franz Kafka is, perhaps, the defining aspect of LOST
HIGHWAY in that it denies the audience something they get from most other
movies - a literal explanation. (Lynch even taunts the audience in a scene at Pete's
home during which he asks his parents what happened to him and his father, eyes
brimming with tears, refuses to answer. The implication is that the father has an explanation, but can't bring himself to
utter it. Perhaps this is Lynch telling us that he, too, has an answer but that we, like Pete, will have to find it on our
It is tempting, while viewing LOST HIGHWAY, to make something linear and literal out of Lynch's Moebius strip.
For instance, one could say that Renee and Alice are actually the same woman, with Renee donning a blonde wig and
sneaking off while Fred is working to cavort with Mr. Eddie, Andy and Pete. "The only problem," Lynch reminds us,
"is that Renee was already killed." One could also try to explain the Fred/Pete phenomenon in strictly
psychoanalytical terms. Lynch points out that there is an actual psychological malady called "psychogenic fugue" that
"fits Fred Madison perfectly. When Barry and I were working we didn't know the term, but it's when a person
suddenly takes on a completely different personality, different friends, everything."
In many ways LOST HIGHWAY is about psychogenic fugue. (Furthermore, the musical term "fugue," which is
defined as "a musical form composed for multiple instruments or voices in which the subject is announced in one
voice and then developed by another," is highly applicable to the film.) However, if psychogenic fugue were Fred's
problem - if it were simply that he had developed a new identity for himself - how would one explain a new family,
new body, and new fingerprints?
Easy explanations aside, Lynch maintains that the answers are nonetheless there. "There are explanations for a billion
things in life that aren't so understandable, and yet inside - somewhere - they are understandable. There are things
that happen to people that can be understood in terms of jealousy, or fear, or love. Maybe not in a rational,
intellectual way." Lynch insists that the Fred/Pete "transformation" and other such occurrences "are not inexplicable."
He continues: "It's like when you are sitting alone, you sometimes have the feeling that there are different parts of
you. There are certain things that you can do and there are certain things that you would never do unless there was a
part of you that took over. So, in a way, it's kind of logical."
Here, it is crucial to point out that grappling with LOST HIGHWAY's unusual plot will only take the viewer so far. In
the end, the film is no more about its "story' than it is about its unique style. Rather, it must be seen in its totality a
complete integration of music, painting, architecture, poetry and drama that fuse to form a spectacle that is grander
than the sum of its parts.