(1997) dir. David Lynch
I have to say, David Lynch has become one of my favorite directors. I would have been embarrassed to have such an opinion perhaps in the 1980’s, being such a cult figure and so specific and intentionally loopy. But the years have been kind to Lynch. He continues to evolve as a director and his work, while dated in certain aspects, is remarkably poignant and powerful.
I’d seen Lost Highway in the cinema at the time it was released, over 10 years ago. I vaguely think that I may have seen it more than once at that time, though I can’t recall. What is amazing, is the vividness of the imagery: Robert Blake’s frightful whitened face, the churning yellow median stripes in the road as the camera speeds through the dark, Patricia Arquette’s voluptuousity. The whole film was like revisiting a dream, like it was a nightmare that I’d had, and was re-experiencing it.
The film is focused on dualities. In the beginning, Bill Pullman is a saxaphone player, whose wife (red-headed Arquette), he suspects of cheating on him. In the meantime, videos are being dropped at his doorstep. Surveillence of their house, progressing inside, further each day. Eventually, the nightmare evolves that the video flows into the bedroom and we see Pullman covered in blood and screaming, Arquette dead on the floor. Though he denies the crime he is sent to death row.
Inside, during a bizarre transformation, Pullman is gone. Now Balthazar Getty is in the cell. No one knows how he got in, not even himself. They release him back to his family, his job, and his girlfriend (a personal favorite of mine, the gorgeous Natasha Gregson-Wagner). But Getty is dazed, everything is strange. It’s like he has just woken up and is trying to understand. And then in drives the sinister Mr. Eddy and his girlfriend, a blonde Patricia Arquette, with whom he takes up a torrid affair.
So, there are two Arquettes and two actors who play two characters who are somehow one and the same. The film is split, almost down the middle, in their screen time.
But the creepiest thing through the whole film is Robert Blake. He approaches Pullman at a party and as he does, all other sound disappears. He tells Pullman that he knows him, that they met at his house, that in fact, he is at his house right now. He gives him a cell phone to prove that he is. Blake considered the character to be “the devil”, and while there’s an easily-read reason for thinking so, the character is something far less defined. Is he a representative of the dark side of the soul? Are Pullman/Getty innocent or guilty of murder? Why are they connected? Are there really two Arquettes?
He delves further into psychological dualities in his film Mulholland Dr. (2001), in which he shoots some scenes in the same locations. Unlike Lost Highway, Mulholland Dr., though I liked it a lot, is more like a dream forgotten for me. I have it at home to watch. I will be writing about it soon.
Lynch is a master. Though self-indulgence is his weakness, the darkened side of reality is his world.