Thursday, November 10, 2005

Why the Hell Did David Lynch Make "Lost Highway"?

Last night, I made Spencer sit through “Lost Highway,” a 1997 David Lynch film starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette. (As a note, I generally don’t care for either actor, but stick them in a Lynchian mess of sex, murder and jumbled chronology and I can deal.) Previously, I’ve shows Spence “Blue Velvet” and “Mulholland Drive” — which scored average and high, respectively — so this seems like the next logical stop in the Lynch filmography.

But whereas “Blue Velvet” has a fairly straight-forward plot and “Mulholland Drive” is wonderful mind fodder that can eventually yield plausible explanations, “Lost Highway” doesn’t make any sense. And not just in the Lynch sense of nonsense, either. The film drops clues to a mystery that’s never solved. It ends abruptly, seemingly starting the cycle of the plot again.

Here’s a quick plot summary for the uninitiated:
“Dick Laurent is dead.” Fred Madison (Pullman), a sax player, hears these world being spoken on his in-house intercom one morning. Fred believes his wife Renee (Arquette) is cheating on him. They leave a party after Fred is confronted by a creepy man (Robert Blake) who claims to simultaneously be at the party and at Fred’s house. Back at home, Renee is murdered — seemingly by Fred, though he can’t remember. In jail, Fred turns into Pete Dayton, a young mechanic who has been missing for a few days. Apparently not being Fred, Pete is released from jail and returns to work, where he meets Alice Wakefield (also Arquette). They have an affair, enrage her lover, an aging mobster and pornographer called Mr. Edde (Robert Loggie), and try to escape. Instead, Alice takes Pete to a shack in the desert. Pete becomes Fred again, kills Mr. Eddie — who, we learn, is the same person as Dick Laurent — and returns back to his home. At the end of the movie, Fred returns to the gate of his house, presses the intercom button and says “Dick Laurent is dead.” The movie ends.
The movie never attempts to answer the questions most viewers would ask: How did Fred become Pete? Are they the same person? Are Alice and Renee the same person? Why is Dick Laurent also called “:Mr. Eddie”? Instead, it just returns to where it started, in a frustrating Möbius stip of a plot. Even Lynch fans familiar with red drapes, the blonde-brunette contrast and the awful feeling sparked by the flashing of electric blue lights will come up empty-handed when the offer a justification for “Lost Highway.”

The way I see it, a person has two options for wrapping their head around “Lost Highway” — trying just to understand why Lynch would have even made a move like this. Importantly, both of these explanations necessitate abandoning the mindset a person uses to approach a typical narrative.

The easiest way to “get” the film is to simply accept it as face value. In its own little crazy universe, “Lost Highway” makes sense. Fred became Pete, just like that. That’s what happened. That sort of thing can happen in this universe. Along the same lines, Robert Blake’s character can be in two places at once. And Renee and Alice, though they appear to be two people, are actually just manifestations of the same person. Granted, these are not things that readily happen in life or most examples of art imitating life. But that’s what Lynch is offering here, and the viewers must decide for themselves whether they can accept it.

It’s interesting, really, that most movies and TV shows we watch are fairly unrealistic. Time is skewed more often that we usually process, and characters to incredible things. I’m glancing at my DVD shelf and seeing the box for “Scream” as we speak. That movie isn’t especially plausible, and if you watch closely there are tons of continuity errors. Things happen too quickly, even when the characters are supposedly timing them — the thirty-second delay on Gale Weather’s spy camera, for instance, or the order and pace in which the scenes from “Halloween” are playing at the party in the last scene. But because we’re accustomed to these kind of unbelievable occurrences, we don’t think twice.

Furthermore, unlike life, film and TV — and literature too — often offer neatly tied-up endings. Events from the beginning of the work dovetail into the falling action. There’s foreshadowing and resolution. None of that necessarily happens in life — and when it does, it’s the exception. In Lynch’s work, the out-of-the-blue weirdness that happens without any explanation is, in a strange way, more life-like that the excessively staged and even-flowing events from other works.

So there’s that. I think that should work well enough, but I think that this is not what Lynch actually wants us to make of “Lost Highway.” Instead of being satisfied with the face value interpretations, I think Lynch wants us instead to just think about what we saw. Recently, Lynch has spoken publicly about transcendental mediation. He’s even established the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace. He thinks the way to better society is to get people to delve inside their own minds, concentrate and learn to think in deeper, more profound ways.

I agree.

I also, however, this his been discreetly promoting this through his films. “Lost Highway” is a perfect example. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work out neatly. If you’re a moderately intelligent person, you realize this. You watch this movie, then walk away with it rolling around all dark and chaotic in your head. You take what you remember and realize that little points don’t make sense.

You realize that perhaps the entire plot spawned from Fred’s misplaced desire to find out if Renee is cheating on him — that the creepy man with the video camera and poor Pete all work to solve this question. It doesn’t explain everything, but it’s plausible — if only in the implausible way Lynch films work. Eventually, I feel like if you think about it enough, you realize that you’re not going to explain everything, but that’s okay. The effort you put into trying to solve the problem taught you about thinking in a different way. You strengthened an under-utilized part of your brain — mental push-ups, if you will.

And who knows — maybe this little will broaden your outlook on life just enough to help you solve a approach a problem in a new way that wouldn’t have occurred to you before. Or maybe you’ll just be a little more content with what would otherwise have been a frustrating situation.

I like “Lost Highway,” Patricia Arquette’s crooked teeth be damned. And I really like David Lynch. He’s one director who I honestly believe creates in order to help the world, if only in some convoluted and nearly invisible way that a lot of people would dismiss. If his bios for film releases, the standard info Lynch posts is limied to "Eagle scout. Missoula, Montana." That's it. The Boy Scouts of America pledge to help people however they can, and despite the dark nightmares that may plague his mind, I think David Lynch is just doing that. He's helping people the best way he knows how. He's the world's scariest boy scout and wouldn't want him to ever change.

Oh, and the movie has a bitching soundtrack, too.

EDIT: For those of you bored, brave or dedicated enough to make it to the end of this post, should I dare include a link to the Netflix page for "Lost Highway," so as to facilitate the add-to-queue action?

1 comment:

  1. Yea, i enjoyed Lost Highway. Couldn't make any sense out of it, but after watching Mulholland Drive, i've come to realize that david lynch films are more to be experienced than analysed and dissected to the bone.

    There's this one scene though that absolutely killed me. Sometime in the opening quarter of the movie, Bill Pullman walks into the darkness and appears to be completely swallowed by it.. Marvellous .