The City of Absurdity Lost Highway
a film by David Lynch

By Eleanor Ringel
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, February 28, 1997

What a long, strange trip David Lynch takes us on in his disturbing new film, "Lost Highway." Pure ur-Lynch in style, story and tone, "Lost Highway" is one of those movies you can't possibly give away in a plot summary because you're not exactly sure what there is to give away.

In the film's first half, a jazz musician named Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) and his sultry, dark-haired wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), start receiving increasingly intrusive videos of themselves and their home. The tapes, which arrive anonymously, are scratchy, grainy home- video stuff, yet somehow terribly forbidding. Adding to the stress: Fred thinks Renee may be having an affair while he's playing at his club.

In the second half, a studly young garage mechanic named Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty, looking like Charlie Sheen might look in a Lynch film) works at a garage (run by Richard Pryor) and is the special pet of a car- loving underworld thug, Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). The kid can fix anything on wheels, but he gets himself in quite a fix when he becomes involved with Mr. Eddy's seductive mistress, Alice (Arquette again, but blond this time).

Oh, one other thing: in a Kafkaesque moment midmovie, Pete becomes Fred. Or Fred is replaced by Pete. Or . . .

At any rate, Fred is gone, Pete is there and I guess we're lucky no one says anything about seeing a giant cockroach.

After Lynch peaked in 1990 with "Twin Peaks" on TV and "Wild at Heart" winning the top prize at Cannes, he seemed to lose interest in filmmaking. His 1992 feature "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" was a definite step backward. "Lost Highway" is a step . . . well, it' s definitely a return to the macabre, dreamlike form of his best work, "The Elephant Man" and "Blue Velvet." Though not on those films' level ---for all their bizarre ornamentation, both offered a thematic clarity that's more muddled here ---this newest Lynch shares their unique sense of eerie dislocation, of matter-of-fact perversion, of the thin line between the mundane veneer of so-called normal, everyday life and the madness of an all-pervasive chaos.

Trying to figure out what "Lost Highway" is all about ought to keep the Internet buzzing for months. This much is clear. Both stories are set in a sordid, pseudo-retro world where '50s furniture and cars mix with cell phones and microwaves. Arquette's dual role is an obvious key. So is Mystery Man, a character played by Robert Blake in freakish clown-face makeup and mascara-rimmed eyes.

Ultimately, the movie may be as simple as a murder (there are several, so I'm not ruining anything). In the first story, the cops who show up to investigate the videotapes ask if the Madisons own a video camera, and Renee says no, her husband hates them. Fred elaborates: "I like to remember things my own way. The way I remember them, not how they happened."

What actually happens in "Lost Highway" is almost beside the point. What matters is Lynch's still-unnerving vision of a distorted reality and exaggerated human behavior. Essentially, the film goes nowhere, but maybe that's the point. Either you get it on your own terms or you don't. Or you don't get it and you don't care, because it's still worth the ride.

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© Mike Hartmann