The City of Absurdity Lost Highway
a film by David Lynch
"Highway" takes a few wrong turns

David Lynch's twists don't make much sense

By Beth Pinsker
The Dallas Morning News, February 28, 1997

More than a quarter-century into his film career, David Lynch is still impossible to figure out. Never one to worry about the audience reception of his work, let alone its commercial prospects, Mr. Lynch has remained steadfastly independent. He occasionally hits upon stories, such as Blue Velvet or Wild at Heart, that work with his strange attractions to violent, erotic fantasies. But Lost Highway, his seventh feature, misses the mark.

The film wends its way this way and that, has only fits of shocking brilliance and creepy seduction, and eventually ends in a maelstrom of ineffective postmodern, neo-noir images. Characters merge into other people, sound evaporates from the screen, scenes fade to black for interminably long bouts of time. Most disconcerting is a split at the film's midpoint, where the characters switch over in a blaze of light - something like a soap opera that substitutes new actors midseason. Until then, Mr. Lynch builds a weird but satisfying piece that the second half can never match.

It all begins on a sedate street in what looks like the hills of Los Angeles. Fred (Bill Pullman) answers the intercom in his nondescript home and a voice says, "Dick Laurent is dead." Confusion flushes his face, but that's the only explanation of what's going on. This is a Lynch movie, so you just go with it, knowing it will get much stranger from there.

Fred and his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), start finding unlabeled videotapes on their doorstep that were shot in their home while they were there. Suspense builds in the eerie quiet and the dimly lighted scenes as the couple circles each other in fear. In one neat shot, Fred wanders down a hallway to check for intruders and the camera follows him as he disappears into the dark. Renee follows.

A few mornings later, Fred pops in a new tape, and it shows him murdering his wife. Then the chronology breaks down. The next thing we know, Fred lands on death row,where Henry Rollins plays one of his guards. Then, some kind of transcendental experience involving an overhead light transforms Fred. When a guard checks his cell a few hours later, Fred has turned into Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young car thief and mechanic. The cops can't figure out what happened, so they send him home to his parents.

Pete's narrative carries the rest of the film, but it never develops the same kind of intensity. Mr. Lynch leaves most of the careful, slow shots with Fred and Renee, filling Pete's scenes with the aura of adolescent horror films. The young man grabs his head in pain a lot as he tries to figure out what's going on, but he doesn't have much luck.

Then Ms. Arquette pops up again as Alice, the girlfriend of a mafia boss (Robert Loggia). Pete follows her like a lost dog, because, of course, he's really Fred and she's really Renee. Or something like that.

The story eventually circles back on itself, with some of the incongruent images that flashed through the first half popping up as scenes in the later sequences. The end is particularly confusing. But then, Mr. Lynch isn't trying to make sense. He's playing with light and sound - particularly the absence of those things - in a kind of anti- filmmaking effort that's designed to shake up expectations of linear storytelling. The problem is that it will alienate a lot of viewers even while it breaks new ground.

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© Mike Hartmann