The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
Lost in Dakness and Confusion: Lost Highway, Lacan, and film noir

Lost in Dakness and Confusion:

Lost Highway, Lacan, and film noir

Thomas Caldwell

Metro Magazine 118, pp. 46-50
Originally published in Apocalypse Whenever,
The University of Melbourne, 1997.

With many thanks to Dean Nicholas for providing the essay.

Fred Madison Fred Madison in David Lynch's Lost Highway (1996) is suffering from a crisis of personal identity. Fred is a typical film noir hero, inhabiting a doomed and desolate world characterised by an excess of sexuality, darkness and violence. In Lost highway, however, Lynch has pushed the usual Oedipal themes and stylistic elements of film noir to the limits by portraying the world through the eyes of Fred Madison – a misogynist schizophrenic.

To understand Fred's condition, and the complex non-linear narrative of Lost Highway, Lynch's film can be de-coded by using the psychoanalytic methods developed by Jacques Lacan. Lacan's mirror stage theory developed the idea of three distinct but overlapping orders of human identity – the imaginary, the symbolic and the real. These stages influence each other and work together simultaneously to give most individuals a stable relationship with reality. However Fred Madison has come unstuck and the three orders have become quite distinctly separate, leading to the creation of three versions of the same story, with Fred represented by three different personae. The start of the film features Fred in the symbolic order, the middle part of the film has Fred transformed into Pete Dayton in the imaginary order, and the final part of the film has Fred possessed by the Mystery Man, representing the real order.

to be continued soon. It may take me a while, though, to type that lengthy essay.

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