The City of Absurdity Papers & Essayes
Lost Highway: Unveiling Cinema's Yellow Brick Road

'There's no place like home'

The first thing the Nameless will complicate is the notion of home. Home is the structure, the center, the vessel of identity, it is both the point of origin and the destination of the road, and as such most traditional narratives involve flight and return, fragmentation and reconciliation. But I would like to hold firm to the dual meaning invested in the complicated incantation uttered by Dorothy rather than to simply posit a vulgar postmodernism that declares the absence of center, embracing its 'opposite.' The phrase 'there's no place like home' means both that home is Not and that home is primary. The 'there is' followed by the 'no' under the shadow of the metaphoric 'like' demarcates the labyrinth we are entering in language. To de-center is always to declare and function within a notion of centrality.

Fred and Renee, for example, occupy their interior like patients in a waiting room. There is no connection between their bodies and their sterile abode. They are not safe in their dwelling, there is an unnameable presence, the walls have eyes, and they walk about as if their every gesture and word were being recorded. Likewise, as the narrative develops, characters transform into other characters, neither one able to proclaim original authenticity, neither one ever fully at home. At the crossroads between these transformations is the recurring image of the road and the windowless house in the desert that perpetually explodes, undoes and reconstructs itself. As such, this image mimics flight and return, only home in Lynch time is not closure but recurrence, the precise moment of reconstitution, a place heavy with the anticipation of the coming explosion. The explosion is a dominant theme throughout the works of Lynch. It has erupted in fire, fighting, music, dance and sex. There is in every Lynch film a moment of unbridled, excessive anger and destruction that ruptures any sense of reason and context and leaves everyone uneasy, from the audience to the critics to the witnesses within the frame. In _Lost Highway_ one such moment occurs when Mr. Eddy drives a tailgater off the road, threatens to blow his brains out, and beats him into a delerium. This exceeding of bounds duplicates both the bed and the breakdown of meaning, or better yet, meaning *as* breakdown. It is what makes narrative as poetics impossible. It is what inspires Nietzsche to shout in _Ecce Homo_, 'I am no man. I am dynamite.' [8] Interpretation wields the blow. The house is on fire. The ideal space for these homeless characters will be the roadside motel.

It is interesting from this perspective to look at a classic American road film such as _The Wizard of Oz_, which while not being linear, is circular rather than cyclical. It transpires in an America centered in its heartland, an America where one goes out into the void of dreams only to return to the center. While this circle suffers duality and is fraught with doubles, it resists repetition. Home is not displaced but rather doubly confirmed as both origin and *telos*. Home is understood as a place outside myth, a 'real' place. In 1939 this 'reality' was signified by the familiarity of the black-and-white image, and the land of fantasy was signified by the seemingly unnatural spectacle of the new Technicolor. From a different technological vantage point Lynch will use black-and-white in his early films to create an unreal atmosphere in order to expose the mythos of 'reality,' but beginning with _Blue Velvet_ a new use of color emerges, similar to _The Wizard of Oz_ in that it also serves to complicate our sense of the real. Lynch will use color to paint an America that is as surreal as the Emerald City itself, but without the return to the reassuring black-and-white softness of Auntie Em. Black-and-white now appears in the video footage which implicates Fred in the murder of his wife. The documentary real is now shrouded in doubt, uncertainty, and even impossibility.

In _The Wizard of Oz_ the gendered limitations that mark the nice Midwestern girl, who forfeits the seductive red heels when she realizes her place really is in the home, mimic the limits of the Western metaphysical narrative ruled under the sign of logos, reason, and a Judeo-Christian God. While on one level _The Wizard of Oz_ critiques this metaphysics by allowing its protagonist to arrive at the coveted end point, here known as 'over the rainbow,' only to discover its *mythos* and to work her way back to earth, on the other hand it simply displaces the sacred transcendent with the secular metaphysics of home and heartland. [9] Oddly enough this journey to secular America can only be traveled with the aid of witches, magic wands, and mystical ruby slippers. Lynch will also make use of these mythological forms to conclude _Wild at Heart_. The good witch points the way to closure, and the mythic Elvis serenade signals that it's time for the heart frame to fade to black extinguishing all memory of the hell of narrative. But an element of irony has entered the image. We begin to get the feeling we are being mocked, just as we did in the 'closure' of _Blue Velvet_, when we traveled out the ear and awakened back into the wax-like diorama of the suburban home.

The traditional American fantasy that Wizard of Oz admonishes is the one invested in the gesture of escape, the flight from home, the striving toward a better place which appears as a linear trajectory usually westward toward California as *mythos*. These narratives are so plentiful in American cinema as to constitute a genre in themselves. Though these American road films seem invested in a linear metaphysics of progress and *telos*, they are actually less dedicated to these notions than _The Wizard of Oz_. They are rather the foreshadow of the turn taken onto the Lost Highway. The classic American road narrative actually leads not to California but to a shattering moment of consciousness somewhere across the barren desert of adversity and solitude where a terrible truth emerges: that this is the road to nowhere. What lies ahead is only more of the same, what lies behind is a receding history that cannot be regained, and destination is impossible. This double bind leaves only one exit to glory: temporal death, whereby one enters the American metaphysical kingdom like James Dean, by dying and becoming an absence that is present as an afterimage in the dreams of the surviving: to be an American myth. To pass this exit is to meet either failure or farce.

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© Mike Hartmann