Saturday 18 August 2007

Lost Highway (1997) David Lynch

I've seen a lot of David Lynch movies, from Eraserhead to Dune, from Blue Velvet to Wild at Heart, from The Elephant Man to The Straight Story, and I enjoy his sense of the bizarre, whether he's really turning it on or not. Yet somehow I've never seen Twin Peaks, which possibly explains why I didn't even finish Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and I've never seen this one.

Bill Pullman is Fred Madison, a jazz saxophonist married to Renee, played by Patricia Arquette, who looks good but strange in auburn hair and black clothes. They obviously care for each other but something isn't quite right because they hardly talk, their monotone voices are obviously deliberate and after they make love she gives him an OK pat on the back. What else isn't quite right is that an unknown someone starts leaving videotapes on their steps that contain deeper and deeper intrusions into their private lives. The first is just the exterior of their house but the second is from inside and shows them sleeping.

Madison meets a bizarre looking Robert Blake, credited simply as Mystery Man, at a party. They have a very surreal yet deliberate conversation in which this particular Mystery Man seems to be both with Madison at the party and at Madison's house at the same time. Next thing we know, Renee is dead and Fred has apparently killed her in cold blood, having been caught on tape in the process, while police watched their house at their own request.

Now this is strange, but it's hardly David Lynch level bizarre, at least not for a while. But then it takes the sort of turn that you'd expect in one of his films. Fred Madison is convicted of first degree murder and incarcerated but then starts suffering severe headaches, and sure enough one night he inexplicably becomes someone else entirely: a mechanic named Peter Raymond Dayton. Dayton doesn't even particularly look like Pullman and indeed is played by someone else entirely: Balthazar Getty. There are similarities though, not least that Dayton also finds someone in his life played by Patricia Arquette, this time a blonde white clothes wearing character called Alice Wakefield. There are also crossovers between people they each know that grow as the film goes on, and there's a lot of blurriness that the two of them share but they're emphatically not the same person. Except...

On the face of it none of this makes sense in the slightest and it's just some sort of weird trip that isn't going to be explainable. Then about three quarters of the way in, my lass and I figured out a key point that is pretty crucial to any understanding of the film, and which relies on David Lynch pulling a fast one over us. Suddenly much of it was clear, except then it became apparent that it wasn't. In the end we're forced into realising that this isn't reality, it's perception of reality and these people are not necessarily who we initially think they are.

Seeing Madison and Dayton as the same person and Renee and Alice as the same person doesn't work on a reality level because there are too many plot holes for that to work, and David Lynch is not someone to slip a whole slew of plot holes into one of his films without having a damn good reason for it. However seeing these different people as the same person on the basis of the film being the rationalising of one of them for what he has done starts to make everything fit. I think. More viewings needed.

Arquette is excellent here, further reducing the gap in my esteem between her and her elder sister, Rosanna, who I still feel is one of the most underrated actors of her era. Pullman and Getty are fine but they're both subservient to Arquette. Robert Blake is freaky wicked cool as Mystery Man, who it would seem is really Death. There are cameos from people like Gary Busey, Richard Pryor and Marilyn Manson, all short but notable. Robert Loggia is stunning as a tough gangster of some description, as we really don't know exactly what he does, other than it's something bad. His tailgating scene is pure Tarantino and it's hilarious.

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