Lost Highway

Charged with synopsizing Lost Highway, David Lynch’s 1997 near-masterpiece, more than one commentator has turned to topology: the film is a M”bius strip, opening and ending with the Everyman ressentiment of Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), an aging free-jazz saxophonist — only in David Lynch’s Los Angeles! — who regards his wife, Renee, with equal parts jealousy and revulsion. Renee is found bludgeoned to death, and Fred is convicted of murder; on Death Row, Fred quite literally metamorphosizes into Pete (Balthazar Getty), an apparently unconnected neighborhood tough soon to sink into the seedbeds of Valley porn. Renee (a cloying brunette Patricia Arquette) reemerges as femme fatale Alice (a cloying blonde Patricia Arquette), and the movie accelerates gleefully off the rails. A decade on,
Lost Highway,
available for the first time on DVD, feels more crucial than ever. Released as perhaps Lynch’s most mainstream effort — witness the A-minus-list cast, ’90s-metal soundtrack, and Marilyn Manson cameo — it’s since become the M”bius kink in an oeuvre that spans Eraserhead (1977) and Inland Empire (2007), aggressively obscure career bookends seemingly unhinged from all commercial exigencies.
Lost Highway is, in this sense, a most necessary film: it sleekly culminates Lynch’s thematic vivisection of midcentury Americana (see Blue Velvet, 1986) and commences a late-period critique (see
Mulholland Drive, 2001) of the Hollywood dream factory itself. Rigorously bound to the formal expectations of a big-budget thriller, it may also, paradoxically, be the purest evocation of that peculiarly Lynchian frisson: that gnawing mathematician’s dread that space and time are always twisting irrevocably out of joint. –