Lost Highway

1997 / 134m - USA
Lost Highway poster

Lost Highway is one of my old all-time favorites. Way before Lynch's Eraserhead and Tsukamoto's Tetsuo showed me a different window into the world of cinema, Lost Highway warmed me to the notion that there was more to film than the mere quest for realism and/or an airtight plot. Somehow I never revisited the film since, so I was quite eager to find how it had held up over time. Luckily the verdict was positive, though I do have to say it doesn't rank amongst my absolute favorites anymore.

screen capture of Lost Highway

Lost Highway is somewhat of a fresh start within Lynch's own oeuvre. After a couple of lesser films and anthology projects, Lost Highway would reestablish his name amongst film fans. It would be a little disrespectful (and unfair) to call the film a warm-up exercise for Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire, but as far as managing expectation goes it should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. All the Lynch weirdness is here, just not as polished compared to his latest films.

If you're looking for a tight package you might find yourself struggling with Lost Highway. A lot has been written and said about the whats and whys of Lynch's film and broadly speaking there is a pretty fitting explanation floating around, but the key to the film lies in Lynch's statement saying not even he consciously understands every element within his film. Part of Lost Highway was simply made on intuition and gut feeling, abandoning ratio in favor of a better, more visceral film.

The film follows Fred Madison, whose life is about to take a turn for the worse. He gets a strange phone call telling him Dick Laurent (an unknown man) has died, at about the same time he starts receiving video tapes with footage shot in his own house. To make matters even worse, the final video tape reveals the gruesome death of Fred's wife. When he involves the police, they question his sanity and decide to put him in jail. And that's when things get really weird.

screen capture of Lost Highway

Traditionally Lynch's films don't hold up that well visually and Lost Highway is no exception. The camera work is solid as always, but the lighting is a little drab and the editing is pretty blunt at times. Camera angles aren't always flattering and some settings look pretty empty and barren. It makes the film appear older than its actual age, luckily Lynch's knack for unique imagery eases the pain a little. Still, it's a shame his films tend to lack that extra layer of visual polish.

The soundtrack is rather crude too. A series of Rammstein tracks are used throughout, but with very little relevance. The timing of the songs is seemingly random and they offer little support to what's shown on screen. It stands in stark contract with the score Angelo Badalamenti wrote for Lost Highway, which is moody, atmospheric and a real asset for the film. I can only assume Lynch was very much into Rammstein back then, but that's a poor excuse for messing up the soundtrack like that.

The casting too leaves something to be desired. Pullman and Arquette try to make the best of their part, but they're visibly struggling to make sense of it all. Balthazar Getty is slightly better, but he also fails to be truly convincing. I get this isn't the easiest film to get a grip on for the actors, but there must've been better choices (quality-wise). The only one who made a truly positive impression is Robert Blake as the "mystery man". It's a rather simple part, but ultimately he's the one that defines the film.

screen capture of Lost Highway

While the film suffers from stylistic decay, Lynch remains a master in setting up mysteries and submerging his audience into a nightmarish world. Despite being a little rough around the edges, halfway through Lost Highway had me captivated and from there on in things just got more and more outlandish. It does require you to let go, if you get stuck on trying to make sense of it all you're bound to miss a lot of the film's appeal. That's not to say there isn't some thematic puzzling to be done, but I would keep that for a second viewing (or some post-viewing internet reading).

Like most of Lynch's films, Lost Highway aged considerably. But while the visuals, the soundtrack and the score failed to impress this time around, the atmosphere has remained pretty much intact. It's still a dark, unsettling and bewildering experience that drags you down its feverish path. It's not Lynch's best film, but a worthy starting place for people unfamiliar with his work. For me the film has lost some of its shine through the years, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it.