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And then the story gets more complicated, even more full of inconsistencies.
In terms of Hollywood narrative values, Lost Highway makes Blue Velvet and even Wild at Heart look positively conventional. And it lacks the air of sensational expose that formed Blue Velvet's subtext. It might be possible to come up with a class analysis -- Fred is a professional, Pete's working-class -- but it's hard to imagine anything more beside the point. Lost Highway is like a long dream: Characters have two faces or names or both; some seem to have no existence for long stretches while others are in two places at once; people who are supposed to be dead turn up alive; random moments are inexplicably charged with awe or terror. The interweaving of repeated images, words, and events is almost as rich as in Blue Velvet, but not nearly as neat.
If you equate Van Nuys with Hell -- an amusing, probably defensible notion -- then Lost Highway could be seen as a retelling of Orpheus and Eurydice: A musician descends into the land of the dead to try to reclaim his lover. I can see several likelier ways to read the film, none of them conclusive or wholly satisfying. To detail them here would only prejudice and limit your viewing of it. (And I'd have to give away virtually every surprise.) But this is Lynch's purest investigation into nothing less than the fabric of reality, experience, and identity.
It's also his furthest-out film since Eraserhead and his best since Blue Velvet. It is filled with so many reminders of his other work, stylistically and otherwise, as to be instantly recognizable as his. There are bits of Twin Peaks (Mystery Man's come-on to Fred is similar to Bob's seduction of Leland Palmer), Fire Walk with Me (Fred's passage into some other world resembles the picture/dream scene), Wild at Heart (the sudden outbursts of violence), and Blue Velvet (all over the place). It also evokes the wonderful 1995 Japanese film The Mystery of Rampo, itself heavily influenced by Lynch. The only other outside film Lost Highway draws on is Adrian Lyne's atypical Jacob's Ladder, which detailed a similar sort of psychological-existential unease.
Lynch's long-time composer Angelo Badalamenti is on board again, with an assist from Brit acolyte Barry Adamson. ("Something Wicked This Way Comes," off Adamson's Oedipus Schmoedipus album, which accompanies the party scene, is a bizarre, uncredited instrumental version of the Classics IV hit "Spooky.") And it's nice to see Lynch regular Jack Nance, who recently died, in one last brief role -- not to mention getting to see Richard Pryor's mug on-screen, however momentarily.
Lost Highway really does represent a return to form for Lynch. It may appear as inchoate as Wild at Heart, but I think the seeming disorder is built into its essentially unanswerable concerns. Like, say, the last ten minutes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it simultaneously challenges us to "figure out" its puzzle and makes any clean solution impossible. Also like 2001, it took me two viewings to pick up half of what was going on, and it's a film better absorbed and experienced than analyzed.
Directed by David Lynch; written by David Lynch and Barry Gifford. With Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, Robert Blake, Gary Busey, Richard Pryor, and Jack Nance.
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