Lost Highway: Explained
As the ending credits of Lost Highway swept over the cinema screen, I was left behind in a state of total perplexity. Instinctively, I knew I had witnessed one of the greatest movies of all time. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out what I had just been watching for the past two hours. It was the first time a film had ever evoked such a bewildered feeling out of me. I had to know why.
The dialogs were in English, but the film conventions used were foreign. Subtitles were nonexistent. It was a film that would take many viewings to figure out, though many claimed the film could not be explained. That it was nothing more than one long dream sequence from a twisted brain that made absolutely no sense. I never really believed that. And I’m glad I didn’t.
Mulholland Drive: A Slight Detour.
Justification came when David Lynch released Mulholland Drive. Many of the ideas and principles first implemented in Lost Highway would make their return. The difference was, Mulholland Drive was a lot easier to grasp. It was meant to be solved. Despite the fact that Lynch had originally planned it as a pilot for what was meant to be a series, he managed to tie up most loose ends when it was decided it should be a one off film instead. The DVD I bought even came with a cheat card.
The first two thirds of Mulholland Drive is in fact a dreamscape imagined by an actress that moves to Hollywood in search of fame and success. In her eyes, everything is perfect and she is the center of attention. In fact, she’s god’s gift to Hollywood. Yet dark forces outside of her control conspire against her to take away the success she so deserves. In the last third of the film, we’re confronted with a reality that is much closer to the truth. She is not the successful women she perceives herself to be, but instead is consumed by jealousy that clouds her own judgment. It’s a film about self delusion. It’s also the Rosetta Stone of David Lynch’s mind. The film language that once seemed so foreign and alien is finally starting to make sense.
Driving back to the Lost Highway
The first thing we have to take into account is that Lost Highway is more of a mindscape. A place were thoughts are depicted as scenes and people, rather than events that have actually happened. And in this particular film, we step inside the mind of murderer who is trying to deal with the fact that out passion and jealousy, he killed his unfaithful wife and her lover.
While I can’t be sure David Lynch had this in mind while he was writing the scenario, the film does more or less follow the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Needles to say, this explanation contains spoilers. Now that we have gotten the disclaimer out of the way,let’s get on with it:
“Anyway, I hate the idea of acting paranoid.”
The film begins with our killer, now in the form of Fred. His state of mind is one of a sterile world, oblivious to what has just happened. The first sign that alerts him of trouble is when the doorbell rings. When he checks the intercom, someone speak the words: “Dick Laurent is dead”. When he looks outside the window, no one is there. The significance of this scene is that it is his subconscious trying to tell him something, but our killer is deeply in denial. The name doesn’t ring a bell at all.
We are then introduced to Renee, his wife. The conversations between Fred and Renee are not exactly natural. It’s not how two people, who are, whether in love, or even estranged, would talk to each other. There is no emotion in their voices and instead speak in monotone manner. Their relationship, just like the house they live in is very sterile. It’s a conversation imagined by the killer. Deep down, he has grown suspicious of his wife, but he is afraid to recognize what that might mean to their marriage. What he really wants is confirmation that she still loves him and only him.
She stays home that night. He goes to play gig. After the concert, he phones her, but she doesn’t pick up. Did she stay home, or is she somewhere else? When he returns, he finds her in bed. He convinces himself she was already sound asleep when he called. Everything is still fine.
The next morning, his subconscious sends him another message. This time in the form of a videotape. The first cassette just shows the front façade of the Madison House, the home they live in. Strange.
The killers suspicion, that his wife is cheating on him, grows. But at the same time, he still doesn’t want to recognize the truth. In one of the next scenes, they make love. But Renee is simply going through the motions. There is no sense of passion in her, no show of love. While the screenplay states that Fred does in the end come, in the movie, it looks more like he just gives up and is in fact impotent. And remember, this film was made before Viagra was introduced, so that would have been doubly worrying. His wife proceeds to consoles him, an act that doesn’t really ad much spice to their sex life. For Fred, it must have felt quite the opposite. Compensating even. A further blow to his ego.
Fred tells her of a dream he had. That he was looking for her, but couldn’t find her. Subconsciously, the dream tells him his wife is no more. She is gone forever, but in his denial, he continues to believe she is still alive in this believe world of his. Everything is still fine.
The next morning, another videotape arrives. The tape starts out the same, with a shot of the front of the house, but now continues inside, as if filmed from something hovering against the ceiling. It moves thru the house and ends with Fred and Renee in the frame, sleeping in their bed. Renee already knew there was something foreboding about these tapes. Now she is really disturbed. They decide to call the police.
Two detectives arrive. It seems that in David Lynch movies, detectives always come in pairs, and act more as observers rather than crime solvers. But they bring with them another very significant scene. At one point, of the detectives asks if they own a video camera. Renee answers that Fred hates them.
Fred: I like to remember things my own way.
Detective: What do you mean by that?
Fred: How I remember them. Not necessarily the way they happened.
That last line is very important. It basically describes the whole film. We are being shown how the killer wants to remember things. And so far, he doesn’t want to be reminded of what he has really done. But eventually, the truth will catch up to him. The videos are a symbol of what really happened.
A new day, a new tape. This one is even stranger. In it, Fred seems to be awakened by the strange presence and looks straight into the camera, horrified. But Fred can’t remember ever doing that. While Renee is now practically freaking out on this, Fred is still not all to curious or motivated about getting to the bottom of all this.
Andy’s house: They are both at a party. Fred was asked to play a gig here, but Renee didn’t really want to come. She’s got history here. How she and Andy are related will later be revealed in a later part of the movie.
After the gig, Fred and Renee match up again. As Fred goes to get a refill for their drinks, Renee starts dancing with Andy. Fred isn’t too pleased about that, but continues walking towards the bar. His jealousy peaks and that triggers the introduction of the mystery man. The mystery man is a manifestation of our killers jealousy. The two go hand in hand. And even though the mystery man tells Fred they have met before, Fred remains adamant that he has never seen him before. What follows is probably one of the creepiest scenes in the movie. The mystery man asks Fred to call his own house. Fred is surprised to hear the mystery man speaking back at him on the other side of the line. When Fred demands to know what he is doing in his home, the mystery man tells Fred, he invited him in. Mystery man then demands his phone back. This encounter rattles Fred and his world is slowly starting to unravel now. Disturbed by what has happened, he knows something is clearly wrong and he is finally starting to slip out of denial.
He and Renee flee back home.
One last videotape awaits Fred the next morning. He watches it alone this time. The video begins the same way as before, but now ends with Fred on his knees, his hands full of blood next to a badly mutilated body. That of Renee. She is dead. Killed. Looking at the camera, Fred is horrified, unbelieving of what has just happened.
He finally realizes he has killed his wife.
“I didn’t kill her! Tell me I didn’t kill her”
We know find Fred in jail. He now knows he is going to be punished for what he has done. But in his mind, someone else is surely to blame? This can’t be happening to him. He doesn’t see himself as a killer. But the whole system is against him. He feels victimized. He’s trialed and sentenced to death.
The jail scenes are probably the closest we come to reality in the whole film. But even here, things get strange. Although it is now certain, our killer is in jail, we are clearly still viewing his thoughts inside of his mind.
After anger comes bargaining. In this stage, and how futile it may seem, an individual hopes to postpone the final outcome of their situation. In Fred’s case, he wants to go back to the way things were. He wants out of death row. He wants to escape the death penalty.
And this will inevitably to lead to the biggest WTF moment in the whole film.
The killers bargain starts with a headache. Fred is in really bad shape and it’s only getting worse. Something is happening to his head and it’s not normal. It starts to horribly deform. Finally, he becomes Pete.
Still unable to except his fate, Pete is in a way, the killers hope to start a new and escape capital punishment. Pete is also a manifestation of the ideal self image of the killer: a handsome innocent young man without a care in the world.
The prison guards are naturally surprised to find Pete instead of Fred in his cell. But legally, they have to set Pete free.
The first striking thing we notice is that Pete doesn’t live in the sterile world that Fred did. Things seem more natural here. There is even a sense of optimism in this new world.
After the strange events of the past few days, Pete returns home. And while everybody is wondering what exactly has happened to him and are anxious for everything to get back to normal, Pete seems to be detached from everything. He doesn’t seem to have much interest in his friends. Not even in his girlfriend. One could say he is depressed. He also can’t remember what happened to him in the past days. And while he seems a bit troubled by it, he’s not really curious to find out what, why or how. Another secret looms?
Working at the garage, he meets Mr. Eddy. His car needs a little tuning and invites Pete for a ride to figure out what’s wrong. We are then introduced to another memorable scene, where they are riding along Mulholland Drive – what a coincidence – and are then tailgated by an aggressive driver. After letting him pass, Mr. Eddy strikes back by using the power and mechanical excellence of his Merc to ram this menace off the road. He then promptly pulls out this hapless driver out of his car, gives him a good smacking, and with guns drawn from him and his assistants, sternly tells the beaten up driver off that tailgating is dangerous.
It’s a strange scene, pointing out that while Mr. Eddy seems like a very sympathetic and engaging person, he’s not exactly a very nice guy. While on the one hand, he’s a man of principle, he also doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty to uphold them. And the reason he can get away with it all is that he probably is the leader of a gang that dabbles in organized crime. The kind of people you don’t want to mess with unless you want your kneecaps busted or a bullet in your head.
When they return to the garage, they are noticed by the two detectives that have been assigned to keep an eye on Pete. The detectives identify Mr. Eddy as Dick Laurent. Apparently, they are one and the same person.
Our killer is now in a phase where he is in a process of accepting what has happened. He’s definitely not there yet though. In a way, he has returned in a state of denial again. But this time, our killer is living in Pete’s perfect fantasy world. This illusion will eventually crumble and send the film into some strange twists and turns. As time progresses. More and more links to the truth will soon start to appear.
Like when Mr. Eddy shows up at the garage to drop off a car with Alice by his side. Pete immediately is attracted to her. But Alice looks exactly like Renee. Except now she’s blond. And her name is Alice. She also lacks the dispassion that Renee expressed in Fred’s world.
Later that night, Pete makes love to Sheila, his girlfriend, though it seems more out of convenience for him rather than anything else. In any case, he’s not very faithful as the next day, when Alice returns to pick up the car, it doesn’t take her much seducing to get Pete into bed. If Fred was a poor performer, alter-ego Pete, the idealized version of who our killer would want to be, is apparently a true sex machine. Which makes perfect sense. Every red blooded heterosexual man dreams of girls throwing themselves at them. And if they claim otherwise, they are lying!
Yet sleeping around with many women doesn’t really have much ego boosting appeal to it if no one knows about. But luckily for our killer, the two detectives still tailing Pete, are envious witnesses to his sexual adventures. So far, that seems to be their only function in Pete’s world.
In a turn of tables, it is now Mr. Eddy that has become suspicious of Alice cheating on him. He pays Pete a visit once again and threatens he’ll kill anyone who dares comes between them.
Alice and Pete, afraid that Mr. Eddy will murder them, decide to run off together. But they will need money for that. Alice has a plan to rob a guy she knows. It’s Andy. Someone she used to work for. Someone who pays girls to party. Although she never says it with so many words, Pete discovers that Alice used to be a prostitute. His jealously kicks in. She also confesses that thanks to Andy she was made to star in porno movies for Mr. Eddy.
They plan to meet up the next day at Andy’s house. She’ll already be there, and he’ll sneak in through the back. Pete’s perfect world however is starting to fall apart.
When he gets home, Sheila discovers Pete has been cheating on her and makes a real scene out of it. According to her, Pete has changed and it is time he finally learns what has happened to him. His parents try to protect him from the truth but are interrupted by a phone call for Pete. It’s Eddy at the Lost Highway Hotel, asking if he is fine. He then passes the phone on to the mystery man. Once again, our killers jealousy has triggered his subconscious mystery man to appear. He reveals he has murdered, and not just once, but several times. The mystery man also reminds our killer that trying to escape into Pete’s world is a futile endeavor. Whether he likes it or not, he will face the death sentence.
PETE: What’s goin’ on?
MYSTERY MAN: Great question!! In the east … the far east… when a person is sentenced to death… they’re sent to a place where they can’t escape…
Just when you thought this film was finally starting to act like a normal movie, it’s back to WTF?! mode again. No wonder people have a hard time understanding it. Here goes:
The next evening, Pete makes his way to Andy’s house. He sneaks in and is confronted with a porno movie in which Alice is occupied by certain sex acts. Pete’s jealousy is now starting to get out of control. Blinded by passion, Andy becomes our killers first victim. Evidently, he was the one that introduced Alice to this world in the first place. Andy’s life is brought to an end, his head sliced into the edge of a glass table .
But when Pete exclaims that they’ve killed him, Alice corrects him: He killed him. Things are turning in to become a blur. But he does notice a photo in the room. Posing in it is Andy, Mr. Eddy, Alice and Renee. He rightfully asks if Alice and Renee are the same person. Alice points at herself in the photo, and says: that’s me. Deep down, Pete does realize the two are the same. The woman in the porn flick playing in the background is Alice, and Alice is Renee, his wife. Pete’s nose spontaneously starts to bleed. The transformation back to Fred has begun. Our killers perfect world is quickly evaporating and the truth is taking its place.
When Pete searches for a bathroom to clean himself up, the hallway in Andy’s house changes into one of a hotel. And in one of the rooms he finds a whorish version of Alice sleeping with another man. Our killer probably always imagined his wife as naïve and innocent. The discovery that she was everything but just that must have truly shocked him.
Pete returns downstairs. After having looted the place, Alice hands him a gun. She also knows of a fencer that will help them with the stolen goods. And with that, they make a run for the dessert. They stop at a cabin. Alice checks the door but there is no one inside. They’ll have to wait.
After having discovered his wife’s’ secret life, the question on our killers mind is, why did she choose him? Was it out of love, or a chance to escape her past and live a quieter life?
Alice and Pete make love for the last time under the headlights of his car. Alice perhaps was a passionate craving. A fantasy that ended up in disappointment. The woman he wanted to love.
Pete: I want you… I want you…
..he calls until finally, Alice pulls herself away and inflicts the last final blow. The reason why she too had to go.
Alice: You’ll never have me.
She walks towards the cabin, enters it, and disappears. Our killers manifestation of Pete is now gone too. It’s now just Fred. The cold hard truth of the killer himself. Almost..
The Mystery Man returns. When Fred enters the cabin, that’s all whom he finds.
Fred: Where’s Alice?
Mystery Man: Alice who?
Alice is indeed nowhere to be seen.
Mystery Man: Her name is Renee . If she told you her name was Alice, she’s lying. AND YOUR NAME? WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR NAME?
And that pretty much sums it up. Pete is Fred, and Alice is Renee, Mr. Eddy is Dick Laurent. And the Mystery Man? That is Fred too. Fred now finally recognized that jealous part of himself as well. As a result, both manifestations of our killer start working together from this point on. It’s now time to fully accept what he has done and why.
Fred heads out into the dessert again, driving down Lost Highway, finally ending up at a hotel. One with a hallway he had momentarily seen earlier at Andy’s place when he was still in a blur with a bleeding nose as Pete.
He books a room. Renee and Laurent are having an affair in the room next door. In the meantime, our detectives are actually doing some investigative work at Andy’s place, the scene of a murder. They too notice the photograph. Except, now, there is no image of Alice in it, just Renee.
Back at the Lost Highway hotel, Renee leaves Laurent behind and heads off in her car. Fred picks up the gun, knocks on the neighboring door and when Laurent opens it expecting to see Renee, Fred smashes his way in. He then proceeds to kidnap Laurent and throws him into the boot of his own car before being driven off to a deserted spot.
When Fred opens the trunk, Laurent charges at him and a fight ensues. A knife appears, presumably handed over by the mystery man. Fred’s jealousy has pushed him to the point that he is prepared to kill again. He slashes Laurent’s throat. Something Laurent probably wasn’t too pleased about at the time. Bleeding profusely, he is still alive and conscious.
Fred picks up the gun and points it at Laurent. Dicks last words: What do you guys want?
We then see Fred with the gun, and next to him the Mystery Man, both staring at their second victim to be. The Mystery Man pulls out a portable TV and hands it over to Laurent. Just like the videotapes, this too is a symbol device. They show the events in which Renee and Laurent are engaged in questionable sexual and pornographic acts. The TV depicts the reason why he is about to be killed. After returning the television, the Mystery Man unloads his gun on him.
Moments later, we just see Fred holding the gun in his hand. The Mystery Man is no longer a separate manifestation. Our killer now not only recognizes but also accepts that jealous side of himself as well. He is finally taking blame for what he has done.
The last significant scene of the movie is Fred driving up to his own and ringing the doorbell. He then speaks into the intercom the following famous words: Dirk Laurent is dead.
And with that, the five stages of grief have been completed. When at first, he was in complete denial upon hearing about Dirk Laurent’s death from some subconscious part of himself, he has now come full circle and accepts what he has done. Or at least enough to admit it.
The film ends with a police chase. Fred is fully aware he can’t escape the death sentence. It’s just a matter of time.