Lost Highway (1997)
FAQAdd to FAQ (Coming Soon)
One of the most accepted theories (since Lynch or Gifford never admitted any explanation to the strange going-ons in the movie) is that the whole movie takes place in Fred Madison's mind. Fred is a man who has either hired someone (The Mystery Man) or has himself committed the murders of his wife Renee and her lover, Dick Laurent. After this, he is put on death row, and in order to relieve himself of the guilt, creates alternative realities to cope. Note: the highway appears every time one of these realities starts.
The first reality is realistic. Fred probably was a jazz musician who was paranoid about his wife cheating. Tapes show up that slowly bring him back to the reality that he did something bad to his wife. The two cops brought in to investigate the tapes are actually the cops that arrested him for his wife's murder. The truth eventually comes through too much and shatters this reality. He winds up on death row again.
Another theory is that the jail scenes in the middle are indeed reality. He refuses to remember what really happened and this is his way of remembering how things were before his trial (which echoes back to his line about how he likes to remember things his own way, not necessarily how they happened). After he is sentenced to death, his condition deteriorates more to the second rationalization.
The second reality is in response to the first one not working. He now morphs himself into Pete Dayton, a young guy who exists in a fantasy world, a world where his wife is alive but as someone else. Things are changed, including who dies (Andy is killed. In the script, it is made clear that while Fred is on death row, Andy is alive and well). The persona of his wife is no longer aloof but insatiable; Pete has an active social life, as opposed to Fred's isolation. Ultimately, the fantasy incarnation of his wife tells him "you'll never have me," shattering the illusion. Reality sets back in and he once again is sent on the lost highway to create another reality.
Another theory is that he is killed in the electric chair at the end, which explains its frenzied editing of the final shot.
Co-writer Barry Gifford summarized the film as being "Double Indemnity meets Orpheus and Eurydice," the classic film noir about marital infidelity crossed with the Greek myth concerning a man repeatedly trying and ultimately failing to retrieve his lover from Hades. Edit (Coming Soon)
Based on clues throughout the film, you can piece this together:
1) Some time prior to the events in Lost Highway, Renee is befriended by Andy, a rock band manager, as illustrated by these lines of dialogue, uttered first by Renee, and then later on by Alice:
- So how'd you meet that asshole Andy, anyways?
- It was a long time ago. We met at a place called Moke's. We became friends. He told me about a job.
- What job?
- I don't remember.
2) Renee is introduced to gangster and porno producer and financier Dick Laurent and a pathological relationship begins (illustrated by Mr. Eddy's domineering personality, the gunpoint striptease that Alice endures when she first meets Mr. Eddy, and Renee's participation in the snuff-film party at the film's end). Like Alice, Renee yearns to break free of Dick Laurent's control, but is unable to.
3) Renee then meets Fred, and a relationship begins (much like the meeting and attraction between Pete and Alice), but Fred is unaware of her ties to Dick Laurent, another acquaintance of Fred. Fred eventually marries Renee.
4) Fred has suspicions about Renee's infidelity, which is illustrated in the scenes from the club where he calls home but Renee does not answer the phone, and his later catching a glimpse of Renee leaving the club with Andy.
5) Fred follows Renee to the Lost Highway Motel, where in room 26, he finds Renee with Dick Laurent.
6) After Renee leaves, Fred kills Dick Laurent.
7) Angered by Renee's betrayal, Fred kills Renee and is arrested for murder.
8) While in a cell on death row, Fred begins to rationalize the acts of murder to himself, and yearns for a chance at redemption in the form of the dream about Pete, Alice, and Mr. Eddy. He tries to envision himself as an innocent, denying his own past, as illustrated in the scene where a fellow garage employee Phi (Jack Nance) is listening to the same jazz music that Fred plays on the saxophone, and Pete turns it off:
- What'd you change that for? I liked that.
- Well, I don't.
9) Fred finds that no amount of interpretation or revisitation can change what he has done, what Renee did, nor can it bring Renee back. When Pete and Alice go out to the desert cabin to pawn off items stolen from Andy's house, Fred reappears after Alice walks away, saying: You'll never have me.
10) Fred finally accepts the murders that he has committed when he drives up to his house and buzzes the intercom with the enigmatic message "Dick Laurent is dead" -- the same message in the opening scene of the film. Edit (Coming Soon)
The cryptic Mystery Man would probably personify Fred's jealousy. Fred first meets the Mystery Man at Andy's party, and the following lines are uttered during the exchange:
- How did you get in my house?
- You invited me. It is not my custom to go where I am not wanted.
Fred has met the Mystery Man before because he has allowed the feelings of jealousy to fester in his conscience, in effect 'inviting him in.' The Mystery Man is called "a friend of Dick Laurent" by Andy because Fred's feelings of jealousy are associated with Dick Laurent through his involvement with Renee.
The Mystery Man reappears again after Pete becomes involved with Alice, arousing the feelings of jealousy within him. At the end of the film, Pete and Alice drive out to the desert to pawn off some stolen merchandise to finance their escape from Mr. Eddy. However, their trip takes them to a cabin occupied by the Mystery Man. The Mystery Man reappears, Alice leaves Pete, Fred reasserts himself, and as mentioned earlier, is pursued with a video camera.
It is evident that Fred has been unable to exorcise the pangs of jealousy from his conscience, which has resulted in his realization of the root cause of his violence. Further evidence of jealousy as the root of Fred's violence is seen during the murder of Mr. Eddy, when the Mystery Man hands a knife and a gun to Fred, which are used to kill Mr. Eddy. In that scene, the Mystery Man is the one who shoots Mr. Eddy to death and, while holding the gun, he whispers something to Fred the viewers do not hear. In the next shot seconds later, the Mystery Man is no longer there. Only Fred is standing there before Mr. Eddy's dead body, and holding the gun used to kill him.
However, there are some conflicting interpretations to the Mystery Man as being a part of Fred's persona. In "Twin Peaks," the supernatural character of Bob at first seemed to be a mere embodiment of 'the evil that men do,' a method of explaining how Leland Palmer could sexually abuse and murder his own daughter, Laura. However, as the series progressed and the movie prequel made its rounds in the theaters, it was made very clear that Bob was a living entity, and not some mere fabrication of Leland's psyche. If Lynch's intentions for the Mystery Man were the same as that for Bob, then Fred's acts of violence would be the result of being possessed by the Mystery Man. Lynch has stated that Lost Highway takes place in the same story world as Twin Peaks.
This interpretation is alluded to by the old Lynch mainstays of flickering lights, which have been used in his previous films to mark the presence of evil spirits, and electricity and/or bright lights, which act as a conduit for the transmission of the evil spirits (if you recall, the Fred/Pete transitions are marked by the sudden increase in the intensity of nearby electrical lighting).
Additionally, some people, including Robert Blake himself, believe that the Mystery Man is the Devil. If you look closely at the numbers Fred dials when the Mystery Man tells him to "call him," the last three digits of Fred's home phone number are 666. The dialogue involving Fred's "invitation" of the Mystery Man also evoke this interpretation, as it has long been a superstition (much akin to the similar rules involving vampires) that evil must be invited into a home.
And there you were, lying in bed. It wasn't you... it looked like you... Edit (Coming Soon)
With the supernatural element put aside, the whole movie is apparently Fred Madison's mind going through two versions of reality. The first time is when he is trying to justify his innocence, and thinks he does not have anything to do with the murders. He imagines the line "Dick Laurent is dead" as having been said by someone else. Later on, when he accepts the reality of having committed murder, we probably see a truer version of him saying this dialogue himself, possibly trying to give the message to Renee.
Another way to explain is again to look to Twin Peaks, which Lynch has stated takes place in the same story world as Lost Highway. In Fire Walk with Me, it becomes known that the Black Lodge, an alternate dimension of pure evil, allows people to freeze and travel across time and space. This is seen both when long-lost agent Phillip Jeffries freezes time to visit FBI headquarters and when Annie travels back in time to warn Laura Palmer about the fate of Dale Cooper, an event which took place at the end of the series.
When Pete finally turns back into Fred, Pete is apparently absorbed into the Lodge like (it is hinted at) many FBI agents such as Jeffries and Desmond have been in Twin Peaks. Pete has had to suffer through Fred's presence tormenting him in a sort of limbo (like the far east explanation the Mystery Man gives him over the phone), and his final absorption into the Hell-ish lodge is the "bullet in the back of the his head." This is why at the end Fred starts freaking out in his car, because he is now a prisoner of the Lodge after it has allowed him to go back and warn himself and Renee, and he becomes a vessel for someone else, repeating the evil cycle.
Choose for yourself which explanation makes more sense. David Lynch has claimed that the inspiration for the story came from an instance of an unknown individual saying "Dick Laurent is dead" into the front door intercom of Lynch's own home, only to be missing when the door was answered. Edit (Coming Soon)