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Lost Highway (film)

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Title: Lost Highway (film)  
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Subject: Lynch on Lynch, Robert Blake (actor), David Lynch, Barry Gifford, Catching the Big Fish
Collection: 1990S Mystery Films, 1990S Thriller Films, 1997 Films, 1997 Horror Films, American Films, American Mystery Films, American Thriller Films, English-Language Films, Film Scores by Angelo Badalamenti, Films Directed by David Lynch, Films Set in Los Angeles, California, Films Shot in California, Films Shot in Los Angeles, California, Films Shot in North Carolina, French Films, French Mystery Films, French Thriller Films, Independent Films, Neo-Noir, Psychological Horror Films, Psychological Thriller Films, Screenplays by David Lynch
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Lost Highway (film)

Lost Highway
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Lynch
Produced by Mary Sweeney
Tom Sternberg
Deepak Nayar
Written by David Lynch
Barry Gifford
Starring Bill Pullman
Patricia Arquette
Balthazar Getty
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Peter Deming
Edited by Mary Sweeney
Ciby 2000
Asymmetrical Productions
Distributed by October Films
Release dates
  • February 21, 1997 (1997-02-21)
Running time
134 minutes[1]
Country France
United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $3,675,201

Lost Highway is a 1997 French-American neo noir psychological mystery thriller written and directed by David Lynch. Blending elements of psychological horror and film noir, the plot features Bill Pullman as a man convicted of the murder of his wife (Patricia Arquette), after which he inexplicably morphs into a young mechanic and begins leading a new life. The film features the last film appearances of Richard Pryor, Jack Nance, and Robert Blake, and is also notable for featuring the acting debut of Marilyn Manson.

Lynch co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Gifford, whose novel served as the basis for Lynch's 1990 film Wild at Heart. Lynch conceived Lost Highway after the critical and box office failure of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), a film adaptation and follow-up to the widely successful cult television series Twin Peaks. Despite receiving mixed reviews upon release, the film has developed a cult following. In 2003, the film was adapted into an opera.


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Development 3.1
    • Filming 3.2
    • Music 3.3
  • Interpretation and allusions 4
  • Reception 5
  • Home media 6
  • Trivia 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


After the opening credits, which show a highway's dividing lines at night while blaring techno music plays in the background, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), a Los Angeles saxophonist, receives a message from an unknown man on the intercom of his house. The voice says that "Dick Laurent is dead." When he looks out his window, the streets outside his house are empty, and faint police sirens are heard in the distance.

During a break at a show one night, Fred calls his home, but Renée (Patricia Arquette), his wife, does not answer any of the home's ringing telephones. Arriving home later, Fred finds Renée sleeping in their bed. The next morning an unmarked package arrives at the house containing a videotape of their home. After having sex one night, Fred sees Renée's face as that of a pale old man, then tells Renée of a dream he had: "You were in the house, calling my name, but I couldn't find you. Then there you were, lying in bed... but it wasn't you. It looked like you, but it wasn't." As the days pass, more tapes arrive showing the interior of their house and even shots of the pair asleep in bed. Fred and Renée call the police, and the detectives say they will keep an eye on the house.

Fred and Renée then attend a party being thrown by Andy, a friend of Renée. At the party, a man (whose face Fred saw earlier) approaches Fred, claiming to have met him before at his house. The Mystery Man then states that he is at Fred's house at that very moment. Fred telephones his house, and the Mystery Man answers, then explains that he got inside because he was invited and never goes anywhere without permission. Fred asks Andy who the Mystery Man is and is told that he is a friend of Dick Laurent. Confused, Fred states that Dick Laurent is dead and Andy is surprised that Fred knows that, or knows who Dick Laurent is. Fred seems to struggle with the information and confirms that he neither knows the man is dead or even knows him at all. The next morning, another tape arrives and Fred watches it alone. To his horror, it shows the house again, ending with him in a pool of blood, over the dismembered body of Renée. He is arrested for her murder, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Shortly after arriving on death row, Fred is plagued by frequent headaches and strange visions of the Mystery Man, a burning cabin in the desert, and a strange man driving down a dark highway.

During a routine cell check, the prison guards are shocked to find that the man in Fred's cell is Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a young auto mechanic. Since Pete has committed no crime, he is released into the care of his parents, Bill and Candace, who take him home to Van Nuys, California. Pete is soon being followed by two detectives who are trying to find out how he ended up in Fred's cell. The next day, Pete returns to work at the garage, where he is welcomed back by the owner Arnie (Richard Pryor) and veteran mechanic Phil (Jack Nance). Pete is called on by gangster Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia) to fix his Mercedes 6.9. Mr. Eddy takes Pete for a drive, where Pete witnesses him beat and threaten the life of a tailgater.

The next day, Mr. Eddy returns to the garage with his mistress, Alice Wakefield (Patricia Arquette), and his Cadillac for Pete to repair. Later, Alice returns to the garage alone and invites Pete out for dinner. Soon, Pete and Alice begin a secret liaison, meeting each other at run-down motels every night. Alice begins to fear that Mr. Eddy suspects her affair and concocts a scheme to rob her friend Andy and leave town. Alice then reveals to Pete that Mr. Eddy is actually an amateur porn producer named Dick Laurent and she made some films for him under duress. She wants to leave that world behind and go on the run with Pete.

At home, Pete is confronted by his parents and girlfriend who want to know more (and to volunteer their own scant information) about the mysterious circumstances surrounding Pete's disappearance a few days earlier. The troubling knowledge worries Pete who decides to go along with Alice's plan. During the burglary Pete notices a photograph showing both Alice and Renée together, with Alice claiming that the blonde woman in the photo is her. When police investigate the death of Andy, who was accidentally killed as he tried to defend his property, the same photo shows only Renée with Andy and Mr Eddy. Alice is inexplicably missing from the shot. Pete and Alice, meanwhile, are heading to someone to whom Alice says they can sell the stolen items. They arrive at an empty cabin in the desert (the same Fred saw exploding in his visions), where Alice and Pete look at each other intensely and Pete asks her "Why chose me, Alice?" to which Alice responds with, "You still want you, don't you Pete? More than ever?" Alice and Pete have sex in front of the burning headlights of the car, throughout which Pete repeatedly says, "I want you. I want you, Alice." As they reach climax they roll over and Alice whispers in his Pete's ear, "You'll never have me" and walks naked up the stairs to the cabin, and goes inside the cabin.

When Pete rises from the ground, he has now transformed into Fred Madison, who notices Alice is nowhere to be found. Upon searching the desert cabin, he meets the Mystery Man and asks of Alice's whereabouts. The Mystery Man then angrily states that her name is Renée and begins filming Fred with a hand-held video camera. Fred runs back to his car and drives to the Lost Highway Hotel, where Mr. Eddy and Renée are having sex, and waits for Renée to exit the motel. After Renée leaves, Fred kidnaps Mr. Eddy and beats him in the desert. The Mystery Man then suddenly appears with a portable TV and shows Mr. Eddy that Fred knows he and Renée have been having an affair. The Mystery Man then shoots Mr. Eddy dead and whispers something to Fred. The Mystery Man disappears and Fred drives off in Mr. Eddy's Mercedes. Fred drives to his old house, buzzes the intercom and says "Dick Laurent is dead". The two detectives then arrive at the house, and Fred runs back to his car and drives off with the detectives in close pursuit. As it gets dark, Fred speeds down the highway pursued by the police. Increasingly quick cuts and louder, more intense music show Fred, still driving and pursued, his face distorted and seemingly burnt, surrounded by flashing light, and the film ends abruptly, credits then appearing over the familiar image of the highway rushing by.


Blake, who portrayed The Mystery Man in the film, was responsible for the look and style of his character.[2] One day, he decided to cut his hair short, part it in the middle and apply Kabuki white make-up on his face. He then put on a black outfit and approached Lynch, who loved what he had done.[2] Years earlier, Loggia had expressed interest in playing the role of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986). He showed up for an audition, unaware that Dennis Hopper had already been cast, and proceeded to wait for three hours, growing increasingly agitated. Upon seeing Lynch and learning of Hopper's casting, Loggia launched into a profanity-laden rant, which remained in Lynch's head for years as what would eventually become Mr. Eddy's road rage scene. Loggia, years later, received a phone call from Lynch requesting his performance for this film.

Lost Highway incorporates the last film performances of Blake, Jack Nance and Richard Pryor.



Lynch came across the phrase "lost highway" in Barry Gifford's Night People and mentioned to the writer how much he loved it as a title for a film.[3] Lynch suggested that they write a screenplay together. Gifford agreed and they began to brainstorm. Both men had their own different ideas of what the film should be and they ended up rejecting each other's and also their own.[3] On the last night of shooting Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch was driving home and thought of the first third of Lost Highway all the way up to "the fist hitting Fred in the police station – to suddenly being in another place and not knowing how he got there or what is wrong."[3] He told Gifford and they began writing the screenplay. The two men realized early on that a transformation had to occur and another story developed which would have several links to the first story but also differ.[4] While they were writing the script, Lynch came up with an idea of a man and woman at a party and while they are there another, younger man is introduced who is "out of place, doesn't know anybody there, comes with a younger girl who knows a lot of the people. The girl is actually drawing him into a strange thing, but he doesn't know it. And he starts talking to this young guy who says strange things to him, similar to what The Mystery Man says to Fred Madison."[3] Lynch recalls that the character, "came out of a feeling of a man who, whether real or not, gave the impression that he was supernatural."[5] Gifford describes the Mystery Man as "a product of Fred's imagination" and is "the first visible manifestation of Fred's madness."[2]

According to Lynch, the opening scene of the film where Fred Madison hears the words "Dick Laurent is dead" over his intercom really happened to him at his home.[3] During filming, Deborah Wuliger, the unit publicist, came upon the idea of a [6]


Lost Highway was shot in approximately 84 days; from November 29, 1995, until February 22, 1996, funded with a moderately large budget of $15 million from the French production company StudioCanal.[7] A vast majority of the film was shot in locations throughout California, in Los Angeles, with the desert scenes being filmed in Nevada. Lynch owns the property used for Fred and Renee's mansion, and designed it himself, along with most of the furniture.[3] The interior shots of the "Lost Highway Hotel" were filmed at the Amargosa Hotel in Death Valley, which is believed to be haunted.[3][8]

The first cut of the film ran just over two-and-a-half hours. After a screening with 50 people, Lynch cut out 25 minutes of footage, including a scene portraying Renee/Alice's autopsy.[3]

Lynch would later link the film to the O. J. Simpson murder case: a jealous man's state of mind who has indeed committed, and then denies, murder, even to himself.[9]


The film's score was composed by Angelo Badalamenti, with additional music by Barry Adamson.

For years, Trent Reznor had tried to contact Lynch to see if he would be interested in directing a video for his band, Nine Inch Nails, but had no success.[10] After his work on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, Reznor received a call asking if he would be interested in doing the same thing for Lost Highway. Reznor talked to Lynch on the phone and the filmmaker asked if he would also be interested in composing original music for the film.[10] Reznor agreed and Lynch traveled to New Orleans, where the musician was living, and together they created music that accompanied the scenes where Fred and Renee watch the mysterious video tapes, a brand new song called "The Perfect Drug", and "Driver Down", featured at the end of the film. Reznor also produced and assembled the soundtrack album.[10]

Lynch chose two songs by the German band Rammstein; "Heirate Mich" and "Rammstein". The band based the video for the latter song on this film. The majority of the video is made with clips from Lost Highway.

Interpretation and allusions

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek interprets the film's bipartite structure as exploiting "the opposition of two horrors: the phantasmatic horror of the nightmarish noir universe of perverse sex, betrayal, and murder, and the (perhaps much more unsettling) despair of our drab, alienated daily life of impotence and distrust".[11]

Mexican band Los Jaigüey is named after the film but has the words "mexicanised" so they fit Mexican culture.


Lost Highway premiered on February 27, 1997 in the United States on a limited theatrical release. The film received mixed reviews, with many critics criticizing the film for its hard-to-follow plot. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 60% based on reviews from 42 critics, with an average rating of 6.1 out of 10.[12] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 52 based on 21 reviews.[13]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs down" – though Lynch used this to his advantage by claiming it was "two more great reasons to see Lost Highway." This 'two thumbs down' was used in newspaper ads.[14]

The film also received critical acclaim, with the Dallas Observer claiming it to be better than both Wild at Heart (1990) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992): "His most thoroughly surreal work since Eraserhead, this two-hour-plus fever dream is more of one piece than Fire Walk with Me and less desperate and jokey than Wild at Heart."[15]

The film was nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

Home media

The film was released on DVD in Canada in 2003 through Seville Pictures in a pan & scan format and featuring a lackluster print lifted from VHS. It was later released on DVD in the United States on March 25, 2008 through Universal Studios' Focus Features label, presented in anamorphic widescreen in the proper 2.35:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It was also released on laserdisc in its proper aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (letterboxed). The film has been released on DVD in Australia numerous times—first by Shock Records in 2001, followed by mk2 in 2007, and again by Madman Entertainment on February 8, 2012.


  • The binomial nomenclature for the flame-shaped plants that can be seen in Fred's living room is Sansevieria trifasciata var. laurentii. It is unknown whether the reference to the character Dick Laurent was intentional or accidental.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ David, Anna (November, 2001). "Twin Piques", Premiere Magazine, 15 (3), p. 80–81.
  8. ^ Mulvihill, John. "Lost Highway Hotel"
  9. ^
  10. ^ a b c
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Marcus, Greil. "The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice", Macmillan, 2007. p. 130 et seq.

External links

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