Lost Highway is a 1997 American psychological thriller film with elements of neo-noir. Written and directed by David Lynch, the film stars Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty and Robert Loggia. Lynch co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Gifford, who also wrote the novel that served as the basis for Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990). The film features the last film appearances of Richard Pryor and Jack Nance, as well as the most recent film to date for Robert Blake.
Lynch conceived Lost Highway after the critical and commercial disappointment of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), a film adaptation and follow-up to the widely successful cult television series Twin Peaks, co-created and co-produced by Lynch. In tradition of most of Lynch’s films, Lost Highway has a largely cryptic narrative. Lynch has also declined to offer an explanation of his intentions for the narrative; however, Lynch has stated that the film itself takes place “within the same universe” as Twin Peaks. Despite receiving mixed reviews upon initial release, the film has now developed a cult following.
Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a wealthy Los Angeles saxophonist who, after a long night’s work, receives a message from an unknown man on the intercom of the front door of his house saying, “Dick Laurent is dead.” When he looks out his window, police sirens are heard in the distance, but the streets outside his house are empty.
Fred then plays his saxophone at a nightclub that night where his beautiful, mysterious wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) does not join him. Fred calls his house during a break, but she does not answer. Arriving home later, Fred sees Renee asleep in bed and asks her where she was; she tells him that she never left the house all evening. Fred suspects that Renee may be cheating on him. One night, after the two have sex, Fred sees Renée’s face as that of a pale old man. The next morning, there is a mysterious package that arrives on the front doorstep containing a videotape of their home. As the days pass, more tapes arrive, showing the interior of their house and even shots of them in bed sleeping. Fred and Renee call the police, but the two detectives Al and Ed (John Roselius and Louis Eppolito) say that there’s nothing they can do about it.
That evening, Fred and Renee go out to a party held by Andy (Michael Massee), a band manager friend of Renee. There, Fred meets a Mystery Man (Robert Blake), who looks like the face Fred had seen on Renée some nights before, and he tells Fred that he is at his house right now. Fred phones his house and the voice of the Mystery Man answers at the house while he’s standing right in front of Fred. Fred walks away and asks Andy who the Mystery Man is and is told that he is a friend of Dick Laurent, a millionaire. Back home the next morning, another tape arrives and Fred watches it alone. To his horror it contains images of him killing Renee. He is then arrested for her murder. Tried, found guilty and sentenced to death, Fred is locked away on death row. Shortly after arriving, Fred is plagued by frequent headaches and is perplexed by strange visions of the Mystery Man, a burning cabin in the desert, and a strange man driving down a dark highway.
One morning, during a routine check of the cells, the prison guards are shocked to find that the man in Fred’s cell is not Fred. The man is discovered to be Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) a young auto mechanic. Pete is released into the care of his parents Bill and Candace (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) and taken home to their house in Van Nuys; at the same time, Pete is being followed by two detectives named Hank and Lou (Carl Sundstrom and John Soiari) to find out why and how Pete ended up in Fred Madison’s cell. Pete goes out that evening with his friends and his girlfriend Sheila (Natasha Gregson Wagner). 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 Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), a charming but hot-tempered gangster, to fix his Mercedes 6.9. Mr. Eddy takes Pete for a drive where Pete witnesses him wave a tailgater on, then ram into the tailgater’s car, after which Mr. Eddy and his two cohorts attack the driver. Pete goes out that evening with Sheila, who questions him on his moody behavior; they have a brief fight, but end the night by having sex.
The next day, Mr. Eddy returns with his beautiful mistress, Alice Wakefield (Arquette), and his Cadillac for Pete to repair. At the end of Pete’s shift, Alice invites him out for dinner. Soon, Pete and Alice begin a secret liaison, meeting at run-down motels every night. Alice begins to fear that Mr. Eddy suspects her and Pete of seeing each other and gets Pete to agree to a plan to steal money from her friend Andy so they can leave town. After being confronted by his worried parents and receiving a threatening visit from Mr. Eddy and his associates at the shop, Pete enters Andy’s house through a door left unlocked by Alice and, while searching the house, discovers a projector playing a porno film featuring her. Pete ambushes Andy and accidentally kills him, and he and Alice escape with the money. Arriving at a cabin in the desert, Alice reveals to Pete that Mr. Eddy is actually a porno producer named Dick Laurent and he forced her to do the tapes. Alice then seduces Pete and says, “You’ll never have me.”
Pete suddenly metamorphoses back into Fred Madison, who searches the desert cabin and meets the Mystery Man again with a video camera and tells Fred that Alice is actually Renee, and that if she said her name is Alice, then she is lying. Fred drives to the Lost Highway Hotel, where Mr. Eddy and Renee are having sex, and waits for Renee to exit the motel. After Renee leaves, Fred breaks into Mr. Eddy’s room, grabs him and takes him away in his Mercedes to the desert, where Fred beats him up. The Mystery Man suddenly appears with a portable TV and shows Mr. Eddy that Fred knows he and Renee 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 then drives to his house, buzzes the intercom and says “Dick Laurent is dead” — the message that he received earlier. The two detectives, Al and Ed, appear looking for Pete Dayton when they see Fred at the front door of his old house. Fred runs back to his car and drives off with the detectives in close pursuit. As it gets dark, Fred speeds down the lost highway pursued by the police as he enters a dark vortex.
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First Published: Feb 2, 2012 – Last Updated: Apr 15, 2013