Strange Cinema: Lost Highway (1997)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Lost Highway (1997)
Director: David Lynch
Starring: Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, & Robert Blake

What’s it about?
Jazz saxophonist Fred Madison receives some strange home videos from an unknown source, gets framed for the murder of his wife, and subsequently transforms into a young mechanic while in jail.

Is it any good?
It should come as no surprise that most of David Lynch’s films appear on this list. The man is a master of bizarre filmmaking, and Lost Highway is one of his best films. As with most of his projects, the storyline is tough to follow, but upon first viewing, I would recommend just taking it all in and not trying to solve it. You’ll just get frustrated and won’t be able to enjoy the film.

Like with my other reviews, I won’t give you a detailed summary of the plot, but I will give you the basic structure of the film. Lost Highway is kind of set up as two different films. In the first half, Bill Pullman’s character tries to figure out who keeps sending him these stalker-ish videotapes of him and his wife. Once he watches the last tape (in which he appears to be killing his wife), everything speeds up and we’re suddenly seeing him sitting in a jail cell. But he’s actually transformed into another character at this point (because why not?), and the funny part is that everyone else notices that he’s a different person. The security guards basically say, “Well, this isn’t the same guy we locked up. Better let him go and not try to find the actual prisoner.”

Once the young mechanic character is released, the film has a slightly different tone. We’re thrust into suburbia instead of the mysterious film noir feel of the beginning, and it’s a pretty drastic shift. But Lynch keeps it together with parallel structure. Not only does The Mystery Man (or, as my friends and I referred to him, Creepy No-Eyebrows Guy) show up at key moments of the film, but Patricia Arquette’s character also appears in two different forms. After she’s apparently “killed” in the first half, a blonde-haired doppelgänger shows up and seduces the young mechanic who used to be Bill Pullman.

Now, Bill does show up again towards the end, but his demeanor is completely different from the beginning of the film. Lost Highway ends with Bill in a car chase, twisting madly in the driver’s seat like he’s about to break right in half. With this final scene (and some other clues along the way), it appears that Bill’s character is just insane and has developed a split personality. But then again, the security guards at the prison noticed that a different guy was sitting in the cell. So does he have the ability to transform into his alter ego any time he wants?

Lost Highway is very similar to a later Lynch film, Mulholland Drive (look for that review at a later date). Both films has identity shifts, but Lost Highway is a bit different because the two identities are never in the same scene together. This detail kind of strengthens the whole “split personality” theory, but with Lynch, it’s never that easy.

Grade: B+ (for successful experimentation in film noir, and a killer soundtrack)
Weirdness Score: 7.5/10 (or, weird enough to include Marilyn Manson as a porn star)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

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