‘Lost Highway’ – David Lynch’s nightmarish odyssey on Criterion Channel

Lost Highway (1997) opens with a mysterious voice over an intercom that informs Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) that “Dick Laurent is dead.” When Fred looks outside, there’s nobody there, but there is a videotape left outside his door. It’s the beginning of an odyssey that sends Fred on a nightmarish odyssey

Fred is a tightly wound jazz musician whose suspicions and jealousies of his flirtatious young wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) seem to explode out of him in mad be-bop saxophone solos. As if on cue, a ghoulish mystery man in black with a pale complexion and heavy eyes (Robert Blake) appears, claiming to have met him before and twisting Fred’s grasp on reality with a demonic glee.

Before the film is even half over, Fred is sent to prison for murdering his—but did he? It’s not the last of the weird, fantastical mysteries that take over the story. How does the brooding young Pete (Balthazar Getty) suddenly appear in his death row cell? What happened the fateful night that has been blocked form Pete’s memory? Why does Arquette reappear, this time as the seductive blonde girlfriend of a brutal gangster named Mr. Eddie (Robert Loggia), and become a femme fatale pulling Pete into a conspiracy to murder? And who is Dick Laurent?

In one sense, Lost Highway is David Lynch’s return to Blue Velvet territory, but he’s created a whole new paradigm in this film that reappears in Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire: the terrible act against a loved one so transgressive it shatters reality and twists the world into a Mobius-strip of a psycho thriller. It’s a metaphysical mystery that defies literal explanation yet has a weird and haunting emotional and thematic logic to it, like a dream or a nightmare.

With its searing images, dark soundtrack produced by Trent Reznor (his first feature film soundtrack), and the damnedest tease of a narrative, Lost Highway is a wild ride of doubles and doppelgangers, time shifts, surreal images, and plot twists that will rattle around your mind long after the film is over.

The film was polarizing on its release, hailed by some critics as brilliant and trashed by others. After it was trounced by Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel on their TV review show Siskel & Ebert, a new poster embraced the “Two Thumbs Down” verdict as a badge of honor.

Lynch wrote the original screenplay with Barry Gifford, author of Wild at Heart, which Lynch brought to the screen in 1990. Natasha Gregson Wagner, Gary Busey, Richard Pryor, Henry Rollins, and Lynch regular Jack Nance costar.

Add to My List on Criterion Channel

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Lost Highway (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Lost Highway (Kino Lorber) [Blu-ray]
Lost Highway (The Criterion Collection) [4K UHD+Blu-ray]
Lost Highway [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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