“I like to remember things my own way. How I remember them; not necessarily the way they happened.”
Lost Highway is the work of David Lynch, a director well known for flouting conventional narrative rules.
The narrative structure in Lost Highway conveys the exploration of a characters sinister psyche and perception or reality. Scenes and edits flow from one space and time to another, ignoring the concept of linear temporality instead preferring a web of temporal dream states.
Contradictory plots and fragmented disconnected events work to reflect the breakdown of the character’s psyche.
The film begins as it ends. A single point of view shot showing a road driven over in a hazy, yet frenzied pace. The road itself represents the narrative; one surface yet with two edges. Two lanes representing two stories, each running parallel in different directions that are destined to never meet up.
The chaos of the image is juxtaposed with David Bowie’s languid and eerie “I’m Deranged”. This disparity in visual and auditory cues is an element of film form that introduces and sets a thematic precedent of instability.
As evidenced by the introduction, we the viewers are being placed inside the contortions of an unhinged psyche. From the outset, elements of form and narrative are highly stylized around the protagonist’s volatility, paranoia of emasculation and an evident identity crisis.
The theme of emasculation is underscored by the use of patriarchal characters and settings drawn from traditional film noir, most forcefully by the infamous femme fatale.
The femme fatale is a highly sexualised woman, even in domestic, everyday situations; she is the figure of danger and unattainable desire. In the beginning of the film she is dressed seductively in black, representative of a black widow spider. Later on, she is the epitome of a Jessica Rabbit type blonde bombshell, equally seductive and dangerous. Camera shots linger on her most sensual, sexual assets. Her long legs and platform fetish stilettos are emphasized by shots of her from behind. There are shots directing attention to her hands fringed with black/white nail polish and extreme close ups of her red full lips, as she speaks seductively, sometimes barely audibly, in honey oxygenated tones. Her red lips reminiscent of the poisoned red apple and Eve.
Her role propels the narrative by commanding and dominating the male character; this intern confirms his paranoia and insecurities.
Shots of Renee/Alice are distinctly voyeuristic, when she removes her robe; she does so in a manner that suggests that she is posing for the camera. In the scene where Alice is forced to perform a strip tease in front of Mr. Eddy, camera angles and shots make us feel awkwardly and yet completely aware that we are also participants in her exploitation.
The first shot of the male protagonist – Fred/Pete, is an extreme close up, almost claustrophobic. We learn through this shot that this is his story. Each close up that follows maximises an expression of elevating anxiety and an unveiling grasp on reality.
In one shot, we see Fred wandering broodingly down an endless hallway covered in red velvet drapes. The shot is darkly lit with Fred eventually disappearing, consumed by darkness. The gloomy shading and low lighting in this shot elicit the fear of the entering the unknown.
Fred’s point of view (P.O.V) shots show camera lenses being shifted to create a hazy, psychedelic effect.
These shots not only contribute a dreamy, surreal quality to the film, but they force the viewer to think about his disjointed perception, and ultimately his state of mind.
These shots help communicate the idea that we have entered into the mind of a character, a rather unstable character. We are meant to be disturbed by the film, to feel just as unhinged as Fred/Pete.
The relationship between Fred and Renee is represented stylistically and metaphorically through mise en scene. Their home is a sparsely furnished apartment with blank walls and retro-inspired furniture. Everything is a sort of muddy brown. Nothing with bright colours exists. The windows in the home shut out as much natural light as possible. There is low lighting and dark, deep shadows on the walls. Everything is minimalist. Dialogue is carefully chosen with silence a technique that directly speaks of the distance between Fred and Renee.
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Shots encourage this sense of disconnection, both characters tend to be framed individually, rather that in the same shot. In frames where both are present, body language and placement of characters reflect an awkward distance or uneasy proximity. Eye lines in shot reverse shots are mismatched and both display the opposite of emotions. There is no unity in their relationship.
Sound is used throughout the film as a means of emoting, connecting or disrupting the narrative flow. In an earlier scene at the club where Fred is performing, the manic insanity of the saxophone he is playing depicts the build up of anxiety and rage. The same sound is later heard on a radio in a garage scene, this causes the alternate persona Pete to clutch his head in pain and annoyance.
The sound of a saxophone connects us to the parallel storyline of Fred and at the same time denotes the disintegration of Pete’s reality.
Silence played such a large role in creating mood in Lost Highway, when ordinary, yet amplified sound interrupts the silence, it created a startle effect. A shot and sound of a humming ceiling fan, or the ring of a telephone would feel alarming, and rightly so since both turned out to be signals of imminent threat.
The film lends much to the use of duplicity, characters; such as the femme fatale, played by the same actress, who is Renee in one reality and Alice in the next, the male protagonist who is split into two different identities, Fred & Pete. There is the doubling of cops/detectives, saxophones, dogs and room 26’s. This tactic reinforces the parallel; we fell as if something is familiar.
The use of doubles is a traditional convention of dream like realities that can be seen as far back as characters from the Wizard of Oz. Characters in Kansas are reused in the land of Oz, albeit in different form.
Whilst duplicity of characters and motifs are commonly used to suggest an alternative existence, so to is the use of lighting and colour.
Lighting plays a major role in staging the contrast between the 2 realities. In the Wizard of Oz, bright, loud colours and lighting are used to depict the wonderland of Oz in contrast to black and white scenes in Kansas.
In Lost Highway the world of Fred and Renee is darkly lit with murky tones in direct contrast to the often incandescent scenes belonging to the world of Alice and Pete.
Lighting is also used to emote the perceptions and internal struggles of the protagonist. Various flashes of fury that punctuate the narrative offer a glimpse into his internalised rage. For example, the intensity of the jail cell light bulb, the very creepy omnipresence of the “mystery man” and the hallucinations of a cabin in the desert exploding in flames.
In a scene near the end where Pete is faltering down a hallway suffering hallucinations, red filters and pulsating music are used to increase the disorienting effect
These accompanying flashes of lightning and disorientated visuals are all evidence that Fred/Pete’s mind
is spinning wildly out of control.
As the movie concludes, exactly where it begins, we are lead to believe that what we have just viewed is set to repeat itself. Another round on the mobius strip.
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