Thursday, February 14, 2008

lost highway

i don't know why it's taken me 10 years to see this film. the novelist david foster wallace wrote a good, longish piece about being on the set of david lynch's film which was published in wallace's essay collection a supposedly fun thing i'll never do again that i had read when that essay was first printed in a now-defunct movie magazine back in the mid-'90s. that's the thing about time i guess. i'm always picking up books or having the intention to watch films when they are released then realize that by the time i get to watching or reading them years have passed, and not the few months that it seemed to be.

so anyway, i watched this movie last night quite by accident. i turned the channel to ifc just as the starting credits were rolling. and sometimes, joel, you have to say, what the fuck.

visually arresting, with an unusual score of ambient sounds, lou reed, david bowie and the cocteau twins, the film is rather a non-story about a jazz musician who kills his wife. all the characters, played by bill pullman/balthazar getty, patricia arquette, robert blake, and robert loggia each have their doubles and often portray their characters with a dislocating lack of affect and a haunting violence. each person also has their double so that it seem that pullman/getty are the same person, as well as arquette who plays the cool, affectless wife, renee, and also the moll who's into kinky sex, alice. loggia is the gangster who seems to own alice as both the hyper-violent mr eddy and dick laurent.

so much for linear interpretation. it's nearly impossible to watch/read this movie without thinking in freudian, or lacanian as one critic frames an essay about highway, terms. in fact the character the mystery man played by blake appears to demand psychoanalysis. surely, the mystery man is the ego of pullman who later retreats from his crimes of killing both his wife and mr eddy/laurent.

and yet sometimes lynch's villains are very real and not the figment of a diseased mind. consider bob from lynch's tv series and film version of twin peaks. bob was a real malevolent spirit who did serious damage. so who is the mystery man? consider there is a scene near the end when alice and getty's character pete, who i think is indeed the figment of pullman's guilty conscious, fuck in the sand as 'the song to the siren' by the cocteau twins play. pete says, 'i want you' and when finished alice says, 'you can never have me', then disappears into the bungalow where both pete and alice are awaiting to fence some stolen items taken from yet another of alice's lovers who pete had just killed. pete thinks he's rescuing a damsel in distress but when he gets up off the sand he has turned back to pullman's character fred. remember fred was married to renee, now alice, and with whom he was sitting in a jail cell on death row for renee's murder. to get the point here, as fred walks into the bungalow he finds the mystery man with a video camera pointed at fred. he asks the mystery man, 'where is alice'? the mystery man says, 'her name is renee. and you, who the fuck are you'?!

by which we don't have the answer. who the fuck is anybody. yet, i can imagine the frustration made by this film on a lot of viewers because it does lack a linear narration. because lynch populated his movie with a lot of dream logic. because lynch refuses a system of relative easy classifications.

there is another scene i find haunting. after pete murders alice's lover andy - and the murder is designed and orchestrated by alice - he feels sick and asks to go to the bathroom. it is in this scene i think we find evidence of pullman's guilt for killing renee/alice. lynch explodes the score with a song by the german metal band ramstein as pete's eyesight is blitzkried by what i can only describe as hyper-kinetic video, his view is dessicated by blurs and freezing frames. pete opens the door to the bathroom to blood-red lighting he finds the raven-haired renee [alice is blonde] being fucked doggy-style. renee says, 'don't you want to talk to me. don't you wanna ask "whyyyy"'? the question she interpolates is both i think about her hyper-sexuality which in turn relates to her infidelity that had i think led fred to murder her.

it's a brilliant scene among a series of brilliant set pieces. and that is what lynch has achieved, a piece of cinema that is the sum of its parts. whether we are supposed to read this movie as a hard fact, a record of some seriously disturbed people much in the way of lynch's earlier blue velvet, or deep investigation of the shattered psyche of a condemned man is open to the interpretation for each viewer. what filmmaker david lynch has created is an unforgettable movie. i just can't believe i've waited 10 years to finally see it.


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