Another Lynch film, I know. But I saw it for the first time last night and wanted to blog about it while it was still fresh in my memory. I’ll review a non-Lynch film one day, I promise…The film is sort of a spiritual predecessor to Mulholland Drive, and opens in a similar style- driving along a highway (see left) with a very effective and mood-setting soundtrack (the song in this case being David Bowie‘s I’m Deranged. In fact, the entire soundtrack (as with all Lynch films I’ve seen to date) works very well, the likes of Rammstein adding to the nightmarish freakishness of much of the film.
Having seen Mulholland Drive first, I could see how the ideas, motifs and structure of that film were a continuation of Lost Highway, could see how his style involved. However, the latter (made in 1997), though by all means a fascinating and original film, is by no means as sophisticated and complex as the former (made in 2001). Similar motifs in both films include the use of dark corridors and corners to heighten tension- as you cannot see what is lurking around the corner!, psychological breakdown and repression, relationship breakdowns; as well as common visual motifs such as Mulholland Drive (the highway) and in fact the same type of telephone is used in both films. The films also follow a similar structure: what Slavoj Žižek calls a “bipartite structure”, creating a contradictory storyline that can be very confusing. Without giving too much away, halfway or so through the film, everything changes and it no longer makes sense (at least, in the literal sense). In both films, the action of the film (can be interpreted to) represent(s) the psyche of the protagonists, in terms of dreams or hallucinations. An interesting comparison of both films can be found here.
The film begins with protagonist Fred Madison being told the cryptic words “Dick Laurent is dead” by an unseen visitor at the intercom. This directly ties into the end of the film (a satisfying full-circle at the ending, complete with a rehash of the opening credits and Bowie), but I won’t tell you how, because that would spoil all the fun! Another example of the postmodern nature of the film is the intense focus upon the inner character, his psychological state– mostly twisted and pathological. As in Mulholland Drive, the development of the protagonist is shown in the action of play; and the surreal, contradictory plot reflects the breakdown of the character’s psyche. The use of the device known as “unreliable narrator” means that we experience the events of the film through the protagonist’s phenomenological field, not from the objective, privileged perspective we are accustomed to.
In fact, it just occurred to me that this focus on the character and the inner (in Lynch’s case, SICK!) self is the polar opposite of Greek drama. This talk of characterisation affecting plot reminded me of the time we studied Euripides‘ Medea in Literature class and an essay I wrote on that, with reference to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, in which he states that characterisation is secondary to plot and significant insofar as it affects the latter. I found this really interesting, especially considering the way the medium of the fiction affects the story’s focus and the way it is told. For Euripides and other Greek dramatists, their plays were acted out in large auditoriums where the actors could not be seen closely and often wore masks (to make obvious their “mood”) and large gloves (to help accentuate gestures). In this setting, it would only be natural that the playwright would not be able to manipulate very many factors in the presentation of the play, so language and plot would be of utmost importance to communicate the message of the play. On the other hand, the medium of film, especially with special effects and the use of cinematography to influence the way the viewer responds to the film, gives the director an incredible level of control over the way the story is told and enables a complex exploration of characters and their psyches. (I’m well aware this paragraph is clumsy, but I’m tired and can’t be bothered making it more coherent- as long as you get the point that the postmodern focus on characterisation is the polar opposite of the prime importance of plot in ancient Greek drama).
A word of warning: Lost Highway is rated R18+ (in Australia) and features both quite a bit of sex (heterosexual this time) and a high level of violence. Otherwise, though not as good as Mulholland Drive (in my opinon), it is still very good and excellent to watch to see how Lynch’s filmmaking has evolved. Thrilling, suspenceful and completely bizarre throughout, Lost Highway is another fascinating piece of insanity from the twisted mind of David Lynch (again, I do promise to talk about a non-Lynch film one day…). 4 stars.