Lost Highway (film)

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Lost Highway
Theatrical release poster
Directed by David Lynch
Produced by Mary Sweeney
Tom Sternberg
Deepak Nayar
Written by David Lynch
Barry Gifford
Starring Bill Pullman
Patricia Arquette
Balthazar Getty
Music by Angelo Badalamenti
Cinematography Peter Deming
Edited by Mary Sweeney
Ciby 2000
Asymmetrical Productions
Distributed by October Films
Release dates
  • February 21, 1997 (1997-02-21)
Running time
134 minutes[1]
Country France
United States
Language English
Budget $15 million
Box office $3,675,201

Lost Highway is a 1997 French-American psychological thriller film written and directed by David Lynch. Blending elements of horror and neo-noir, the plot features Bill Pullman as a man convicted of the murder of his wife (Patricia Arquette), after which he inexplicably morphs into a young mechanic and begins leading a new life. The film features the last film appearances of Richard Pryor, Jack Nance, and Robert Blake, and is also notable for featuring the acting debut of Marilyn Manson.

Lynch co-wrote the screenplay with Barry Gifford, whose novel served as the basis for Lynch's 1990 film Wild at Heart. Lynch conceived Lost Highway after the critical and box office failure of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), a film adaptation and follow-up to the widely successful cult television series Twin Peaks. Despite receiving mixed reviews upon release, the film has developed a cult following. In 2003, the film was adapted into an opera.


Fred Madison, a Los Angeles saxophonist, receives a message from an unknown man on the intercom at the front door of his house, saying, "Dick Laurent is dead." When he looks out his window, the streets outside his house are empty, and faint police sirens are heard in the distance.

Fred then plays his saxophone at a nightclub that night, but his wife Renée does not join him. Fred calls her at home during a break, but she does not answer the very loud telephone. Arriving home later, Fred sees Renée asleep in bed. The next morning, there is a mysterious package, on the front doorstep, containing a videotape of their home. One night, after the two have sex, Fred sees Renée's face as that of a pale old man. As the days pass, more tapes arrive, showing the interior of their house and even shots of them asleep in bed. Fred and Renée call the police, and the detectives say they will keep an eye on the house.

That evening, Fred and Renée go to a party held by Andy, a friend of Renée. There, Fred meets a Mystery Man who looks like the face Fred had seen some nights before. The Mystery Man tells Fred that he is at Fred's house at that moment. Fred phones his house, and the Mystery Man answers while he is standing right in front of Fred. Fred walks away and asks Andy who the Mystery Man is and is told that he is a friend of Dick Laurent. The next morning, another tape arrives; and Fred watches it alone. To his horror, it shows him killing Renée. He is arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Shortly after arriving on death row, Fred is plagued by frequent headaches and strange visions of the Mystery Man, a burning cabin in the desert, and a strange man driving down a dark highway.

One morning, during a routine cell check, the prison guards are shocked to find that the man in Fred's cell is not Fred. The man is discovered to be Pete Dayton, a young auto mechanic. Since Pete has committed no crime, he is released into the care of his parents, Bill and Candace, who take him home to Van Nuys. Pete is soon being followed by two detectives to find out how he ended up in Fred's cell. The next day, Pete returns to work at the garage, where he is welcomed back by the owner Arnie and veteran mechanic Phil (Jack Nance). Pete is called on by gangster Mr. Eddy to fix his Mercedes 6.9. Mr. Eddy takes Pete for a drive, where Pete witnesses him wave on a tailgater and then ram the man's car, after which Mr. Eddy and two cohorts beat up the driver.

The next day, Mr. Eddy returns with his mistress, Alice Wakefield, and his Cadillac for Pete to repair. Later, Alice returns to the garage and invites Pete out for dinner. Soon, Pete and Alice begin a secret liaison, meeting at run-down motels every night. Alice begins to fear that Mr. Eddy suspects her and Pete of seeing each other and gets Pete to agree to a plan to steal money from her friend Andy so they can leave town. Alice reveals to Pete that Mr. Eddy is actually a porn producer named Dick Laurent and he forced her to do the films. After being confronted by his worried parents and receiving a threatening visit from Mr. Eddy and his associates at the garage, Pete enters Andy's house through a door left unlocked by Alice and, while searching the house, discovers a projector playing a porn film featuring her. Pete ambushes Andy and accidentally kills him, and he and Alice escape with the items stolen from Andy. Alice says she knows a man to whom they can sell the stolen items. They arrive at a cabin in the desert, where Alice seduces Pete.

Pete suddenly transforms back into Fred Madison, who searches the desert cabin and meets the Mystery Man, who tells Fred that Alice is actually Renee. Fred drives to the Lost Highway Hotel, where Mr. Eddy and Renee are having sex, and waits for Renee to exit the motel. After Renee leaves, Fred breaks into Mr. Eddy's room, grabs him and takes him away in his Mercedes to the desert, where Fred beats him up. The Mystery Man suddenly appears with a portable TV and shows Mr. Eddy that Fred knows he and Renee have been having an affair. The Mystery Man then shoots Mr. Eddy dead and whispers something to Fred. The Mystery Man disappears and Fred drives off in Mr. Eddy's Mercedes. Fred drives to his old house, buzzes the intercom and says "Dick Laurent is dead". The two detectives suddenly appear, and Fred runs back to his car and drives off with the detectives in close pursuit. As it gets dark, Fred speeds down the highway pursued by the police. Increasingly quick cuts and louder, more intense music show Fred, still driving and pursued, his face distorted and seemingly burnt, surrounded by flashing light, and the film ends abruptly, credits then appearing over the familiar image of the highway rushing by.


Blake, who portrayed The Mystery Man in the film, was responsible for the look and style of his character.[2] One day, he decided to cut his hair short, part it in the middle and apply Kabuki white make-up on his face. He then put on a black outfit and approached Lynch, who loved what he had done.[2] Years earlier, Loggia had expressed interest in playing the role of Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986). He showed up for an audition, unaware that Dennis Hopper had already been cast, and proceeded to wait for three hours, growing increasingly agitated. Upon seeing Lynch and learning of Hopper's casting, Loggia launched into a profanity-laden rant, which remained in Lynch's head for years as what would eventually become Mr. Eddy's road rage scene. Loggia, years later, received a phone call from Lynch requesting his performance for this film.

Lost Highway incorporates the last film performances of Blake, Jack Nance and Richard Pryor.



Lynch came across the phrase "lost highway" in Barry Gifford's Night People and mentioned to the writer how much he loved it as a title for a film.[3] Lynch suggested that they write a screenplay together. Gifford agreed and they began to brainstorm. Both men had their own different ideas of what the film should be and they ended up rejecting each other's and also their own.[3] On the last night of shooting Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Lynch was driving home and thought of the first third of Lost Highway all the way up to "the fist hitting Fred in the police station — to suddenly being in another place and not knowing how he got there or what is wrong."[3] He told Gifford and they began writing the screenplay. The two men realized early on that a transformation had to occur and another story developed which would have several links to the first story but also differ.[4] While they were writing the script, Lynch came up with an idea of a man and woman at a party and while they are there another, younger man is introduced who is "out of place, doesn't know anybody there, comes with a younger girl who knows a lot of the people. The girl is actually drawing him into a strange thing, but he doesn't know it. And he starts talking to this young guy who says strange things to him, similar to what The Mystery Man says to Fred Madison."[3] Lynch recalls that the character, "came out of a feeling of a man who, whether real or not, gave the impression that he was supernatural."[5] Gifford describes the Mystery Man as "a product of Fred's imagination" and is "the first visible manifestation of Fred's madness."[2]

According to Lynch, the opening scene of the film where Fred Madison hears the words "Dick Laurent is dead" over his intercom really happened to him at his home.[3] During filming, Deborah Wuliger, the unit publicist, came upon the idea of a psychogenic fugue which Lynch and Gifford subsequently incorporated into the film. Lynch recalls, "The person suffering from it creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything—they forget their past identity."[6]


Lost Highway was shot in approximately 84 days; from November 29, 1995, until February 22, 1996, funded with a moderately large budget of $15 million from the French production company StudioCanal.[7] A vast majority of the film was shot in locations throughout California, in Los Angeles, with the desert scenes being filmed in Nevada. Lynch owns the property used for Fred and Renee's mansion, and designed it himself, along with most of the furniture.[3] The interior shots of the "Lost Highway Hotel" were filmed at the Amargosa Hotel in Death Valley, which is believed to be haunted.[3][8]

The first cut of the film ran just over two-and-a-half hours. After a screening with 50 people, Lynch cut out 25 minutes of footage, including a scene portraying Renee/Alice's autopsy.[3]

Lynch would later link the film to the O. J. Simpson murder case: a jealous man's state of mind who has indeed committed, and then denies, murder, even to himself.[9]


The film's score was composed by Angelo Badalamenti, with additional music by Barry Adamson.

For years, Trent Reznor had tried to contact Lynch to see if he would be interested in directing a video for his band, Nine Inch Nails, but had no success.[10] After his work on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, Reznor received a call asking if he would be interested in doing the same thing for Lost Highway. Reznor talked to Lynch on the phone and the filmmaker asked if he would also be interested in composing original music for the film.[10] Reznor agreed and Lynch traveled to New Orleans, where the musician was living, and together they created music that accompanied the scenes where Fred and Renee watch the mysterious video tapes, a brand new song called "The Perfect Drug", and "Driver Down", featured at the end of the film. Reznor also produced and assembled the soundtrack album.[10]

Lynch chose two songs by the German band Rammstein; "Heirate Mich" and "Rammstein". The band based the video for the latter song on this film. The majority of the video is made with clips from Lost Highway.

Interpretation and allusions[edit]

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek interprets the film's bipartite structure as exploiting "the opposition of two horrors: the phantasmatic horror of the nightmarish noir universe of perverse sex, betrayal, and murder, and the (perhaps much more unsettling) despair of our drab, alienated daily life of impotence and distrust".[11]

Mexican band Los Jaigüey is named after the film but has the words "mexicanised" so they fit Mexican culture.


Lost Highway premiered on February 27, 1997 in the United States on a limited theatrical release. The film received mixed reviews, with many critics panning the film for its hard-to-follow plot. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 60% based on reviews from 42 critics, with an average rating of 6.1 out of 10.[12] Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 52 based on 21 reviews.[13]

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert gave the film "two thumbs down" — though Lynch used this to his advantage by claiming it was "two more great reasons to see Lost Highway." This 'two thumbs down' was used in newspaper ads.[14]

The film also received critical acclaim, with the Dallas Observer claiming it to be better than both Wild at Heart (1990) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992): "His most thoroughly surreal work since Eraserhead, this two-hour-plus fever dream is more of one piece than Fire Walk with Me and less desperate and jokey than Wild at Heart."[15]

The film was nominated for the prestigious Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD in Canada in 2003 through Seville Pictures in a pan & scan format and featuring a lackluster print lifted from VHS. It was later released on DVD in the United States on March 25, 2008 through Universal Studios' Focus Features label, presented in anamorphic widescreen in the proper 2.35:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. It was also released on laserdisc in its proper aspect ratio of 2.35:1 (letterboxed).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "LOST HIGHWAY (18)". British Board of Film Classification. February 2, 1997. Retrieved October 26, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Biodrowski, Steve (April 1997), "Lost Highway - Mystery Man", Cinefantastique 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Lynch, David; Gifford, Barry (1997), "Introduction, Funny How Secrets Travel", Lynch on Lynch, Faber & Faber 
  4. ^ Henry, Michael (November 1996). "The Moebius Strip - Conversation with David Lynch". Postif. 
  5. ^ Szebin, Frederick; Biodrowski, Steve (April 1997), David Lynch on "Lost Highway", Cinefantastique 
  6. ^ Swezey, Stuart (Winter 1997). "911 - David Lynch, Phone Home". Filmmaker. 
  7. ^ David, Anna (November, 2001). "Twin Piques", Premiere Magazine, 15 (3), p. 80–81.
  8. ^ Mulvihill, John. "Lost Highway Hotel"
  9. ^ Emerson, Jim (23 Jan 2007), "Take Mulholland Dr. to the Lost Highway, Inland Empire exit…", Chicago Sun-Times, retrieved 2012-08-07 
  10. ^ a b c Blackwell, Mark (February 1997). "Sharp Electronics". Raygun. 
  11. ^ Wilson, Emma (2006). Alain Resnais. Manchester University Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-7190-6406-6. 
  12. ^ "Lost Highway (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved June 17, 2007. 
  13. ^ "Lost Highway (1997): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved June 11, 2007. 
  14. ^ "Lost Highway promotional pictures". 
  15. ^ "Lost Highway film review". 
  16. ^ Marcus, Greil. "The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice", Macmillan, 2007. p. 130 et seq.

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