Dick Laurent is dead...

Lost Highway

MPAA: Rated R for bizarre violent and sexual content, and for strong language.
                                                    ...and for the killer headache it will give you trying to figure it out.

Alright, it's time for another session of movie analysis with your easily confused, but eager-to-learn host, volfied. If you have not seen Lost Highway I would strongly reccomend you stop reading right now. Half the fun of movies like this is the mind-numbing confusion. Just like with Donnie Darko and Mulholland Drive, I got through Lost Highway and had no clue what I had just watched. I'm too used to thinking that what I see in a movie is actually happening. This is not a good viewpoint to assume when watching a David Lynch film. So, as is my wont, I sniffed around online and read various interpretations until I arrived at what seemed like a logical (if such a thing is possible with Lynch) explanation of the film.

The secret lies in the videotape. This is the one element that holds the key to unraveling this whole movie. In Lost Highway, video tapes do not lie, and that is why Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) hates them. The most critical line, though seemingly innocuous when it is delivered early on in the film, is the following:

Police: Do you own a video camera? Renee: No, Fred hates them. Fred: I like to remember things my own way. Police: What do you mean by that? Fred: How I remember them, not necessarily the way they happened.

Video tapes force you to confront the truth, and that is one thing Fred Madison is unwilling to do. This information leaves the bulk of the film open to interpretation. What is actually happening? Who is real and who isn't? How much of this is being made up by Fred and why? This much seems clear, well, okay... about as clear as mud, but it holds up to scrutiny:

Before Lost Highway
  • A younger Renee (Patricia Arquette) met Andy at Mulk's and was offered a job in Andy's pornographic films.
  • Through Andy, Renee became involved with Dick Laurent (Robert Loggia), a powerful and domineering gangster.
  • Renee met Fred, and the two fell in love and married, though Fred knew nothing of Renee's involvement with Andy and Laurent.
  • Renee continued to see Laurent because she feared his anger and could not break away from him.

The Beginning of Lost Highway

  • Fred begins to suspect Renee's infidelity as the spark leaves their marriage. His suspicions are confirmed when he calls home and no one answers, then later sees her at the club with Andy.
  • Fred follows Renee. He finds his wife with Laurent in Room 26 of the Lost Highway Motel.
  • After Renee leaves, Fred captures Laurent and drives him out to the desert, where he kills him.

The Middle of Lost Highway

  • Fred and Renee attend a party at Andy's house where Fred lets slip that Laurent is dead, a fact which no one else knows yet.
  • To cover up his blunder, Fred returns to Andy's house and kills him.
  • Fred returns home and, in a fit of jealous rage, kills Renee.
  • Fred is arrested for the murders.

The End of Lost Highway

  • Fred is tried and sentenced to death.
  • In his cell, Fred awaits his execution and becomes more and more overwrought by what he has done.
  • Just as the switch is flipped on the electric chair, Fred escapes to a fantasy world of his own creation, a psychogenic fugue.
  • His fantasy unravels and, just as the last of the electricity courses through him, he finally accepts what he has done.

While 95% of the movie is pure fabrication, the latter half is Fred's fevered imaginings while in his death throes, in which he attempts to legitimize the murder of his wife. In this fantasy world Fred conjures up, he assumes the role of Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a bold, young auto mechanic, while Renee becomes Alice, once more the gangster's dame. Dick Laurent is known as Mr. Eddy. Fred's character is no longer being cheated on. Now, Mr. Eddy is the cuckold and Fred/Pete gets the girl.

Things go well for a while, but reality begins to take hold in Fred's mind. The first we see of the real world breaking through is when Pete changes the radio from the jarring saxophone solo played by Fred early on in the movie, saying he doesn't like it, but it only gets worse from there. Pete begins to suffer the same headaches Fred complained of in his cell. He comes to distrust Alice more and more as she asks him to rob Andy so they can escape with plenty of money. The robbery goes awry and Pete's nose begins bleeding profusely once he sees Alice in the snuff film projected onto the wall. As he goes to clean up, he finds himself in the hallway of the Lost Highway Motel, and in Room 26 he is forced to confront her past yet again.

The two drive out to the desert where, just after an empassioned coupling on the rough sands, Alice tells Pete, "You'll never have me", and the entire fantasy falls apart. Pete becomes Fred once more and we snap back to the murder of Dick Laurent. Fred returns to his home where he uses the intercom to inform himself that "Dick Laurent is dead", symbolising his acceptance of his actions. He is then chased by the police down the highway. The dream, the movie and Fred's life all come to an end.

The fact that the movie begins and ends with the line "Dick Laurent is dead" is simply one of Lynch's little twists. The movie was not actually cyclical. Both times it was said were imagined by Fred. It is simply a reminder to the audience not to think of the movie in a linear fashion.

But what of the Mystery Man (Robert Blake)? He seemed so important! Well, in a way, he was. He was the driving force behind all of Fred's murderous rage. As you see, however, it is possible to explain the movie without mentioning him once. This is because he is not a real, physical character. The Mystery Man is the personification of Fred's jealousy. He makes his entrance as Fred and Renee's marriage begins to fall apart. He reappears in the fantasy when Fred realizes he can't have Renee. He hands Fred the gun and knife that are used to kill Dick Laurent.

In the end, while the videotapes did not actually exist, everything Fred sees on them is the truth. They depict what he was willing to admit to himself. Fred gradually sees more and more of the tape as the movie progresses. Renee was involved in Andy's snuff films. Fred killed her and he couldn't cope with it until the bitter end. As the movie closes, he is chased down the dark highway of his mind by hordes of police, driving him back to reality to meet his fate.

...Dick Laurent is dead.

IMDB - imdb.com
Demystifying Lost Highway - mediacircus.net/lh.html