Lost Highway is a bizarre, psychical film that has mystified most. Reviews and analyses abound with endless questions and speculations that often fails to transcend the most basic levels of “Buddhism” and “dreamscape.” When connected with other David Lynch films, these elements are certainly present, but remaining on this level fail to plumb the depths of more esoteric motifs and symbols that even further integrate the Lynch canon. Indeed, the Lynch canon must be known in entirety before the individual works begin to reveal themselves.
Lost Highway is a convenient starting place for analyzing Lynch, as it initiates what a friend of mine aptly titles the “Hollywood trilogy,” comprising Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. In contrast to Wild at Heart or Blue Velvet, the “Hollywood trilogy” focuses on the dark side and corruption of the film industry. Many critics have pointed out these themes in Lynch, but there is a deeper level to the rabbit hole. Lynch films are not merely dreamy zen meditations on Americana and film, but long, dark journeys into the dark side of the unconscious that envelop the viewer in something more ominous than satire or tales of pulp crime. The Lynch viewer is shown a profound, surrealistic revelation of the dark side of something much more ancient, functioning like a shamanic journey into cosmic, primeval mysteries.
The best description for Lost Highway is Neo-noir occult psycho-drama. The telling of the story is non-linear, yet influenced heavily by classic 1940s (date) Noir. Lost Highway is influenced by zen philosophy and Jungian dreamscapes, but as for the deeper occult elements, it’s necessary to understand why the stories are presented in a interlinking duality, as they are in Mulholland Drive. Zen philosophy is concerned with duality and its transcendence, as ultimate principles, as well as with the individual’s particularized psyche, and its relation to the whole of reality. Zen is therefore a quasi-religious philosophy concentrated on ultimate metaphysical principles, known in philosophy historically as the problem of the one and the many. For Lynch, these philosophical questions are not just abstract philosophy, but also relate directly to the psyche in its conscious and unconscious/sleep states.
The opening credit scene is a car racing down an ominous dark highway which will be our first clue to the ultimate meaning, as this is also the final scene. The highway will represent the mental stream of consciousness Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is experiencing, as the truth of his life and actions begin to manifest in this cyclical dreamworld. Fred is on a journey into madness – into his subconscious, as he suppresses his guilt for murder. The murder of his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette) and two others due to his vengeful jealousy has led to a dissociation and split in his consciousness, as well as his darker side becoming possessed.