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MRQE Top Critic

The Great Train Robbery

(review...)

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Lost Highway uses a technique that other films have used before; namely it starts and ends in the same place. But Lost Highway is not a loop; it is a Moebius strip, turning itself inside out before coming back to the beginning.

One part of the story involves a man who kills his wife (Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette); the other part of the story involves a young kid of a mechanic who gets caught up with a powerful mobster and his moll (Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, and Patricia Arquette, again).

Much debate has raged over the “plot” of this movie and every critic I have read so far has dismissed the connection between the stories as unsolvable. Later in the review I propose a solution to the story, as suggested by my dear sister.

Realizing before I went that I might not “get” the movie, I tried to keep an open mind while watching it. The first thing that struck me was that the characters were two dimensional. Pullman’s character — Fred Madison — lives in an expensive-looking house in what appears to be L.A. His job? He’s an avant-garde saxophone player. His wife Renee apparently does not work.

Forgive me for being cynical, but a saxophone player cannot make enough to afford a $300,000 house, let alone support two people, at least not without selling out. But then he wouldn’t be avant-garde, would he?

Okay. I can forgive the movie some 2-D characters. In fact, the dry, crisp 2-D cops were an amusing touch to the movie. I understood that the movie was not about characters but about mystery. There is one character who, though he may be 2-D, is very interesting. He is Mystery Man (Robert Blake) and he is extremely creepy. He has an evil intensity about him and somehow, he is part of the key to the connection between the two stories.

As I continued to watch I kept noticing how great the cinematography was. When movies switched from mostly black & white to mostly color, one of the greatest losses was the richness, depth, and texture of shadows. Bruce Kawin says in How Movies Work, “In color, shadows are in danger of being washed out or of appearing as patches of muted color.” Lost Highway has neither problem. Lynch and cinematographer Peter Deming have taken control of light and created a film with the range of color and the depth of black & white.

A few examples spring to mind. Early in the film, Fred walks away from the camera down a dark hallway into the bathroom. He eventually disappears into the blackness of the screen. The shots of the highway at night make such a good use of black that you can’t tell where theater ends and the screen begins. When the cops are searching the Madison home, the orange walls show not muted tones of color, but clearly defined shadows.

As with Crash, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense by itself and some examination of the tone and emotion is required to appreciate what is happening. The tone of Lost Highway is set, not with music, like Crash, but with the visual elements of colors, textures, and shadows. The tone of Lost Highway is mysterious, vaguely ominous, and frightening by means of the unknown.

Without much in the way of a story, I still recommend this movie for its tone and its look. And if you like a good mystery, see the movie and try to piece it all together. I felt it wasn’t worth the effort to try to put it together when nobody has come up with an “answer.”

Having said that, let me present my sister’s interpretation of the “plot.” If you think she’s got something here, or if you know why she can’t be right, please email me your comments. I’ll publish any responses I get in this review. Here’s the theory of how the story works in a literal chronology.

The literal story starts when Renee/Alice (she’s the same person) is forced to strip for Mr. Eddy at gunpoint. She realizes she likes it and gets sucked into the world of pornography and violence. Notice that she and Mr. Eddy are making out at a party, watching a “death porn” film.

She is later introduced to Pete (the young mechanic), whom she seduces, uses, and kills. She kills him when they both arrive at the burning beach house with Mystery Man. Mystery Man represents murderousness; he embodies the ability to commit murder (“I don’t go where I’m not invited”).

Alice becomes Renee, seduces Fred, and marries him. She says the same line to him that she said to Pete (something about getting a job; “just a job” at a certain club). Fred looks into this (though not on screen) and learns that his wife is not only a porn star, but that she is a monster who uses men, seduces them, and kills them. In a way, Fred is a victim, just like his Moebius-strip counterpart Pete. But Fred catches on to her game and sets out to murder his monster of a wife (he meets the Mystery Man at the party; he is ready to commit murder). He carries out his deed and is sentenced to death.

At the end of the movie (not the timeline) Fred speaks in the intercom to Renee that Dick Laurent is dead. He’s really saying: “I’m on to you; I know what you are and I have put a stop to it.”

I can think of one unanswered question if this is the “solution”; when did he kill his wife, relative to when he killed Mr. Eddie/Dick Laurent? Still, this could be a small detail in the larger picture. Also, other stylistic elements must be discarded as red herrings, but I think she’s on to something here.

Let me know what you think.

Craig Tataryn: Actually that sounded alright, but Fred himself, at the beginning of the movie is the one who hears the words “Dick Laurent is dead”, not RENEE. This film is by no means supposed to be interpreted as a one life, linear non-overlapping time frame sort of film. I believe (as well as my friend) that the point in which RENEE takes or does not take “the Job” serves as the crossroad between two possible worlds. When RENEE takes the job, this spawns one of the worlds, thus one of the timelines, that is the one of the kid. The world in which RENEE didn’t take the job spawns the world that Fred knows. Somehow Fred is trapped in both worlds, and his parallel identity is that of the young man’s.

Bryant Frazer: I think that I would have to see Lost Highway more times than I care to in order to puzzle out exactly what is going on. Makes Twelve Monkeys look like Jury Duty.

“meathook”: My interpretation is that Fred did kill his wife, but he can’t and won’t admit to it. Therefore, he imagines himself as a garage mechanic working for a mob boss (Robert Loggia) who’s been having an affair with Fred’s wife, only she’s blonde and more dangerous. At the end of the film, he becomes another person, and the moral is that this mind trip will go on and on until Fred accepts what he has done. The Mystery Man does not really exist, he is sort of a guide for Fred’s mental state. This film is as close to the internal state of mind as anything I have ever seen.

Daniel van Herk: What I thought about ‘Mystery Man’ Robert Blake was that he is a character that represents Death. You know, the man usually with a scythe, also in black (always a MiB), just like the B&W guy that escaped from the movie in Last Action Hero.

My thought is that Death is invited to Fred’s house because Fred is going to kill his wife. That is also why you see his face in Renee’s silhouette in Fred’s dream.

Another possible explanation for the story: Renee got that ‘job’ and while leading her life as Alice in the world of Mr. Eddy etc. she builds up a ‘normal’ life with Fred. When he thinks she is two timing him, she is actually being Alice (Blake: “There is no Alice, only Renee. If she said her name is Alice, she was lying.” So its just one girl).

Fred never killed Renee, you only saw it on a bad quality tape (not hard for Mr. Eddy & his film crew), so he gets convicted (no body found, because Renee is now walking around as Alice, blond). On death row he turns into Pete (hey, its not a realistic movie!), gets released and is introduced to Alice’s world. When he opens a door in Andy’s house/Hotel LH you see Renee (brunette) asking him: “Is this what you wanted to see?” indicating that he knows Renee, not Alice whom he just got to know.

When he has sex with Alice, he tells her he wants her, the Alice version of Renee, and she tells him he can’t have her. He turns back into himself and jealously destroys Alice’s world by killing Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent.

Tell me what you think!