This is my interpretation of “Lost Highway”, as originally posted on its IMDb message board on December 14, 1999, and ammended on December 6, 2000.
December 14, 1999:
So here’s my theory. It’s not the only and supreme theory. It’s just my theory. I’ve seen the movie 4 times. I’ve read the screenplay once. Based on all that, I’ve constructed a theory that is still not bulletproof, but I think it might be as close as one can get to the real truth.
The first thing a viewer must understand about the movie is that the plot is not linear. I believe the whole “Dick Laurent is dead” loop trick is done just to point this out (and of course, to confuse everyone a bit more). The second thing you must understand is that the movie is not told from an all-knowing narrator’s point of view. The POV from which the story is told is Fred’s and his reality in the movie becomes our reality.
The most interesting point in the movie is the one when the cops first visit the Madisons house and they talk to Fred. When they ask Fred if he has any camcorders in his house, he replies that he doesn’t because “he likes to remember things his own way”. A key point. Remember: Fred’s POV.
Now I will present my version of the plot. I will explain everything cronologically as it really happened. You will be able to figure out how most of the events were described in the movie, but that’s a whole different story which may require a whole new post.
So here we go…
Fred and Renee Madison have been married only for a short time. Fred is a calm, quiet, reserved kind of guy. Renee is a woman who has a wild past, but who has for some, to us unknown, reason decided to marry a guy like Fred. So maybe their marriage was happy in the beginning, but after a while Fred started getting more and more jealous and uneasy about Renee’s past (of which he knows little about, but has some serious doubts).
We enter the story at a point when their marriage is not really doing that great. Fred spends a lot of time with his music, Renee shows little or no interest at all for him or his activities. Their sex life sucks – Fred is not exactly the best lover, and Renee is not exactly the happy and willing wife either. Renee hangs around really freaky characters, probably gangsters, drug dealers, porn producers. This really makes Fred wonder about Renee’s past. Fred starts to get increasingly jealous of his wife. He thinks she is sleeping with another guy, possibly one of her strange friends (remember when he sees her leave the jazz bar with Andy). It seems to him like he has lost his wife – she was once his, but he can now feel her slowly slip away.
One night Fred decides to follow his wife. He follows her to a motel, a place called “Lost Highway Hotel”. He follows her to a room #26 so he decides to take the room opposite to #26, room #25. (Mind that I’m now just making up these room numbers, they are mentioned twice in the movie). In room #26 Renee meets with a man that Fred has seen before at one of the parties – his name is Dick Laurent, he’s a notorius mafioso. After they have sex, Renee leaves the hotel. Fred waits until she’s gone, breaks into Laurent’s room, drags him out of the hotel, puts him in the trunk of his car and drives off to the desert. There he kills Dick Laurent with his gun and leaves his body in the desert.
A few days pass since the murder. Laurent’s body is not found yet, because, of course, it’s somewhere in the middle of the damn desert. Fred and Renee go to one of her friend’s parties and Fred engages in a conversation with Andy. After Andy mentions Laurent’s, Fred accidentally blurs out “Isn’t Laurent dead?”, to which Andy replies “How do you know he’s dead?”, and then, as if realizing that Laurent is gone and he really could be dead, he asks Fred “Who told you he was dead?!?”
Fred and Rene leave the party and go home. That very same night (or it might be the next night), Fred goes back to Andy’s house and kills Andy by throwing him at the edge of a glass table. Why? Perhaps to cover up for his stupid give away earlier that night, or perhaps because of jealousy (he thinks Renee is sleeping with Andy too).
Fred realizes that the only way out of the whole mess now is to go all the way and eliminate the root of his problems, the only woman he could never have – his wife Renee. So he goes back home and brutally murders his wife (the screenplay mentions that her body was chopped up into pieces).
The next morning, the police arrive at Andy’s house and find Fred’s fingerprints all over the place (don’t be confused by the fact that the cops say how “the place is full of Pete’s fingerprints”). The movie actually begins with the following scece: we find Fred sitting in his apartment, after he just murdered his wife, when he sees the cops coming. He gets into his car and starts running away from the cops. These are the last scenes in the movie, but this is not the end of the story. We’re actually right around the middle. 🙂
Fred is caught. He is put on trial (we never really find out what he’s guilty of, right? He might be in jail for a triple murder!) and sentenced to death in the electric chair. His is put on death row. As he’s waiting for his death penalty, he increasingly becomes aware of how serious his crime is and he begins feeling remorse and guilt for killing his wife. The feeling of guilt starts to haunt him. His conscience really starts giving him a hard time, he cannot escape the fact that he has murdered his wife. He even starts getting headaches.
And now, the most important point of my theory, ladies and gentlemen! Read carefully.
Fred does not disappear from the jail. He doesn’t even get sick and die in his jail cell.
Fred Madison dies in the electric chair. We are not told how much time he spent on death row, but it’s not impossible that he spent several months or years there. And the moment of his execution finally came.
And as he’s sitting in the electric chair and thousands of volts are beggining to fry his body, Fred decides to escape to the only place he has left – his own imagination.
And so he transforms into a young man called Pete Dayton. Pete Dayton is everything Fred Madison isn’t. He’s young, good looking, very macho, has a sexy young girlfriend, excellent in bed, works at a car shop (how much more macho can a man get?) and even has important connections with some very influential people. Pete and Fred have absolutely nothing in common.
We follow Pete’s life for a while. A perfectly normal life, nice parents, nice job, nice girlfriend. Everything that Fred would want, right? The problem is that Fred’s guilty conscience fools him and plays a trick on him. Fred cannot escape his guilt even in his own fantasies, so slowly, but surely, his real life starts taking over.
First we see the character of Dick Laurent come into his fantasy under the name of Mr. Eddy. There’s still nothing wrong there, in fact, Pete seems very proud to know Mr. Eddy. But than SHE comes in. Renee comes back as Alice. She is Fred/Pete’s object of desire. She is his greatest temptation, but at the same time, she is his own destruction. Perfectly open and promiscuous, but at the same time completely unatainable.
As Pete gets more seriously involved with Alice, his real life, his conscience really starts to take over. Suddenly his girlfriend and parents start reffering to some “terrible thing” that happened the night he disapperead (this one is really debatable, but couldn’t the “terrible thing” be the murder of his wife?) and Alice starts to resemble Renee even more. Conversations start repeating themselves (“I met this guy at a place called Moke’s… He told me about a job…”). Even Alice’s past bares a striking similarity to Renee’s past (or it’s at least what Fred thinks of her past). And then, to mark the end of Pete’s idilic fantasy – she introduces a guy named Andy. Andy? Wow, even the names remain the same this time. Why? Because for then on what we see is not fantasy anymore – it’s his recollection of events that actually took place. And although it is Pete who goes to Andy’s house and kills him, we know now that it is actually Fred’s memory of the murder. As Pete goes to the bathroom upstairs, we see the hall from the “Lost Highway Hotel” again (first time in the movie), Renee having sex with Dick Laurent and all that.
Pete and Alice go to the desert and as they wait for some guy to show up, they make love. As Pete climaxes and cries out “I want you… I want you!”, Alice/Renee sends him the final message: “You will never have me.” And so Fred’s fantasy finally ends and it’s pure recollection from then on. The murder of Dick Laurent is shown exactly how it happened.
And so we reach the end of the movie. As the cops chase Fred across the desert, we see Fred’s face twist into a horrific painful expression, and as the blue lights fill the interior of the car, Fred disappears and we are left alone on the Lost Highway. Ladies and gentlemen, Fred Madison has died in the electric chair. What seemed to us (and him) like 60 minutes, was in fact just a few seconds during which electricity fried Fred Madison’s brain.
And that’s the plot. Plain and simple, eh? 🙂
Well, I feel it is my duty to explain some other things that go on in the movie. You’re probably thinking, “Who the hell is that Mystery Man”? In my humble opinion, the Mystery Man is no one other than Fred Madison. Or even better – his conscience. Think about it. Isn’t the Mystery Man around only when Fred/Pete is around? And who kills Laurent in the desert? Yes, the Mystery Man shoots the gun, but in whose hand is the gun after MM disappears? These are little details, but if I’m certain about one single thing in this movie, this is the one – Mystery Man and Fred Madison are the same person. Everything in the movie supports this.
What about the “Dick Laurent is dead” deal? Well, it might be there just to confuse everyone. I see no reason for this being in the story, and to tell you the truth, I don’t see any way of rationally explaining this. If you payed close attention to the movie, you would’ve also noticed that the voices at the begining and the end of the movie are different. First time we hear MM, and second time it’s Fred. I guess this goes to support the theory about MM. This might’ve been put in the movie just to point out the fact that the story is not linear.
I don’t think I’ve left out anything else. The burning house is purely symbolic and it represents some sort of “explosion of emotion” or something like that. The Mystery Man inside the house says it all.
Aha. I did leave out one thing. The only thing that doesn’t fit into my theory, or at least I haven’t figured out a way how to do it yet. The video tapes. The damn video tapes. How should we explain this? I don’t have a clue. They are not filmed by Fred, because he’s asleep in all of them and in the last one he can be seen murdering his wife. Why would he film evidence of his own crime if he’s going to run away from the cops only hours later? Seriously, I don’t have a clue who filmed those tapes. Could it be possible that the tapes don’t really exist? Perhaps they are also a reminder that things are not what they seem to be?
Well, that’s my Theory of Lost Highway. Thank you for reading.
” In the East… the far East… When a person is sentenced to death… they’re sent to a place where they can’t escape… never knowing when an executioner will step up from behind them and fire a bullet into the back of their head…”
December 6, 2000:
Anyway, my knowledge of “Lost Highway” has progressed since my last post and I’ve learned a few new things by watching the movie once or twice since then. When I was writing my theory, I explained everything in the movie fairly well (BTW, the idea of a psychogenic fugue was not familiar to me either), but I left out an important part: the videotapes. Well, I think I’ve got it figured out now (Thanks, Suzanne! :-)).
The tapes represent Fred’s gradual acknowledgement of the murder. His memory is rather surpressed and vague, so when the first tape arrives to his house, we can’t really see much except the front of the house. That’s about how much of the truth Fred acknowledges. He only sees their relationship as a marriage, but he won’t accept that they have problems.
As Fred’s flashback continues and he remembers more things about his marriage, he remembers thinking that his wife is cheating on him. We get a better insight into their private life, and so the next tape that arrives to their house shows a bit more: a staircase leading to a room and Fred and Rene sleeping in bed. This is when Fred finally remembers all the jealousy and problems he was experiencing with Rene.
As his flashback progresses, his memory leads up to the point when he murdered his wife, but that act has been wiped out from his memory. It is only after he receives the last tape that he realizes what he has done. The tape is the truth. The image is the truth, delivered by the camcorder Fred dislikes so much.
And there’s another thing I missed the last time… The dream that Fred had and tells Rene about, it is not a dream, but actually a vague memory of the murder. If you watch the film carefully, you’ll see that Fred’s dream matches the events of the night of the murder. He even wears the same clothes. He disappears into the darkness, she calls for him, he attacks her. Can’t believe I missed that before.
Well, that’s all I can think of right now. Unfortunately, the best solution I can still provide for the “Dick Laurent is dead!” mystery is: don’t worry about it; it was a trick Lynch tried to play on us, to make us think that the plot is eliptic (a loop). With that explained, I think we have the whole movie covered. 🙂