Directed by David Lynch

Starring Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Robert Blake, Robert Loggia, Balthazar Getty, & Gary Busey.

With Henry Rollins & Marilyn Manson.

"Lost Highway"

Opened: Friday, February 28, 1997 | Rated: R

David Lynch likes to paint himself into a surrealistic corner then disappear, leaving the audience holding the paintbrush. His movies are, to say the least, open to interpretation.

His latest non-linear soiree into delusional dreamscapes is "Lost Highway," a movie that pulls its audience down a rabbit's hole that changes character with every reel -- literally.

Bill Pullman plays a jazz saxophonist who arbitrarily turns into a angst-ridden teen tough (Balthazar Getty) part way through the film. Just poof! Well, maybe not "poof" -- it's more like reeling, squirming and twisting in some kind of nightmare then he wakes up as somebody else.

Patricia Arquette plays his sultry, melancholy wife, who also changes characters -- she plays two different bombshells, who, depending on your point of view, may be the same woman after all.

I have to admit, I don't rightly know what's going on in "Lost Highway." But this is the only Lynch film I've seen in which he doesn't hit his audience over the head with an image while shouting "Symbolism! Don't you get it?"

This time he's speaking in tongues, and while he doesn't make much sense, he creates a agitated, paranoid, moody atmosphere that is pregnant with possible interpretations. In other words, I liked it, but I'm at a loss to explain it.

Opening with Pullman and Arquette living a subdued, almost morose, life in the Los Angeles hills, Lynch creates thick tension early on out of nothing but the anticipation that this uncomfortable stillness can't last.

He dallies around their lives for a while, unsettling us with hints of the weirdness to come. Someone is leaving videotapes on their doorstep -- grainy, black and white videos from inside their home, one of which shows them sleeping in bed.

Lynch then slowly unrolls the creepy bits. At a party, Pullman is approached by pasty spook (Robert Blake) who insists that Pullman call home -- where the pasty guy, who is still standing in front of him, answers the phone.

Blake may or may not have something to do with the videos, which take the story in a whole new direction when the last tape left on the step shows Pullman killing his wife, something he has no recollection of doing.

When questioned about the videos, Pullman says he doesn't even own a camera, preferring to "remember things as I remember them, not as they really are." This is the only hint Lynch gives as to where his warped neo-noir incubus might be coming from.

In prison Pullman suddenly becomes Getty -- not the same man in a different body, but literally a different person all together. Getty's parents (Gary Busey and Lucy Butler) are called to retrieve this kid who inexplicably turns up in Pullman's cell.

The kid doesn't remember what happened, but his folks say earlier that night he came home with some strange guy (Blake?) and something terrible happened that they refuse to elaborate on (Thanks a lot, Lynch!).

The kid works for a mobster who may also be two different people (Robert Loggia), and gets embroiled with the mobster's girl (Arquette's other role), who hints now and again at having lead another life. Later she is seen in a photo with her doppelganger from the first act.

After that things get a little strange.

"Lost Highway" will have art-film aficionados pumped on coffee and musing over it's meaning until the wee hours of the morning. Lynch's narrative is more elusive than ever and told with a absorbing tapestry of twists that cannot be expected or explained.

Equal parts intrigue and pulp, it is richly photographed with no more than three colors or textures in any one shot and punctuated by a driving soundtrack influenced by Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails. None of the actors break new ground, in fact Pullman is dangerously close to becoming typecast as a brooding guy who is tougher than he looks. But Lynch's characters are never the focus here, the focus is on the circumstances.

I said I have no idea what Lynch is saying with "Lost Highway," and I don't think Lynch does either. He teases us with near-explanations before rolling the credits, hoping we'll think he's so surreal and intellectual that he went over our heads.

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