"Dick Laurent Is Dead" - Dissecting Lost Highway

"You'll Never Have Me" by @eclecticirie

Written by: David Lynch & Barry Gifford

Directed by: David Lynch

Original US Release Date: February 21, 1997

Starring: Bull Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia & Robert Blake

On a dreamy desert highway, sexual jealousy, rage and murderous intent weigh heavily on a deranged man's soul. 

Fred Madison smokes a cigarette at his house. His intercom buzzes. When Fred listens a voice says, "Dick Laurent is dead." In the distance police sirens blare. Off put, Fred starts looking out his window, but doesn't see anyone outside. Later Fred prepares for work. His wife Renee says she's not going to come to the club to see him play, because she's going to stay home and read. She tells him he can wake her up when he gets home. Then we cut to him playing the saxophone at his club the Luna Lounge. After his set, Fred uses the pay phone backstage to call Renee, but she doesn't answer. He seems upset. However when he returns home, Renee is soundly sleeping in bed.

The next morning Renee goes outside to pick up the newspaper and finds an envelope on the step. She opens it and finds a videotape inside. Fred asks who it's from, but there's no indication of who sent it. He pops it in the VCR and they watch it together. The tape shows a recording of the front of their house. Renee thinks it must be from a real estate agent. Later as Fred lays in bed he has a memory of seeing Renee leave the club during one of his sets with another man. Next to him, Renee undresses and gets into bed with him. They begin to have sex. During their love making Fred watches her closely. He seems to struggle sexually. During their encounter, the far off hum of 'Song to the Siren' can be heard. Renee pats him on the shoulder and whispers,"its okay." Fred has a look of humiliation, rolls off her and looks away. Renee stares off quietly. 

After Fred tells her about a dream he had of her the night before. He says he heard her calling his name from inside the house, but he couldn't find her. Then he says he saw her in bed, but it wasn't her, it only looked like her. Fred then wakes up. He looks and sees Renee's body, but the face of a scary man is transposed over hers. Then he wakes up again, seemingly having had a dream within a dream. Renee is next to him asking if he's alright.

The next morning Renee goes outside again and finds another envelope. Fred sees it and asks if Renee wants to watch it. He pops it in and sees it's more footage of their house from the outside, but also footage of the inside showing them sleeping in bed. Renee gets scared and calls the police. Later two detectives show up to watch the videotape. They look around the house and go into the bedroom. They ask if they own a video camera. Renee says no, because Fred hates them. Fred explains that he likes to remember things his own way. The detectives say they should try to use the alarm again, after Fred tells them they stopped using the alarm because it kept going off. After some more looking around, the detectives leave their cards and promise to keep an eye on their house. 

Original artwork by @eclecticirie
Fred and Renee attend a party at Andy's house, a friend of Renee's. She's drunk and asks Fred to get her another drink. He doesn't seem pleased, but goes to the bar and orders more drinks nonetheless. He takes two shots of Scotch and then is approached by a mysterious man dressed in all black. The man says, "We've met before, haven't we?" Fred says he doesn't think so. The mysterious man replies that they met at Fred's house. He also tells Fred he's at his house right now. Fred thinks that's "fucking" crazy. The man takes out a cell phone and tells Fred to call him at Fred's home number. Fred does so and hears the man's voice answer, "I told you I was here." He also tells Fred that he invited him there. Fred asks who he is. The man maniacally laughs in response. Then the voice on the phone says, "give me back my phone," and the man walks away. After Fred goes up to Andy and asks who that man is. Andy says he's a friend of Dick Laurent. Fred gets nervous and notes that Dick Laurent is dead. Renee takes sudden interest and asks, "who's dead?" Fred takes her aside and insists they need to leave.

On the car ride home Fred asks Renee how she knows Andy. She tells him she met Andy a long time ago and he told her about a job. When they pull up to their house, Fred sees a flash of light and shadows inside. He tells Renee to wait in the car. Then he goes to investigate. Inside the phone rings. Fred looks around in darkness, but doesn't see anything. He goes back outside to get Renee. Once inside, Renee goes to take her makeup off in the bathroom. Fred hears a noise and goes to investigate. He walks into a dark hallway and looks at himself in the mirror. Renee gets worried and calls out for him. Then we see Fred walk out of the darkness. 

Presumably the following day, Fred finds another video left at his door. He pops it in the VCR and watches alone. This time it's more footage of the outside of his house, then the inside leading up to his bedroom. Inside the bedroom is footage of Fred standing over Renee's brutally murdered body. He starts calling out to Renee panicked and the next thing he knows, Fred's being punched by the two detectives in an interrogation room. Fred is confused and pleads, "tell me I didn't kill her!"

Next we learn that Fred was convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair. We see him taken to his jail cell. Fred flashes to the bloody images of Renee on the videotape. Fred lays on his jail cell bed and stares up at the light above him. He has more flashes of Renee's dead body. Then we see him out in the courtyard. He falls to the ground and tells the guard there's something wrong with his head. They take him to the doctor. Fred tells the doctor he can't sleep after the doctor looks him over. The doctor gives him some pills and forces Fred to swallow. He says Fred will sleep now.

Later Fred yells for the guard while he tries to rest in his cell. He asks the guard (Henry Rollins) for some aspirin, but the guard ignores him. Then Fred hears music again (Song to the Siren) and has a vision of a burning cabin in the desert. He sees the Mystery man from the party walk out of the cabin door, look at him and walk back inside. Lights start to flash as Fred struggles and grabs his head. A younger man standing by a driveway appears and we hear people calling him Pete. It then flashes back to Fred, whose head is bulbous and bloody.

The next day the guard goes to look in Fred's jail cell and is startled. He gets the captain and they deduce that the person in Fred's cell isn't Fred. The guard says, "this is some spooky shit." Later we learn the person in Fred's cell is named Pete Dayton and he's a 24 year old man. Pete's parents arrive to pick him up and bring him back home. The police let Pete go, but keep an eye on him by staking out his house. 

The following day, Pete rests in the backyard while music plays. Pete gets up and looks into his neighbors backyard. There's a dog there and a baby pool with a sailboat floating in it. Later a group of Pete's friends stop by to see him and want to take him for a ride. Pete's dad (Gary Busey) thinks it will do him some good. His friends take Pete to a bowling alley/night club. Pete meets up with his girlfriend, Sheila, who says he's been acting strange lately. She wonders what happened to his face. Pete says he doesn't remember the other night. She asks if he still cares about her and they kiss.

The next day Pete goes to the Firestone garage where he works. He tells his boss (Richard Pryor) that he's ready to work. His boss says Mr. Eddy called. Outside the police keep watch. Later Mr. Eddy comes in and is anxious to see Pete. Mr. Eddy notices the wound on Pete's head and tells him if someone is bothering him he'll take care of them. After Mr. Eddy insists Pete take a ride with him, because he doesn't like the sound of something. While they drive Pete listens. Then he tells Mr. Eddy to pull over. Pete gets out, tweaks some gears under the hood and makes the car run perfectly smooth again.

Later an aggressive driver tailgates Mr. Eddy and beeps at him. Then the driver gives Mr. Eddy the finger while passing him. Mr. Eddy decides to run him off the road. Then he drags the man out of car and has his hit men point their guns at the driver. Mr. Eddy proceeds to berate and punch the driver. Mr. Eddy angrily insists the man learn how to drive and get a driver's manual. The driver fearfully sobs. Once back in the car, Mr. Eddy composes himself. He tells Pete he's sorry, but explains tailgating is one thing he can't tolerate. He drops Pete back at the Firestone, gives him money and offers him a porn tape. Pete takes the cash, but declines the porn. The cops watch from across the street and refer to Mr. Eddy as Laurent. 

At his house, Pete stares at himself in the mirror intently. Then he goes to pick up his girlfriend, Sheila, and takes her for a drive. They pull off to the side of the road while the cops follow at a discrete distance. Inside Pete's car, they kiss and she asks why he doesn't like her. Pete says he does like her. Sheila then takes off her sweater and they end up having sex. 

The next day at the Firestone, Pete hears Fred's saxophone playing on the radio while he's working on a car. He doesn't like it and changes the station. His coworker (Jack Nance) isn't pleased because he liked that song. Mr. Eddy then drives in with his Cadillac along with his blonde girlfriend, Alice Wakefield, in the passenger seat. She looks exactly like Renee Madison. Pete watches her get out of the car and get into Mr. Eddy's other vehicle to a slow motion track of That Magic Moment by Lou Reed. 

Later that night, Alice pulls up to the garage in a taxi. Pete walks up to her. She introduces herself and asks if Pete wants to take her to dinner. Pete isn't sure it's a good idea. Alice goes to call another taxi, but Pete takes a look at her and changes his mind. They end up at a motel. The cops watching outside think he gets more pussy than a toilet seat. Inside Pete and Alice can't get enough of each other. They make plans to see each other again and do so several times.

Hitchcock's Vertigo?
Next we see that Alice calls Pete at home to tell him she can't see him that night, because she thinks Mr. Eddy suspects something. Later in his bedroom, Pete appears concerned as a black widow spider crawls up the wall. Pete sees a vision of Alice's face circling him. He gets scared and leaves. He picks up Sheila and takes her to a motel. They end up having sex, but Pete seems to be confused and distracted. 

When he gets back home his parents want to talk to him. They say the police want to know if Pete remembers anything about what happened to him the other night. Pete can't remember anything. His parents tell him that he came home the other night with Sheila and another man they'd never seen before. After Pete gets a vision of Renee's bloody body. 

The next day Mr. Eddy comes to see Pete at work and warns him that if he ever found out someone was making out with Alice, he'd kill them. Then Alice calls Pete and tells him to meet her at the Starlight Motel. Once there together, Alice cries that Mr. Eddy will kill them. She thinks they should run away together. Alice says she knows a guy, Andy, who pays girls to party with men. She suggests they rob him to get enough money for their getaway. She explains that Andy works for Mr. Eddy and makes pornography. Pete wants to know how Alice got involved with these people. Alice tells him a story about meeting Andy at a place called Mokes. She says he sent her to a job at this "scary" house a year ago. At this house, Alice was forced at gunpoint to strip in front of Mr. Eddy and his henchmen. Pete wonders why she didn't just leave and thinks she liked what happened to her. Alice responds that she'll go away if Pete wants her to. Pete tells her no and says he loves her. Then Alice instructs Pete on where to go the next night. She also advises him on how to knock Andy out. 

Pete goes home and Sheila is waiting for him. She curses Pete out for cheating on her. Pete's dad pulls her off. Sheila says Pete is different and runs off. Then Pete's mom says there is a man on the phone for him. When Pete gets on the phone, he finds Mr. Eddy is on the other line. Mr. Eddy says he's glad to know that Pete is doing well. Then Mr. Eddy puts the Mystery man on the phone, who tells Pete they met before at his house. He also says in the far east when a man is sentenced to death he never knows when someone will put a bullet in the back of his head. Pete is fearful and wonders what's going on.

Later Pete takes the bus to Andy's house and sneaks inside as Alice instructed him. On Andy's widescreen television is a pornography film featuring Alice. Then Andy comes down the steps. Pete knocks him over the head with a bottle. Alice then walks down in her underwear and kisses Pete. Andy wakes up and charges Pete. However he misses, lands forehead first into the corner of a glass table and dies. Alice has little reaction and reminds Pete that he killed Andy. She's anxious to get the money and takes Andy's jewelry off him. Pete watches her with the porno playing in the background in horror. Nearby he notices a picture of Alice and Renee together with Andy and Mr. Eddy. Pete wonders if both of them are her. Alice points to herself and says, "that's me." 

Then Pete starts sweating and bleeding from his nose. He goes upstairs to use the bathroom. Upon getting up there everything becomes fuzzy. It appears that he's suddenly in a motel hallway. He opens a door to room 26 and sees a blurred woman (Renee/Alice) having sex inside who says, "don't you want to ask me why?" He's confused and heads back downstairs. Alice is there. She points a gun at him and asks if he trusts her. She then smiles and tells Pete to put the gun in his pants. Alice tells him she knows a guy who will fence all of Andy's things so they can go anywhere together. They leave and take Andy's car. Pete drives confused. Alice says the fence she told him about is at his cabin in the desert.

Original artwork by @eclecticirie
When they pull up to the cabin, Alice gets out and tells Pete to follow. They knock on the door, but find the cabin empty. Alice says they'll have to wait. They go back outside and Pete asks why she chose him. She doesn't answer. Instead she asks if he still wants her more than ever. They end up making love in front of the car's headlights on the desert floor. The scene is set to the song --> Song to the Siren and is quite powerful. Pete passionately tells Alice he wants her. Alice grabs Pete's hair and whispers in his ear, "you'll never have me." Then she gets up and walks naked into the cabin and disappears.

Original artwork by @eclecticirie
When Pete stands up from the desert floor, he's Fred. He notices the Mystery man in the back of his car. Then the Mystery man disappears and reappears at the cabin's door. He says, "here I am." Fred quickly dresses and goes inside. The Mystery man is waiting for him. Fred asks where's Alice. He gets upset and says, "Her name is Renee! If she told you her name is Alice she's lying!" Then he pulls out a video camera, aims it at Fred and yells, "what the fuck is your name?" Fred gets scared, runs to the car and drives off while the Mystery man follows filming him.

Then Fred flashes to The Lost Highway Motel where he discovers Renee is having sex with Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent. Fred waits in the next room with a gun. After she leaves, Fred grabs the gun, goes to Dick Laurent's room and kidnaps him. Fred puts him in the trunk of his car. Meanwhile from inside the motel, the Mystery man watches from the window as Fred drives away. 

Fred drives Dick into the desert. They struggle and Fred ends up stabbing him in the neck. The Mystery man appears and shows a dying Dick Laurent one of his pornography films. We then flash to a party where a snuff film is being played. Renee appears in the film. Renee, Dick Laurent and Andy all watch aroused. Then we return to the desert. The Mystery man shoots Dick dead and whispers something in Fred's ear.

At Andy's house, the police find a picture of Renee with Andy and Dick Laurent while investigating Andy's murder. They remember that she's Fred Madison's wife and say Pete Dayton's fingerprints are all over Andy's house. They think there is no such thing as a coincidence. Meanwhile Fred returns to his house and says on the outside intercom, "Dick Laurent is dead." Then the police arrive so Fred jumps in his car and takes off. Fred drives into the desert while a trail of police vehicles follow. Day turns into night, and while driving Fred begins to freak out. His face appears distorted. Fred seems to be burning as he screams in agony and morphs between Pete's face and his own. 

The End

My Simplified Theory: 

The film is a drive through the mind of Fred Madison. Fred struggles with fears that his wife is having an affair, has issues with sexual inadequacy and was probably 'deranged'. His choice to "remember things his own way" is likely a clue to his mental frailty. In a state of jealous rage, he kills his wife's lover, Dick Laurent, Dick's associate Andy, and ultimately ends up killing his wife Renee. He tries to run from the police and ends up in an elaborate car chase before being caught. Fred is then sentenced to death by electrocution. Then the night before he's to be electrocuted, Fred is given a heavy sedative to sleep.

Upon returning to his jail cell, Fred enters an intense dream/hallucinatory/psychogenic fugue fantasy state where he reinvents or revises, whichever you prefer, his own life story through a younger variation of himself. In said story, he gets to fall in love all over again. However the truth of his reality, much like in dreams, continues to bleed into his alter ego's realm. Finally, he is brought back to his truth and is ultimately electrocuted.

A Prequel to Mulholland Dr.?

Lost Highway seems to have an undeniable symmetry to Mulholland Dr. and perhaps could be viewed as the masculine counterpart to Mulholland Dr.'s feminine perspective. Both films appear to be a variation of the same core story. In both movies, the main character is wrestling with their conscious through a dream after having killed their spouse/lover. 

Is the Mystery Man real? 

I see him as a figment of Fred's subconscious. Note he's smaller than Fred, creepier, dressed in all black and his face appears whitened. I think he's supposed to represent Fred's evil, ugly, and deranged side.

What is the cabin? 

I'd argue it's Fred's soul or Fred's id or Fred's conscious or even a symbolic representation of his mental illness. I think you can view the cabin in a number of ways, but I do believe it represents a place where Fred has to face himself.

What are the videotapes? 

Perhaps his dark side was sending them to Renee before he killed her to toy with her. They could also be seen as messages from Fred's subconscious telling him how things really happened, not just how he likes to remember them. Either way, I think Fred was sending those to himself.

Is Pete Dayton real? 

Maybe? I think Pete represents a revised variation of Fred in Fred's fantasy/fugue state, but it's also possible that Pete was a real person who somehow got involved with Renee, Andy and/or Dick Laurent. Or perhaps Fred knew him somehow and wished to be like him; I think this is debatable. 

Was Renee really having an affair and involved in pornography?

I feel like what we know of Renee is very limited, but I do believe she was likely having an affair and/or involved in some nefarious behavior. At the end of the film the police find a picture of Renee with Dick Laurent and Andy at Andy's house after he was murdered. That was outside of Fred's dream so I believe that was real, proving that Renee did have some kind of real life relationship with them. However the Alice version of Renee in Fred's dream seems exaggerated so she may not have been all that bad in reality. Given that she was living with someone crazy enough to kill her, I'm sure there is another side to the story. 

What's with all the duality?

Every main character has an alternate version in Fred's dream/fantasy. Renee/Alice, Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent and Fred/Pete/Mystery Man. Perhaps that's because in dreams things don't always make sense. Perhaps they are familiar, but different in someway from reality. It could also be in Fred's deranged mind everything was intensified and/or glorified to suit his delusion. If you listen to Twin Peaks Unwrapped's interview with Lynch's Lost Highway co-writer --> Barry Gifford, he talks about how they were intrigued by psychogenic fugue when writing Fred. In a fugue state, a person can distort their own reality.

OJ Simpson?

I spoke with Twin Peaks Unwrapped about this terrific movie, which you can listen to here ---> Lost Highway. In the podcast, we briefly discuss the potential influence the OJ Simpson trial had on David Lynch when he was writing Lost Highway. While watching the film, I did note several elements that reminded me of OJ's demise, particularly the car chase scene.

Themes of Sexuality

I've often wondered why when people are analyzing so much of the other elements in Lynch's work they seem to gloss over the sexual themes. With the exception of Laura Palmer's demise in Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me, where the subject turns more toward abuse, it seems the sexual themes in Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, and especially Mulholland Dr. with particular intensity in Lost Highway, are somewhat avoided. Perhaps that's because it's an uncomfortable subject to explore?

Whatever the reason, David Lynch doesn't back away from sex scenes in the least. He also seems to be very good at showing a range of sexual issues his characters are struggling with. To me, it feels very Freudian. Freud's main themes of analysis were dreams, the unconscious and subconscious mind, the Id, Ego, Superego and sexuality. If I had to offer a simplified explanation of Fred in Lost Highway, I'd say he was the Ego struggling to please his Superego and to control his Id, lost in a dream and plagued with feelings of sexual inadequacies. If you like the idea of Lynch channeling his thoughts on OJ Simpson while writing this film, perhaps that's how Lynch saw OJ. Am I going too far?

Nonetheless, David Lynch has been quoted as saying, “Sex is a doorway to something so powerful and mystical, but movies usually depict it in a completely flat way.” With that thought in mind, I think it's important to remember that Fred is obsessed with Renee. He wants her, but can't satisfy her. He believes she is having an affair and ultimately becomes murderously jealous. When Alice says, "You still want me Pete, don't you? More than ever?" I feel like that is Fred's subconscious haunting him. When she tells him, "You'll never have me," after making intense love to him in the headlights, is that truly Fred's deep routed sexual insecurities forcing him back to reality? I think it is, because after Alice walks away and disappears into the cabin, Pete returns to being Fred. 

Who stands out the most?

My vote is for Patricia Arquette. She is arguably one of Lynch's best femme fatales and I think she's a pretty bold actress for taking on such a challenging role. With that in mind, I asked my female friend and artist, to create some tasteful artwork to represent some of the sensual elements in Lost Highway. I also think my friend did some fabulous work that deserves to be celebrated.

Robert Blake as the Mystery Man could revival Twin Peaks's Bob any day for creepiest character in a Lynch film. What I think he represents in the film, which is basically Fred's evil subconscious, or even a visual representation of a multiple personality disorder, is incredibly intense. I feel like maybe Lynch wanted the viewer to experience what the inside of an insane person's mind 
would be like. Twin Peaks Unwrapped reminded me that Robert Blake had been accused of killing his real life wife a few years after this movie came out. Life intimating art?

Robert Loggia as Mr. Eddy/Dick Laurent was really something special. I don't think anyone really likes to be tailgated, but Mr. Eddy takes road rage to whole new level.

Finally, The Music

Angelo Badalamenti's music combined with Trent Reznor, Smashing Pumpkins and Marilyn Manson certainly made for a wicked soundtrack. It definitely defines the style of the 1990's a bit, but as a 90's kid myself, I love it. I thoroughly enjoy the soundtrack's dark tone. I also think, like in most Lynch films, the music serves as cues to the atmosphere of the scenes. I think David Bowie's, "I'm Deranged," very simply explains Fred's mental struggles. Personally I love the song, "Fred's World". I think it is a very haunting melody that strikes a similiar feel to what I love so much about the Fire Walk With Me soundtrack. Listen below.

Keep in mind that this is just my thoughts on the film. I don't claim to be right or to know everything. I simply fell in love with this movie while preparing this recap/essay and wanted to share my take. I'd love to hear what other people's opinions on the film are. I think Lynch's work is open to interpretation, which is part of why it's so much fun to contemplate.


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