Friday, May 8, 2009

Lost Highway: Bringing out the Noir

Spicer writes about the complexity of the postmodern noir’s narrative. In them we see the excess often associated with neo-noir. The complex stories and “convoluted plots often circle back on themselves” creating “a pervasive uncertainty about the reliability of what is being shown or told” (CP 116). Lost Highway fits this description, but goes even further. The Lynch film amps up noir’s complexity and convolution by placing it in the realm of the surreal where things don’t need logical solutions or explanations. The rules under which the world of Lost Highway operates throw away any certainty or reliability about the plot, which allows the audience to be fully engaged its noir-ness. Instead of trying to figure out just what the hell is going on, we can sit back and appreciate the plot as something without sense. In Lost Highway, we see the noir narrative made manifest.
Naremore writes that Lost Highway is such an effective noir because it creates a complete loss of psychological bearings (CP 135). What sense are we supposed to make of the Robert Blake character? Is there really any explanation about his presence? What are we to make of Fred becoming Pete in the jail cell? What rules of existence allow for such an unbelievable occurrence? The film presents a million more questions than answers. It’s deliberately meant to be a confusing film. David Lynch has said that the film takes place in the same universe as his show “Twin Peaks”; this revelation only elicits more questions. The whole experience of watching the film is very off-putting and disorienting. Any attempt to make sense of the happenings of the plot would result in further headache. The fact is that there aren’t any answers to the boundless questions and the quicker we realize this, the sooner we can allow ourselves to be enveloped by the darkness. This sense of confusion is not something we can fight our way out of through any manner of rational thought.
There are many nods to more specific noir tropes. There’s jazz music, darkness, murder, dames, schemes, and dark pasts to beat the bend, but these are just minor supplements to the noir narrative. Patricia Arquette portrays two femme fatales, one with red hair and one with blond, which resemble specific femmes from noir’s past. Their actions aren’t overly important and they don’t fulfill the potential of their archetypes, they’re just scenery, mise-en-scene for the noir world. Most of the individual noir tropes function this way. However, Lost Highway does fulfill the potential of the noir narrative, which few films can claim to have done; even the most convoluted of noirs will end with exposition to alleviate our confusion. There is no big reveal to this film and nothing can ever truly be brought to light. The audience remains in the darkness of noir, without their psychological bearings, until the film is mercifully turned off.

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