Given the extent to which Lost Highway can feel like an unnavigable enigma, it is especially fruitful to try to answer the seemingly basic (but remarkably complex) questions surrounding reality, fantasy and nightmare (if we can call this indeed mark this as distinct from fantasy).
If we begin by assuming that the scene in which Fred and Alice receive the detectives in their home is a kind of reality (whether that be an augmented one or not), we can work to understand how it shapes the next one: of Andy’s party, wherein Fred is introduced to the Mystery Man. Even if we can’t concede that it’s “reality”, we understand that their relation to one another is important through the filmic cut.
In the first, we witness a pretty discouraging encounter with some criminal justice officers, whom Fred and Alice have called to help investigate the mysterious videos. As Alice walks around the house with one, and the other stands on top of an eclectic skylight, we cut back to Fred.
We understand that he’s in some kind of discomfort, perhaps jealousy, but I don’t think his emotions here are plainly legible in isolation. Just as we approach his emotional interior without entering, we recognize that the detectives are only effective here as a cosmetic cure: their investigation is purely superficial. They aren’t uncovering anything. In fact, they’re hardly digging. We might ask ourselves: why look outside at all? Wouldn’t the real secret be hidden in that dark mirrored corridor? Is there ever anything that can be understood through reality, if this is reality?
At the end of the day, we learn that the detectives can do no more than walk about the premises and provide their cards. We draw away from the scene keenly aware of the persistence of the threat posed to Fred and Alice, even if we cannot name it.
Formally, the high-tracking camera slowly zooms in on Fred and Alice, placing the audience in the place of the assailant, the stalker. Just as we learn from this shot the futility of their attempts to protect themselves, we also learn of the insistence of the letter [‘s sender], and of our involvement. We are forced to read the cards of the officers as a new kind of package, delivering to their faces instead of to their doorstep. Fred feels its futility, as he fidgets with his card.
Thankfully, even if Fred is somewhat inaccessible here, we’ll be transported to the [dark] interior of his own mind. We can track this progression through slight “dream-works” where certain details have been compressed or expanded and grafted onto new subjects. Although we might not see the moustached man who steals away Fred’s woman as precisely Andy, or the man on the glass bathed in pale white lighting as a mirror image of the Mystery Man, we are given similar visual cues through Fred and can deduct the filmic metaphor.
Like most dreams, we don’t know how we arrive at Andy’s party, but, suddenly—we’re there. Whereas the investigation scene, took place in the daylight with dark interiors, emphasizing perhaps its external reality, we have moved into well-lit interiors. Here, to be sure, there is outside activity around the pool, but we are drawn inside, just as we were forced to reckon with our inability to really get “inside” Fred’s head before.
We also can’t help but note the rare presence of comforting background music. When else have we been given this pleasure? So far, never! Throughout the first half of this film, in stark contrast to the Pete section, we are forced to endure low groans, demonic growls and static—all of Lynch’s auditory tricks to catapult us into our psyches, and thereafter, into our nightmares.
The narrative of this scene is pretty basic, to the extent that it becomes almost allegorical (and therefore, dreamlike). We enter watching a girl flirt with Andy, who then swaggers over to Alice, to draw her away from Fred. We instantly remember Fred’s anxious fantasy about Alice leaving his jazz club with Andy, through the ‘Exit’ sign. She hands Fred her glass, again echoing with the detectives’ ID cards and the manila envelopes containing the videos.
Fred begrudgingly accepts his role (as he would only in a dream, we can imagine) and heads to the bar. After a long shot of Fred smoking and taking a few shots, he suddenly becomes the object of attention. And in this gesture, he moves from just another man in the crowd, a plebeian party-goer, to the scopic obsession of the Mystery Man. As the Mystery Man approaches, the musical drapery is peeled back: the scene is reduced to its essential terror.
INSERT MORE LATER PHONE DISCUSSION HERE
And, in the wake of this conversation, Alice approaches Fred for the first time. Something has evidently changed, such that Fred has become the object of attention. We can track how this quickly (and dangerously) escalates throughout the rest of the scene.
But instead of revel in this attention, Fred is concerned with and terrified by the Mystery Man. He consults Andy (who appears to almost be his friend here, a role which we never see repeated) for more information.
But the conversation quickly devolves into pain and confusion. Fred, hearing Dick Laurent’s name, chimes in with the information we’ve seen him receive (namely, that he’s dead), which summons up a volatile, aggressive response from Andy. Conversation bleeds into interrogation, as Alice comes to Fred’s rescue. But we also see this as a devastating nightmarish turn. We remember that Fred hates being recorded. And here, if nothing else, we see his anxiety about being the object of attention in this crowd on high display. As he hurries out of the party, we expect him to be followed. But, instead, we’re given an ambiguous cue from Lynch. The people behind them are indifferent to their presence/absence.