Framing Desire in Lost Highway

I found this blog post particularly difficult because, in many ways, Lost Highway is a film that deliberately eludes straightforward interpretation. While I don’t believe I have anything close to a grasp on the film overall, I do believe that I was able to derive stylistic meaning, with the assistance of the Herzogenrath essay, in a single sequence from the film. This is the sex scene between Fred and Renee early in the film.

I think this scene is integral in the linking of the two separate, yet, intertwined plot lines of Fred and Pete, and also illustrates the psychoanalytic theory Hezogenrath applies to the film in his essay. In terms of Lacanian analysis in this scene, I would, naturally, place Renee as the mother figure in this scene, and, in turn, as the object of desire necessary for fulfilling Fred’s– who is the pre-oedipal baby figure in this scene– need for comfort and wholeness.

The sequence begins with an extended shot of an entirely black scene. Then it dissolves into Fred’s placid face laying on his bed. With the preceding total blackness, it is as if we have exited a womb to enter this scene. Or, it is as if we have left the pre-symbolic real to enter this interpretable image of Fred.

As he lays, with childlike vulnerability on his face he has a flashback to Renee being taken out of the club by another man. As if her visual abandonment of Fred in this flashback is not clear enough, the sequence is punctuated by an “EXIT” sign, which gives a deliberate signification of what is occurring in Renee’s relationship to Fred. This sequence is well elucidated by Herzogenrath saying, “the subject is “castrated” by its entry into the symbolic, into language and society.” This sequence demonstrates a castration of Fred from his object of desire, highlighted by the symbolic.

Fred looks up and sees Renee undressing. He looks at her longingly. As Herzogenrath frames it, “it is necessary for him that the Other, Renee, exactly remains in her position as love-giving, complete Mother, unspoiled by any lack…” Yet, Renee quickly leaves his frame of vision, thereby, slipping away from him again. He watches his object of desire and lust go, and his face changes into one of greater melancholy and dejection.

Before they have sex they lay in bed. There is space between them. Lynch frames close-ups on their faces, switching between them in an original take on shot/reverse shot. This framing of these two characters faces so distinctly separate, visually reinforces the gap between these two humans– a gap, which Fred desperately wishes to fill. Then, a close up of Fred follows him, without a cut, as he moves into Renee’s space. In the technique of the film here, it is as if Fred is attempting to pull Renee into his frame, or, pull her into his world.

They have bizarre, cold sex as Fred tries to reconnect with his fading object of desire. A drone sound emerges. Herzogenrath, with the words of Lacan, comments on the drone sound with this: “With respect to the delusional aspects of psychosis, Lacan comments on ‘this buzzing that people who are hallucinating so often depict … this continuous murmur … is nothing other than the infinity of these minor paths’ (Seminar III 294)”.

Unlike the sex scene between Alice and Pete, this sex scene is devoid of any warmth or passion. Yet there is an important link between the two of these scenes. One will remember the bold stylistic choice of Lynch in the scene between Alice and Pete. He shoots it so that their bodies are unnaturally brightly lit, ostensibly because of the car headlights pointed at them. In the scene between Fred and Renee there is an odd occurrence– seemingly out of nowhere, a harsh bright light illuminates Renee temporarily.

There is no diegetic reason for this lighting choice. I can only think that this light provides a link between these two scenes. In this case, it signifies what Renee does not say in this scene, but her double does say in the latter scene. The light confirms Fred’s underlying anxiety that drives him through this scene. That: “you’ll never have me.”


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