Lost Highway: Desire, Music, and the Unattinable

In Lost Highway, the fist scene where Pete meets Alice introduces the concept that desire is linked to absence in this film. The scene previous to their meeting is critical to both desire and its complexity.  Pete goes to Sheila’s and asks if she wants to come with him. Before Sheila gets in the car, she answers “i don’t know” as if to appear unattinable. But this facade is quickly shattered when she asks him “why don’t you like me” while they are having sex. Pete will never desire Sheila because she is so accessible to him. After this scene ends, the screen goes black as a jazz track plays, and then we are inside the auto body shop.

The jazz track that plays in the auto shop is the same one that we hear Fred playing at the beginning of the film. It is no accident that the music gives Pete a headache and he appears out of sorts. The music links the two men and jogs a certain memory of ‘that night’.  The strange connection between them is inextricably linked to the music. Pete’s need to change the track and the other man’s insistence that ‘he liked it’ emphasizes that there is an urgency on Pete’s part to stop it. There is a transition shot in which Pete is still under the car and a tire is the only image in focus. Simultaneously, we hear a car approaching. Then the rest of the shot comes into focus and we see a car with a blonde woman in it. The tire remains in the foreground of the shot, a positionality assumed to be Pete’s. As Pete gets up, we see different shots of Alice, each one progressively getting closer to her. As Mr. Eddy approaches Pete, Alice immediately goes out of focus. From this introduction there is a barrier introduced between Alice and Pete. She belongs to him and cannot be truly Pete’s. The two men begin to talk and once again the rest of the auto shop remains out of focus. They discuss the car but reference it as “her”. The dialogue is  about the car, yet the blonde woman is also implicated in the conversation with phrases such as “give her the once over”, and ” if you’ll be down with her by then”.  A new music track begins as we simultanously see black. This appears to be Mr. Eddy’s body passing in front of the camera. When he moves out of the way, Alice is in full view. The camera uses a slow motion shot to show her getting out of the car. As she rises, the words “this magic moment” play and her eyes flicker up to us, the viewer, and Pete. We see Pete watching her, and she walks away and slowly turns around to face him.  The camera continues to pan between shots of Alice turning around and Pete watching her. The shots of Alice getting into the car are breathtaking as they continue in slow motion, She continues to stare right at the camera, at Pete, and us the viewers.

This sequence between Pete and Alice is not only beautifully shot and scored, but introduces desire in a public and untouchable way. The visual images and soundtrack insist that Pete desire’s for Alice is something that is ‘unreal’. The slow motion is a subjective camera in which Pete is imagining her to be something more than she is, something more than an actress in a low grade porn film. It is the idea of her, rather than Alice in her true form that Pete desires. Just as Pete works in an auto body shop and the beautiful car will never be his, so too can Alice never be accessible to him. It is this impossibility that elevates his desire for her, in a way Sheila never can.


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