It was a chilly February afternoon in 1997. The year of cloning sheep. My friend Beth and I decided to get stoned and see David Lynch’s latest, Lost Highway. Or, rather, I decided we’d see it. Beth had little say. Cause, you know, I was desperate to demonstrate my newfound-elitist-boarding-school-film-snobbery and Lost Highway checked all the right boxes: indescribable plot, bizarre red lighting, and Balthazar Getty’s naked ass.
But also, Beth didn’t push back. She never did. With anything. She always let me choose, which was something I wasn’t used to. I grew up in a family where “choice” was made by whomever was the loudest. But Beth — she let me take over.
Lost Highway was released pre-internet. We couldn’t really google a trailer or read a Vulture essay. Information was dependent on what was in my Entertainment Weekly. With a review by Owen Gleiberman stating, “David Lynch’s most audacious spectacle since Blue Velvet,” and a letter grade of “B-“, we decided to take the plunge.
She picked me up from my mom’s house; a typical mid-west ranch. Beth and I had on our signature flannel shirts and blue jeans. With the Indigo Girls blasting, and our cigs ablaze, we were just two lost teens on our own highway. LOL.
En route, we made a pit stop at Burger King. Got our whoppers and fries, parked, and gobbled our faces off. I finished first, per usual, and stole fries from Beth at every turn.
But then: I noticed something on her dash. Something furry. A Beanie Baby. Nanook; the Siberian husky. Without thinking, I decided Beth and I would play a game. A game Beth didn’t know she was playing.
“He’s dead, Beth. I think he’s dead.”
“Nanook! He’s dead!” I began to cry. Sob. Like, really going for it. I was a year into the acting program at boarding school and desperate to be taken seriously. I was gonna win.
“Nanook is dead!!!”
I wiped my eyes. Probably blew my nose. Did all the things.
“Try it,” I implored.
“I’m dead. Pretend I am dead. Pretend you’re at my funeral. What would you do?”
I laid back my car seat, closed my eyes, and stopped speaking to Beth entirely. No matter how much she pleaded for me to not do this, I wouldn’t break. I was gonna get that trophy.
“Can you stop?”
Beth asked me to put my seat up, but I wouldn’t listen. I was dead. I was acting. I was winning.
“Stop, stop, stop!”
Beth suddenly started crying. Like, for real. I sat up, amazed.
But, no. That wasn’t it at all. She was actually upset. Beth had lost her mother to cancer at a young age. Death was something she understood first hand. While I was a toddler chasing a ball, Beth was putting a dress on to attend a funeral. Her reality was something I had not taken into account. I was thinking about myself. About winning. About prizes.
“This isn’t a game!”
For a while.
As we pulled out of Burger King, and headed to Lost Highway, tears continued to stream down Beth’s face. I didn’t know what to do; what to say. I placed my hand on top of hers.
“It’s okay. I just love you.”
“I love you, too.”
“And I don’t want to think about you dying.”
She nodded and smiled, letting it go. Truly. She turned the Indigo Girls back on, our jam, and we headed to the strip mall in Rochester Hills. I lit cigarettes. One for her, one for me. Things were back to normal.
Beth had accepted my apology. Like, for real. She heard me, believed me, accepted me. She never made me feel badly, which she had every right to do. In my family, grudges were held like sport and apologies rarely accepted. Beth was pure forgiveness; something I had not yet learned.
We arrived, parked, and sat down in the dimly lit, empty theatre. Popcorn and pops in tow. The lights went down; the title sequence began. Oh, shit. This is where things get murky.
The following is what I remember of David Lynch’s Lost Highway. I have watched the film only this once, very stoned, yet the experience of seeing it was monumental. Probably for different reasons than Lynch had intended.
Lost Highway is about a musician named Fred (Bill Pullman) who gets a series of VHS tapes sent to his house. The tapes contain videos of him and his wife, Renee (Patricia Arquette), in their house, being spied on? LOL, I’m already failing. But then, Renee is randomly killed and Fred is convicted of dismembering his wife. In prison, Fred has visions of another man. Like, a younger, totally different person who he thinks is actually himself? I honestly think Fred is now replaced entirely by Pete (Balthazar Getty), but they’re sorta playing the same guy.
Okay, so now the movie is about Pete, who is a mechanic. Never mind. I suck. Sorry, David Lynch. I really do love you for what you indirectly taught me, even if I can’t remember your film’s narrative. Hold on, I know there is also a porn producer, who doubles as another man named Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia). Oh, and there is a terrifyingly pale Mystery Man (Robert Blake), who has huge, bulging eyes. Oh, and Pete and Alice (played by Patricia Arquette — yes — every actor doubles as other characters) have sex in the desert. It’s hot.
Oh, and Mr. Eddy and Rene (again, played by Patricia Arquette) have sex at the Lost Highway Hotel. Also hot. And then, somewhere near the end of the neo-noir movie, Fred kills Mr. Eddy. It’s bloody AF. The final sequence is Fred taking off in his car, driving down a dark highway. I believe he is screaming? Oh, and everything is shot with a red filter and — yes — Balthazar Getty does in fact show his bare ass.
This is the first in a series of essays by Ryan Spahn, an actor and playwright who lives in New York. He is the director of the film Nora Highland. Follow him on Instagram at @ryanspahn and on Twitter @ryan_spahn.
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