New Year's Resolutions ('Lost Highway' (1997) dir. David Lynch)

Did you know, that if you start David Lynch's 'Lost Highway', at precisely 11:08:44 pm on December 31st, the old year will end with Fred Madison's painful transformation, and the new one will begin when a guard checks his cell to find Pete Dayton there instead. As I said to my friends in an effort to convince them to join me in a New Year's Eve 'Lost Highway' watch: "David Lynch gets bored with one narrative and starts another on the stroke of midnight!" Obviously, it's a bit more nuanced than that, but I was desperate to have someone to celebrate with.

As it happens, I spent New Year's alone. During the day, I thought about how best to celebrate, without family or friends. I had heard of people doing a similar film countdown with 'Star Wars'- "if you start it at x time the Death Star blows up at midnight," is the thing. I'm not a big Star Wars fan, so in thinking of pivotal moments, or moments regarding change, in films that I'm interested in, I remembered 'Lost Highway'.

Not one of my favourites by Lynch, but I did remember the transformation scene, the narrative trade-off, and thought it was apt enough for New Year's. I borrowed it from my university's library, where I had been holed up all day, alone. The library had been empty, obviously, but I like it that way most of the time. It too feels transitional. Being in the library when it's empty feels like being in an airport at midnight, or in a hospital corridor- somewhere between places where there's nothing to do but wait. It feels comforting to me to be somewhere out of time, and it helps that when it's emptier in the library it's way easier to find a study desk, but today it just made me depressed.

I was reminded, probably, that most people are with loved ones. My own family life has been complicated recently, so in lieu of heading home, other people would spend it with friends. All of my friends are out of town with their own familys, is the only problem. I'm not bitter, just resigned to a depressing and boring life. I could have been in a bar during the countdown, and I'm sure if I tell my co-workers when the winter break is over that I spent my New Year's alone and watching a film, they will look at my with pity. Still, I'm not a big drinker, so it's perfect for me.

11:08:44 pm. The film starts. Fred Madison, demanding saxophonist barely holding anger in at any given time, and his maudlin wife Renee, clad in muted browns and blacks with a quiet voice that makes me wish the library copy had a subtitle track. Fred's life becomes complicated in four steps. Firstly, with a message over his intercom saying 'Dick Laurent is dead' He doesn't know who that is. Secondly, with the arrival of videotapes of the interior and exterior of his house found on his front-step by the increasingly anxious Renee (though this is played down wonderfully by Patricia Arquette). He doesn't know who sent them. Thirdly, by meeting a 'mystery man' at a party hosted by a friend of Renee. The mystery man claims spookily to be inside Fred's house, and a phone-call confirms that the man is there, but also at the party. Fourthly, Renee is found cut-up both physically, and metaphysically as the butchery is also immortalised via videotape, with Fred starring as the murderer. He is now on death row for killing his wife.

The clock ticks toward midnight as I watch Fred, complaining of headaches, writhe in agony in his cell. He sees visions of a cabin, the mystery man, a neverending road, and a young man standing in front of a house. Lynch plays with a light switch and strobe fills the space, bright flashes. Fred grabs his head and screams, rolling on the floor surrounded by blood and viscera. We see smoke, more bright flashes, and, with the score humming ominously, what we assume to be Fred's head splitting open. The scene fades to black. Happy New Year!

At this point I had to pause the film because people were setting off fireworks in my street and I wanted to see. Still, the first bit of film I saw in 2023 was a prison guard claiming that the inexplicable appearance of the young man from Fred's vision, who we come to learn is mechanic Pete Dayton, in the cell in Fred's place, is "spooky shit!"

2023 is for Pete's story. Pete is released from prison and goes back to his job at a garage, but is soon disturbed by the arrival of one of his repeat customers, an implied gangster, Dick Laurent. Not so much him, but his beautiful wife Alice, also portrayed by Patricia Arquette, but the opposite of Renee. For one thing, where Renee was brunette, Alice is Blonde. Where Renee was soft-spoken, Alice commands attention. Most importantly, where Fred at the beginning of the film made barking orders and complaints at Renee commonplace, the power dynamic is completely switched when Alice pulls Pete's strings, manipulating him into helping kill and steal from Andy (Renee's party hosting friend).

On the run from the police and from Laurent, Pete and Alice find themselves at the cabin from Fred's vision, which Alice claims belongs to a fence she knows. Alice taunts Pete, who turns back into Fred. Alice disappears, leaving Fred alone in the cabin to find the mystery man. 2022 has bled back through into my New Year and now I watch Fred again for the rest of the runtime. He finds Dick, kills him, and goes back to his old house to deliver the intercom message: "Dick Laurent is dead," before being chased off by police.

So, maybe a movie with a cyclical structure wasn't the best choice for a New Year's film. Fred desperately wants to change, to dream of how things might have been, or because of the linearity of the film, how things could be. However hard he tries to re-invent himself, the past catches up with him. He cannot escape the truth that he is a wanted man, a murderer, no matter how he tries to position himself as a young and naive, his wife as a manipulative temptress.

I confess, I'm cynical. I don't believe people really change. I never manage to keep my New Year's resolutions, and to be honest, I feel there's nothing stopping a similar situation next year where I am alone at the turn of 2024, listening to fireworks in the street.

Yet for a minute, 'Lost Highway' gives me hope. The introduction, or re-introduction, of Pete Dayton, almost convinced me, despite a previous viewing, that a new story was about to begin, completely unconcerned with Fred. Lynch invites you, however breifly, to live inside the dream that things could be different. You are not an awful person, you could start all over again.

Yet I don't think it's as simple as either of these black and white options. It's true, we'll never be free of the past, no matter how we try to edit our memories of what has happened. You cant have a New Year without an old one. Fred has come back, but now he must deliver the message that begins our story. We understand now the raison d'etre, the catalyst of the film- the intercom buzzer who announced the death of Dick Laurent was Fred. Only time makes that possible. So no matter the ups and downs, or the back and forward of progress, 'Lost Highway' makes me think that to make sense of the past, we must plug ahead into the future. Time gives us a reason. Even though re-invention may be fruitless, the attempt can still propel us to where we're meant to be.

Pesimistically, for Fred, that means screaming in a car as he outruns police down an endless highway. For me, who knows.

One thing I am certain of doing is editing a bit of my own past, sorry. I'm in the process of going back through the things written on this website- mostly for the sake of catching typos that have seemingly alluded me and been available for everyone to see for quite a while, but also maybe to just make some writing a bit better for the sake of it.