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Lost Highway on the Wheel

The Journey of Disintegration

"Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself; he has awareness of himself, of his fellow man, of his past, and of the possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form or other with men, with the world outside.

The experience of separateness arouses anxiety; it is, indeed, the source of all anxiety. Being separate means being cut off, without any capacity to use my human powers. Hence to be separate means to be helpless, unable to grasp the world-things and people--actively; it means that the world can invade me without my ability to react. Thus, separateness is the source of intense anxiety. Beyond that, it arouses shame and the feeling of guilt. This experience of guilt and shame in separateness is expressed in the Biblical story of Adam and Eve.

After Adam and Eve have eaten of the "tree of knowledge of good and evil," after they have disobeyed (there is no good and evil unless there is freedom to disobey), after they have become human by having emancipated themselves from the original animal harmony with nature, i.e., after their birth as human beings-they saw "that they were naked and they were ashamed."

… after man and woman have become aware of themselves and of each other, they are aware of their separateness, and of their difference, inasmuch as they belong to different sexes. But while recognizing their separateness they remain, strangers, because they have not yet learned to love each other (as is also made very clear by the fact that Adam defends himself by blaming Eve, rather than by trying to defend her). The awareness of human separation, without reunion by love-is the source of shame. It is at the same time the source of guilt and anxiety.

The deepest need of man, then, is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness. The absolute failure to achieve this aim means insanity because the panic of complete isolation can be overcome only by such a radical withdrawal from the world outside that the feeling of separation disappears-because the world outside, from which one is separated, has disappeared."

Lost Highway (1997) by David Lynch: Structural Analysis

1. Warrior →Fool (The exposition of a wound — ego) BATTLEFIELD

Pain caused by the wrong identity vs. all possible identities. The main conflict is introduced.

Fred Madison is a saxophone player who is trapped inside the ‘wrong half’ of his personality. The truth is, any half of us is wrong, simply because it is not whole, and therefore the personality is considered broken, split, torn, disintegrated and fractured. It is through this crack in between these broken parts that pain usually enters, since, from a fractured point of view, a character is seeing a fractured world. The main conflict here is separation.

As Erich Fromm said in the quote below:

“The absolute failure to achieve this aim (to overcome the separateness) means insanity because the panic of complete isolation can be overcome only by such a radical withdrawal from the world outside that the feeling of separation disappears-because the world outside, from which one is separated, has disappeared.”

For those who have seen this movie, they know when Fred (the one who listens/doesn’t know) answers the intercom, the voice that informs him that Dick Laurent is dead is the voice of himself (the one who talks/knows) from the end of the movie.

The whole movie is a journey of integration or rather disintegration since the journey of integration is a never-ending story. We’ll see soon what triggers the disintegration of or madness in Fred.

2. Creator →Orphan (A ray of hope) HEART’S DESIRE

Hero’s heart vs. non-authentic relationships.

Fred is married to Renee whom he loves but doesn’t trust. He feels alone and betrayed, but he still doesn’t know what is wrong with his relationship. He is obsessed with her, intrigued by where she is secretly going.

They make love and instead of feeling connected to her, he feels emotionally dominated by her. Also, his dream reveals his fear of not being able to trust her: “It was you, but it wasn’t you.”

He would like to find some answers. His subconscious comes out in the form of a cassette – someone (his subconscious) has broken into their bedroom while they were asleep. The police come.

3. Explorer →Magician (The hero decides to go on a quest) A BETTER LIFE IS POSSIBLE

Wrong belief vs. new vision.

Fred and Renee are at a party with a friend Renee’s named Andy. Fred begins to put the pieces together about different men Renee is involved with. The Mystery Man appears for the first time, he claims that they’ve met before. He is going to be Fred’s mentor, a brave but hidden part of Fred, who can see the truth. He claims he is in their home at the very same moment when they are speaking in person at the party. He says Fred invited him.

From that point on, Fred is pushed to go even deeper into his subconscious – going into some dark parts of their apartment/himself. He is ready to go on a journey to find out the whole truth.

The next morning a new tape arrives and, on the tape, Fred sees himself as a murderer. Renee’s body is cut into two pieces. He is sentenced to death. But the life of discovery can begin.

4. Lover →Caregiver (Wish storyline) LOVE (B STORY) INTRODUCED

Love triggers fear (overprotectiveness).

It is at this point that the B storyline is introduced. It appears that we are entering into an entirely new story. “Some spooky shit” – a strange metamorphosis happens and Fred Madison is “transformed” into another man. Instead of Fred, who is gone (to where we don’t know), the police find Pete, a young auto mechanic in Fred’s jail cell. Pete’s parents (caregivers) come to pick Pete up. They bring him home.

Pete has friends back home and he also has a girlfriend who obviously loves him and asks him what is going on since he’s been acting strange lately.

5. Sage →Destroyer (Healing is possible) REASONS BEHIND SUFFERING

Healing provokes self-destructiveness.

Pete comes back to the garage where he works. Mr. Eddy asks Pete to fix his car. He takes Pete for a drive and while on this drive, Pete learns that Mr. Eddy is a dangerous man, who can kill whoever he doesn’t like. On top of that, Mr. Eddy is Dick Laurent – who is going to die (detectives who are following Pete know this).

From a structural point of view, it is at this point that we learn who has to be destroyed, and who is the antagonist, which is also the reason behind Fred’s suffering. We also discover who is going to be destroyed later on when the Destroyer archetype is going to appear for the second time on the wheel.

To heal, Pete is with his girlfriend, trying to behave as if nothing has changed.

6. Ruler →Innocent (On the top of the false mountain) WISH FULFILLED, the fake victory

Controlling the outside world vs. the soul’s real purpose can cause a big loss.

Pete can hear Fred’s saxophone in his head and that’s quite disturbing. Why can he hear it now? Because she is close, she is approaching him in this second story.

Mr. Eddy comes to the garage with his mistress Alice and later on Alice returns to the garage alone to find Pete. Soon after, they make love. This femme fatale wants him as well, and not just that, she really looks like Renee. Fred (inside of Pete – this is where he has gone) finally has what he wished for– HER. This is the climax of this story. What he needs is yet to come.


Right (new) and wrong (old) identity meet, the hero is fooled by fools.

Alice can’t meet Pete for some reason, but he is already caught in the ‘spider’s web’ she is creating around him. He sees his girlfriend, but that’s just not it.

There is another reason why this is the ‘Double identity’ part of the film – Pete’s parents talk to him about what happened that night (when he disappeared), that there was a man there who they had never seen before. They are so horrified that they just aren’t able to tell the whole story.


Fairness between relationships and the hero’s heart, freedom. Cheating.

Mr. Eddy tells Pete he loves Alice. The truth is Mr. Eddy is threatening him.

When Pete meets up with Alice, she is afraid that Mr. Eddy might kill them because he knows they’ve been together. She has a plan for how to run away with him. They have to steal some money from that guy, Andy, who pays girls to party with him. Pete is suspicious, he is realizing she might have been with other men the same way she is with him. This guy Andy, who is he? He works for Mr. Eddy and makes porno films for him. Pete is extremely jealous; he can’t stand the idea of her being a part of all that. (Don’t forget that Fred is now closer than ever to find out where was she going when she was with him). Alice is explaining to Pete how she met those guys using the same words she once explained it to Fred. She tells the story of how she first met Mr. Eddy. Pete realizes she stayed with Mr. Eddy because she liked him (he has power).

At the same time, Pete’s girlfriend is extremely jealous as well. She attacks Pete, saying that he fucks her whenever he wants and then just disappears. She asks him whom is he cheating on her with? She knows why he is different – and we know why as well: because he is not really Pete and because she is not Renee nor Alice.

Once again, all of the relationships come together in this part of the film and once again some characters are cheating and some are jealous.

Mr. Eddy calls Pete and tells him the Mystery Man is on the phone, who then says: “We’ve met before, at your house.” Basically, he is reminding him not to forget who he is and why he came into this story.

9. Magician →Explorer (Magic comes from the above) THE TRUTH IS KNOWN

Right belonging changes the hero’s belief structure.

Pete enters Andy’s house and, on the wall, there is a projection of a porn film with Alice in it. He is devastated by the truth he sees.

Pete kills Andy. But Alice was manipulating him, when he says, “We killed him,” she replies, “you killed him.” Pete sees a photo with both Alice and Renee on it and asks: “Are both of them you?” Pete’s head is hurting again – Fred is in there, going crazy because of what he is seeing.

It seems that the only man Alice belongs with is Dick Laurent.

Can Pete believe that she belongs to him, after what he has seen here?

10. Caregiver →Lover (Emotional breakdown) FINAL SEPARATION

Growing up. Vulnerability leads to love/the reward. The Light vs. the Dark.

Alice is taking Pete to the desert where time goes backward. Pete asks Alice: “Why me?” Alice: “You still want me, don’t you Pete, more than ever?”

Pete and Alice make love, Pete says: “I want you” and Alice replies: “You’ll never have me.” This is the key to this film, the whole truth and the final separation, the death of an illusion – the frustration that is there and that cannot ever be solved: women are always going to be a mystery to men, always.

She goes into the cabin. Pete transforms back into Fred. In the cabin, he meets the Mystery Man. He asks him where Alice is and he says her name is Renee. He wants to know what the hell is name is – is he Fred or Pete – WHO HE IS, one or the other or both and what does he have to do to deserve to be who he is?

It’s important to note that the Mystery Man is the one who is shooting everything (sending cassettes) – organizing memories and information and making sense out of them. He was invited by Fred, the same way we are able to invite something out of our subconscious – because Fred knew there was something hidden in there, some clue. Those clues are leading him deeper into his subconscious where everything else plays out: Pete, Alice and Mr. Eddy.

11. Destroyer →Sage (Death of an old belief, self) KILL OR HEAL (Change or die)

Facing the biggest enemy (fear) brings healing. The final battle.

The only man Renee belongs to is Dick Laurent, she was part of his pornographic gang. She enjoyed it actually. But also, she makes love to him and we see that this dangerous man is the only man she has warm and genuine feelings for. After she kisses him, she walks out of the hotel room – she is actually alive.

The Mystery Man helps Fred fight Dick Laurent, but who kills him is a Mystery Man inside Fred. Now, this is who Fred is, not a killer but at least a man with dignity. He needs his own strength, if he can’t have Renee, at least he is not going to be manipulated and emotionally used by her anymore. The question is why she deeply cares for Dick Laurent?

*If we use the Freudian model of the psyche to understand this film, we could say that Pete is Fred’s id which contains the libido, but I would not say that the Mystery Man plays the super-ego here, I just can’t see it as a symbolic internalization of his father figure. If anyone represents the super-ego, it is Mr. Eddy or Dick Laurent who are actually father figures for Renee, the ideal man – strong, dangerous but protective of her, no one can beat him – and this is the real opponent for Fred. Structurally, this stands here as a variation of ‘killing a father’ point.

12. Innocent →Ruler (Ascension to a new world) LIVE AND SHARE

Controlling the inner world, compassion is the right way to rule and influence.

Renee and Alice are indeed the same person. The police find the photo where there is no Alice at all – just Renee with Dick Laurent and Andy.

Fred informs himself (the one who doesn’t know and who is afraid) that Dick Laurent is dead, so the story goes back to the very beginning of the film. The police come in front of his house and Fred is now on the run, they are chasing him. Integration is not possible – disintegration is the way things always are. Relationships with another person, with women actually, are always going to be a lost highway. There is no love; there is no unity with another. Just separation and loneliness with no return.

“… after man and woman have become aware of themselves and of each other, they are aware of their separateness, and of their difference, inasmuch as they belong to different sexes. But while recognizing their separateness they remain strangers, because they have not yet learned to love each other.” Erich Fromm

“I'm deranged.

And the rain sets in.

It's the angel man.”


Structural note: Even though this film appears to be structured in a non-linear way, as you can see - it is not. If your emotional premise is strong and clear, if you are using sub-textual elements to build the plot directly – then those elements are actually falling into the basic archetypal structure of the Intuitive Screenwriting Wheel. Amazing isn't it?

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