Renee/Alice - Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

Discussion of Lost Highway

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Swim to Heaven
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Renee/Alice - Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

Postby Swim to Heaven » Mon Oct 27, 2008 3:35 pm

Today I mentioned to my friend how I thought it was surprising how Lynch refers to Renee/Alice, in Lynch on Lynch, as Pete/Fred's "walking with the wrong person." I always sympathized with her character(s), myself, and I was surprised when my friend said he'd always loathed her. I wondered how diverse the reaction to her might be.

This is something I wrote over at IMDB explaining why I think Renee/Alice is, for the most part, innocent:

I sympathized with Renee/Alice the entire time. I believe Fred was running from the torment he himself has manifested, not one she purposefully inflicted on him.

The jazz club scene is key in understanding Fred's inability to apply passion, emotion, and freedom to his relationship. I got the impression that his saxophone playing was the reason Renee fell in love with him' he's powerful, intense, passionate, completely lost to the sensual world whereas he just can't get there with Renee. Still, she stays with him and comforts him when he fails sexually, but she can't stand to go to the club and see how much better he is at making love to the music (though her not going could easily be interpreted as her not taking an interest in that which he is most passionate about' instead, she'd rather "read").

There's a strong Madonna/Whore complex running throughout Lost Highway. Fred finds Renee extremely attractive, but he can't reconcile his strong sexual desire for her without also believing that she must be a "whore." He craves her and the sexual energy she projects (from the script: "She is sexy without trying"), but he wants to make sure that he's the only person who "owns" her natural sensuality. Like many men, Fred is unable to see a woman as both sexy and loyal/"marryable." He has to invent a sordid agenda for her because he's so insecure and convinced by the Madonna/Whore ideology that any sexy woman is a promiscuous one.

I read a review of LH somewhere that mentioned the ambiguity of the scene where Alice is being forced into oral sex' it mentioned that we aren't sure if Lynch or someone else is objectifying her. Is it Lynch, Mr. Eddy, or Fred/Pete? Alice is telling the story of how she was forced to be Mr. Eddy's moll, but in Pete's imagination, he can only focus on Alice's body. Perhaps it even turns him on, seeing her in this role. He objectifies her just as Mr. Eddy did, because he doesn't even consider the trauma that must have been involved in being forced into a sexual act at gunpoint (I would love to know what Lynch's direction to Patricia Arquette was for this scene' was she supposed to be scared or was she supposed to subtly "enjoy" what was happening?). And when Alice finishes, all Pete can think of is that she must have "liked" it. He doesn't even think to offer her comfort or understanding, since he fully expects Alice to be such a "slut" because she's attractive, to the point that there are no sexual offers she would turn down. Alice can't win no matter what she does' so she offers to leave Pete alone, but he isn't happy with that, either. He wants to "tame" her and make sure he's the only one she desires.

The last scene in the desert could be interpreted as Alice/Renee's final "up yours" to Fred/Pete, in conclusion to all the fucking around she's supposedly done to him. The way she stands up and looks down at him is decidedly cold. But, I think at this point, even if Renee/Alice is angry at him, she's earned her anger. She's tried to be with him and be honest about her past, but Fred/Pete is never satisfied and does not respect her or her emotions. "You'll never have me" because you will never try to understand or accept me. This moment could also be interpreted as the one in which Pete/Fred gives up, lets Alice/Renee walk away, and decides that he cannot have a proper relationship with her, because of who he is, and who he then becomes' Fred, jealous, insecure, and distrusting. Or maybe he's made the realization too late, and at this point Alice/Renee is already gone (whether because she walked away or because he's already killed her).

I personally think Lynch and Fred have/had similar issues with women. In almost all of Lynch's movies, a pair of breasts somehow get exposed, sometimes for what seems like no real reason (it's the worst in the Ronnie Rocket script). There's also often the presence of a woman not only getting abused, but secretly enjoying it (Laura Palmer, Dorothy, Lula and the "Say 'fuck me'" scene), which has never sat well with me. Lynch likes to say that there are people like that out there, and masochists do exist. But masochists tend to enjoy pain inflicted on them by people they trust' almost NO ONE enjoys being sexually assaulted by someone they believe may really hurt/kill them. To suggest so in THREE different movies is really... questionable. I like to think Lynch faced some juvenile, patriarchal demons in Lost Highway. The next two movies he wrote had female main characters, seemed to me much more sympathetic to women, and had scenes where women were clearly NOT enjoying being sexually assaulted (Camilla pushing Diane away, Laura Dern's character recounting her rape to her psychiatrist in anger). I'm not trying to definitively accuse Lynch of being a misogynist or anything, but I find it really interesting to try and see LH from the eyes of a man (director or not) with unhealthy attitudes toward women/women's bodies. It could be coincidence, of course, but I see LH as a personal, redemptive and therapeutic movie. And who doesn't like to remember things not necessarily the way they happened? :)

What do you guys think?
jameseric
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Joined: Sat Jul 11, 2009 1:03 pm

Re: Renee/Alice - Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

Postby jameseric » Sat Jul 11, 2009 2:48 pm

Witch is a loaded term to be sure.

I'm not even going to try to touch what might be in the mind or heart of someone else. The script details are interesting. Though, be careful. As designed is often very different from as built. Arquette said in Wrapped In Plastic that she feels that Fred loved Rene so much, that he completely changed for her. Or, at least he tried, maybe unsuccessfully due to his uxoriousness. I don't think Rene is cheating on him. Nevertheless, she has brushed up against people in the sex-worker industry so to speak, even if it's simply a private kink of DL/Mr.E. The sparse dialogue points to her deeper involvement, but nothing actually confirms it to me.

Generally, people like sex. Women are also moved by erotic thoughts and visual images, and Rene seems to mouth an enthused "...wow!..." while partaking in one of these home-made flicks with the DL crowd. Maybe Fred is simply projecting this on to Rene, but, it might be accurate. Walking with the wrong person is a great clue. However, Rene and even Alice have not done anything wrong. These activities are just part of her past experiences, and that doesn't make a woman a whore, necessarily. Alice's 16mm performance may just be Fred's suspicion and insecurity expressed through Pete's world, just as Fred seems to be constructing a fictitious conspiracy with Rene and Andy.

Filtering LH though factual norms is dicey at best. However, consider that California doesn't have the electric chair. So, Rene's murder and the escape from Death Row are just Fred's bad thoughts in my opinion. Sin-by-thought equaling sin-by-deed is about as close to Catholicism as I'd care to get here. In Judaism Lilith doesn't even get her props for being Adam's first wife in most circles. So, be extra careful with the Good Witch label.

Another interesting angle from WIP is the idea of being observed. When Rene is giving the police her address she adds "...near the Observatory..." This is odd considering the sparse dialogue. It can't just be a throw-away line. The Detective looks down from the roof. The crane-shot looks down as the Detectives leave "...we'll keep watch over the house..." Looking seems to be the key here. What do you think you see? I see love.
Gruff
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Joined: Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:56 am

Re: Renee/Alice - Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

Postby Gruff » Tue Feb 16, 2010 9:35 am

Some interesting questions raised here I think.

If Fred "got involved with the wrong person" then this person is perhapst in some way responsible for the events that follow. Was Alice responsible? Could she possibly have framed Fred, even killed herself? Perhaps.

In a sense the plot of Lost Highway is that of a Jazz musician who is framed for the murder of his wife. However Lynch still avoids a definitive explanation of the story. We're left unsure wheather Fred is guilty or not. In fact he even prefers to avoid using the psychological fague Fred experiences to explain the film. To me this shows that the film is definately not simply about a psycho murderer as in say uh...Psycho. (Norman Bates: She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven't you?)-Classic Hitchcock moment!

Rather I think Lynch is pointing us beyond the surface narrative, to some deeper truth. If this is the case then asking whether Fred was framed might be a more promising lead to follow.

Lynch specifically stated that Fred was 'walking with the wrong person.' What made Alice/Renee the wrong person anyway? Perhaps there is more to Renee than what Fred knew. Lynch actually held Alice and Renee not as two seperate characters but one and the same. Only the worlds were different. Patricia Arquette explained how she came to realise this while talking to Lynch about her character/s.- (I think I read it here: http://www.lynchnet.com/lh/lhpress.html)

If Renee/Alice are the same person in both worlds then she would necessarily carry knowledge of this. If so this would place some measure of power/control in her hands. We can see this most obviosly in the Alice-Pete relationship. Alice is in complete control of the events that takes Pete to the edge of the desert and back.

And if Fred was 'walking with the wrong person', what about Pete? If we agree that Pete is not the same person as Fred ie.no memories of previous life, then by inferrence Lynch is telling us that Pete was walking with the right person. If we consider that walking *with somone requires one to follow and the other to lead at any point along the journey then what does this mean for Fred. Was he trying to lead when he should have been following?

This view may turn the mysoginist picture some may lable on Lynch upside-down. Yes I agree the images could be viewed by some as 'in poor taste' but that is to miss the point entirely. f I choose to look no further than the image on screen I may as well have rented 'Emanuelle' or some porno film that caters to my interests. (How about something with fruit? lol)
Actually I'll concede that parts of the film is reminicent of a 90s porno production, slow motion and all. My only wish is that all pornos were 1/10th as good!

And in thinking about Lynch's female characters, all seem to posess both power and weakness. They are abused and thrown around, but paradoxically they also seem to be inviting it & at times even desiring it. Dorothy in Blue Velvet comes to mind. Others are raped only to exact revenge on an unimaginable scale. Think Lula in Wild at Heart. In Mulholland Drive Lynch takes this a bit further where it's woman against woman...against man. The women it seems carry more weight behind their blows than the men. Actually this is in true for at least one scene- That one where Joe 'the hitman' encounters the 'heavy set woman'. (Truth is stanger than fiction, and funnier too it seems.)

In my view it is Alice/Renee who is the most powerful. She is able to pass between worlds fully intact. No psychological break for her as in Fred's case. This poor guy is eternally looped in hell. (Think of how the film itself is able to loop seamlessly) Although he manages by sheer power to pass into another world and another body, in this case Pete, he is fragmented psychologically and thus unsucessful. Pete on the other hand seems to have stumbled upon the truth yet doesn't get the whole picture. What you could call dumb luck. And boy is he dumb! In fact, the more dumb this guy acts the more 'lucky' he gets. Lynch lets the disgruntled cops, Hank and Lou point this litle truism out for us. Hank: "Fucker gets more P**** than a toilet seat" Lou: "...Uhm!" (It cracks me up every time I hear that line)

If this is all the case then it leads us to perhaps an even bigger question: How and why does Alice succeed?
Gruff
Posts: 10
Joined: Tue Feb 16, 2010 4:56 am

Re: Renee/Alice - Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

Postby Gruff » Sat Aug 13, 2011 10:49 am

Excellent input from those starting this thread. & though this may seem a contradiction I don't think I could disagree with any of the readings. It must be proof of the genius within David Lynch & Barry Gifford. I feel Lost Highway is perhaps Lynch's defining masterpiece. It could stand alongside Kubrick's 2001 with a devilish smirk on it's face. ;)
On a side note I watched an interesting film this morning titled 'I Want You' (1998) by Michael Winterbottom. This film is incredibly powerful. I was thrown for about an hour after watching it. Anyway it helped me more fully grasp the dimensional complexity of both films. So the question of what kind of Witch is Alice/Renee is a tough one. There is perhaps no definate answer to this one. I will say though that I had a strong impression that Renee had a hand in all of it. And perhaps Dick Laurent would agree to that. haha

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