David Lynch is no stranger to using the femme-fatal archetype. In Lost Highway (1997), Patricia Arquette stars as Renee Madison and Alice Wakefield, each of whom have very distinct dissimilarities. However, much of the film’s evidence points to the idea that they are indeed the same person. But, are they really?
After Fred (Bill Pullman) begins to suspect his wife Renee of infidelity, he kills her in a crime of passion. Unable to live with his actions, Fred then creates an alternate reality in which everything about his life is different, including his own identity and lover.
After Fred’s transformation into Pete (Balthazar Getty), Alice soon becomes the object of the young mechanic’s affection. But, like Fred and Renee’s situation, Pete and Alice’s relationship is troubled. Alice is already the mistress of Mr. Eddie (Robert Loggia), a volatile gangster who employs the damsel in the porn films he produces.
There are intentionally contrasting pieces of evidence that hint the truth behind the Renee-Alice connection.
Both Renee and Alice’s appearances, particularly their wardrobe, are in stark contrast to one another. Renee wears darker-colored clothing and has red hair, while Alice wears lighter-colored clothing and has blonde hair.
Early in the film, as Fred and Renee make unsatisfying love, Renee wraps her hand around Fred’s neck. Her nails are painted black. This scene is mirrored later in the film when Pete makes passionate love to Alice. Contrasting her alter ego, Alice’s nails are painted white.
Moments after a particularly grisly murder, Pete spots a rather puzzling photograph in the victim’s living room that shows both Renee and Alice, standing side by side. However, when the police arrive on the scene, only Renee appears in the photograph.
So are Renee and Alice really the same person? The answer is: sort of. Renee is dark and Alice is light. Renee is Alice’s opposite, her negative, and vice versa. But, most of all, both serve as the crown jewel to the male protagonists.
Before Pete’s reversion back to Fred, Alice whispers in his hear, “You’ll never have me.” This is a reminder that no matter what, the protagonist, whoever he is, will never get the film’s femme-fatale, no matter who she is.