Title: Wild at Heart (1990)
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Zabriskie
“This World is Wild at Heart and Weird on Top” is the defining quote in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, this shouldnt surprise anyone considering how the strangeness of the world is one of David Lynch’s favorite themes, for example, he also addressed it in Blue Velvet (1986), another film that spoke about the dark strange underbelly of the world. Wild at Heart is a film about a couple trying to hide away from the craziness of the world, trying to run away from it. They desperately want happiness, and constantly look for it, but Lula and Sailor seem destined to failure somehow. Lula and Sailor both come from dysfunctional families, Sailor says he never had any “parental guidance” and Lula, well; she has the mother from hell. When we first meet Sailor, he is being picked up by Lula, on the day he is being released from jail, which immediately lets us see Sailor isn’t an angel; so we’re not exactly talking about two wholesome characters here. Yet, these two trouble makers have true love for each other, it’s intense, pure, real, so much so that Lula is constantly afraid that something will “jinx” their happiness. The “strange world” is a constant threat to their blissfulness.
There are many scenes in Wild at Heart that are simply there to accentuate how strange the world is. For example, there’s this scene in which Lula and Sailor are staying on this motel in the middle of nowhere, and they decide to take some fresh air by having a drink with some of the tenants of the motel and boy, this group of people they meet are class-A, bonafide weirdoes! On top of things some people are shooting a porn film with obese women on one of the rooms of the motel and suddenly a bunch of obese naked ladies pop into the scene! That’s when it dawns on you that you’re in David Lynch land! He also revisits the theme of an evil controlling mother figure in the form of “Lula’s Momma”, a.k.a. Marietta Fortune, played by an intense Dianne Ladd, she gets so psychotic at times! At one point she smothers her entire face in lipstick because she’s so angry! By the way, I’ll just make a quick note here and point out that Dianne Ladd plays Lula’s mother in the film, but she’s also Laura Dern’s real mom! So it’s one of those special occasions where real life mother and daughter get to work together on a film; this parental connection between actresses brings an additional emotional impact to their performances; Lynch knew what he was doing. But just how weird is this movie you ask? Well, it's so weird that test audiences demanded the film to be trimmed down during a scene that is by far the epitome of weirdness; it's a scene between Grace Zabriskie and Harry Dean Stanton, it involves an orgasm and a murder, but I'll let you discover what that scene is all about for yourselves.
One of the things that makes this film work so well is the chemistry between Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern; Lula and Sailor, wow, what a couple! They exude sensuality, love, and true devotion to one another, but they also have a rebellious edge to them. As a spectator, you know these two people are rebels and trouble makers, they love to hang out at heavy metal bars, dancing to the music of a band called ‘Power Mad’! Lula doesn’t listen to her momma even though Sailor is obviously bad news; you see, Sailor has a tendency towards bar fights and manslaughter! He is also the biggest Elvis fan which I'm sure had something to do with Nicholas Cage who is also himself a huge Elvis fan. In a way Lula and Sailor remind me of these classical rebellious couples like Mickey and Mallory from Natural BornKillers (1994), only less murderous and insane. Thing is that even though Lula and Sailor aren’t squeaky clean characters, you get to like them anyways, Lula comes off as slightly naïve, while Sailor is the quintessential bad boy with a heart of gold. They come off as the kind of couple that is perfectly in tune with each other, their respective lives going down the same exact rode. Their passion is often times alluded to through images of fire and heat, for example, while the two have sex, Lynch superimposes extreme close ups of matches being lit, cigarettes being smoked or entire houses burning down. When Lula gets aroused, she tells Sailor that she’s “hotter than Georgia asphalt”, so sensuality plays a big part on this film.
For some reason Lynch chose to mix Lula and Sailors story with an avalanche of references to The Wizard of Oz (1939), strangely enough it all fits perfectly with the story. For example, as Lula and Sailor run away from various things on their road trip, Lula imagines “the wicked witch of the west” following them closely behind, like an evil threat to their relationship; to make things worse, the wicked witch is her own mother! The Wizard of Oz references don’t stop there; there are talks of yellow brick roads, people wanting to go “somewhere over the rainbow”, even Toto figures into one of the conversations. It all makes perfect sense when we look at it from the perspective of the story, we can actually draw some interesting parallels between both films. For example, we could say that Lula and Sailor are going down the yellow brick road of life. Lula and Sailor have their very own wicked witch in the form of Lula’s over protective mother who looks at Lula through a crystal ball, a symbolism alluding to Lula’s momma watching every step Lula and Sailor take. The Wizard of Oz references go on all the way till the films end, so knock yourselves out trying to spot them!
The film is sprinkled with many cameos by actors who have participated in previous Lynch films, for example we get Jack Nance who played Henry in Eraserhead (1977), Isabella Rosellini who played Dorothy Vallens on BlueVelvet (1986) and Sheryl Lee who worked on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), so you’ll see a bunch of Lynch familiars, but you’ll also see a couple of faces that you’d never seen before on a Lynch film, the most notable one being Willem Defoe playing ‘Bobby Peru’, another outstanding villain in David Lynch’s Rogues gallery. At the end of the day, Wild at Heart is a road trip movie about two lovers trying as best they can to eliminate evil forces from their lives, two people just trying to be happy, but not being very good at it because as the film will constantly remind us, this world is overpoweringly weird and we can sometimes find ourselves unwillingly entangled in its strangeness weather we want it or not.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage fooling around on the set