Wild at Heart (1990)


There aren’t any words in any language that can describe how much I love David Lynch. I quite simply adore him – I think he is perhaps the greatest living filmmaker, and one that I unflinchingly worship as a visionary. I cut my hair to look like his. I dress in the same way as him. I listen to his music and read his books. Most of all, I watch his films with awed fascination and unending respect – and like we all do with artists we adore, we view their lesser works with as much enthusiasm as their masterpieces – for me, that was Wild at Heart, a film that doesn’t live up to Lynch’s greater works, such as Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, yet it is singularly incredible and absolutely brilliant, which speaks only to the brilliance of David Lynch and how he is capable of making something truly extraordinary.

Wild at Heart is about Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Fortune (Laura Dern), two young lovers who are torn apart when Sailor, defending himself against an asailant, is sent to prison for manslaughter. After some long years of prison, the pair finally reunite – and embark on a cross-country trip. Tracking them along the way is Lula’s mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd, Dern’s real-life mother), who refuses to allow her innocent and sweet daughter to be corrupted by the seemingly bad influence that is Sailor. Marietta hires various individuals to kill Sailor and bring Lula back to her, at any cost.

In short, Wild at Heart is two-hours of intense violence and incredibly malicious dark comedy – which is something that Lynch frequently makes use of in his films, other than the bizarre surrealism we all love him from. Wild at Heart is almost entirely without plot or motivation – absolutely none of the characters have any motivations for doing what they do, and we don’t really see much of why these characters are the way they are, except for the protagonists. The audience never learns the reason for Marietta’s hatred of Sailor, or why she hires several different people to kill him, or why any of the people she hires are so willing to go to the ends of the earth to win her favor. I can see this as both a flaw and a charm of Wild at Heart – nothing is explained, and while that can be frustrating, it is also brilliant, because we don’t need to be told what is happening, but rather allow Lynch to bring us into this world with his singularly strange vision and excellent use of the most bizarre filmmaking possible.

Nicolas Cage has become a bit of a parody of himself – overly hammy, extremely artificial and seemingly without the capacity to choose quality films anymore. This isn’t to say he was good in Wild at Heart – he certainly was a lot better than he is nowadays, but I feel that the seeds of his overacting have always existed, and they are very clear in Wild at Heart. I felt like Cage was slightly miscast in the role – he didn’t have the charm or the menace to play the character of Sailor as effectively as I would have liked. I am not sure what exactly went wrong with his performance, and while I wouldn’t call him bad by any stretch, I do feel like he didn’t blend well with the film. Laura Dern, however, was wonderful and it was fantastic to see her in a role like this early in her career. I feel like the sweet and gentle nature of Dern fits very well with the intense and bizarre nature of Lynch’s filmmaking.

Of course, we cannot discount Diane Ladd in any way – she is one of the most incredible actresses I’ve ever seen, and yet she is so under-appreciated. I feel like she is one of the most underrated character actresses, and while her contemporaries have found such incredible success, Ladd never reached that same level. In Wild at Heart, she is absolutely riveting, and she steals the show with her incredibly crazy performance. This kind of performance would be far too much in any other director’s work, but in Wild at Heart, it just works, and fits in perfectly. A special mention to the supporting cast, particularly Willem Dafoe, who has yet to give a bad performance in any film, and is terrifically menacing here as Bobby Peru, the creepy criminal set out to kill Sailor.

Wild at Heart is not David Lynch’s best film – but when a filmmaker has made some of the greatest films of all time, then even his lesser works are worth checking out. Wild at Heart may not be his magnum opus, but it is certainly an incredibly complex and utterly fun film that has escalated violence and some truly remarkable imagery. Lynch is such a talented filmmaker, I am sure he could film himself reading the newspaper and still have created a near-perfect surrealist masterpiece. Wild at Heart is simply Lynch trying something slightly new, and he can’t be faulted if it doesn’t work out perfectly. I still think that Wild at Heart has its glowing benefits and is still a truly tremendous film. I thought it was absolutely wonderful, and while it did lack the spark of better Lynch films, it was still entertaining, and just another reason why David Lynch could quite possibly be the greatest living filmmaker.

I counted nearly two dozen references to The Wizard of Oz. Lynch is clearly highly influenced by that film, and that is absolutely brilliant.


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