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Wild at Heart (1990)

NC-17  |   |  Comedy, Crime, Thriller  |  17 August 1990 (USA)
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Ratings: 7.3/10 from 57,226 users   Metascore: 52/100
Reviews: 196 user | 105 critic | 18 from

Young lovers Sailor and Lula run from the variety of weirdos that Lula's mom has hired to kill Sailor.



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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 2 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Mr. Reindeer (as W. Morgan Sheppard)


Lula's psychopathic mother goes crazy at the thought of Lula being with Sailor, who just got free from jail. Ignoring Sailor's probation, they set out for California. However their mother hires a killer to hunt down Sailor. Unaware of this, the two enjoy their journey and themselves being together... until they witness a young woman dying after a car accident - a bad omen. Written by Tom Zoerner <>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Comedy | Crime | Thriller


NC-17 | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:






Release Date:

17 August 1990 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

David Lynch's Wild at Heart  »

Box Office


$9,500,000 (estimated)


$14,560,247 (USA)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The snakeskin jacket Sailor wears in the film was actually Nicolas Cage's own. Cage asked director David Lynch if he could wear the jacket in the film, as a tribute to Marlon Brando's role in The Fugitive Kind (1960). After filming was completed, Cage gave his jacket to Laura Dern. (On a side note, "The Fugitive Kind" was based on the play, "Orpheus Descending," by Laura Dern's cousin, Tennessee Williams. Laura Dern's parents, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern, met while appearing in a 1961 stage production of "Orpheus Descending.") See more »


When the policeman approaches Perdita who's waiting in the car, a shadow from either crew or equipment can be seen briefly on his hat. See more »


Bob Ray Lemon: Marietta tells me you been tryin to fuck her in the toilet for the past ten minutes... How 'bout that, tryin to fuck your girl's mama... Tell me, what's that little cunt Lula think about that?
Sailor: Uh-oh.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The ending credits play over footage of Sailor singing "Love Me Tender" to Lula, rather than a black screen. See more »


Referenced in Lulu and Jimi (2009) See more »


Written by Gene Vincent & Tex Davis
Performed by Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps (as Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps)
Published by Lowery Music Company, Incorporated (BMI)
Courtesy of Capitol Records
by Arrangement with Cema Special Markets
See more »

Frequently Asked Questions

See more (Spoiler Alert!) »

User Reviews

Beautiful, violent, funny and surreal--a masterpiece from David Lynch
22 July 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

This is one of my favorite David Lynch films. It is also one of the more transparent, easy to understand Lynch films, although that's not the reason why it's one of my favorites. But that fact also makes Wild at Heart a good candidate for introducing someone to Lynch.

On the other hand, although it's more transparent and linear on a surface level, I'm still not sure I've figured out the multilayered, bizarre subtexts and symbolism that lie deep beneath the surface--even though I've seen it a few times now. Assuming that there is indeed something to figure out. To an extent, it seems like maybe the hint of something "deeper" is in this case more of a red herring. This is one of Lynch's funnier films, albeit very macabre humor. It contains references to all of Lynch's most common "content quirks"—including sequined ingénues singing jazz, manipulative housewife types, shots of asphalt speeding by, minor characters with freaky speech "impediments", severed body parts, and on and on--but it's almost as if he's making fun of himself. Combine that with excellent performances (including a hilarious bit part for Crispin Glover, one of my favorite actors/personalities), a sublimely incongruous score, and a retro, gripping, violent road trip saga cum romance that presages both Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (1994) and just about all of Quentin Tarantino's career, and you've got quite a film.

Wild at Heart, based on a novel by Barry Gifford, is the tale of Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern), a doe-eyed, "classy white trash" couple. As the film starts--and what a start it is--someone tries to stab Sailor to death as he's exiting a theater. Sailor will have none of it, and Lynch begins the film on an exhilarating, brutally violent note--this is not a film for the faint of heart. To complicate matters and set up the primary conflict, we learn even before the attempted stabbing that the hit man was sent by Lula's mother, Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd), who claimed that Sailor tried to seduce her in the bathroom (this isn't quite true, as we learn in detail later).

There isn't a character in the film who isn't involved with some shady business, either presently or in the past. Sailor and Marietta's tensions stem from many years ago, when Lula was just a girl (she's supposedly quite a bit younger than Sailor). The events of the film's opening result in Sailor being imprisoned. Lula dutifully waits for his release, much to the consternation of her mom. The basic gist of the film is disarmingly simple--Sailor and Lula are headed across the country, with an eventual goal of California, as Marietta tries to arrange for Sailor to be put away for good. There are many finely realized subplots and detailed tangents, but that's the crux of the plot on the surface.

In addition to his typical hyperreal/surreal weirdness, Lynch concocts a very improbable stew of influences that work together beautifully. Lula has something of an obsession with The Wizard of Oz (1939). She's haunted by visions of the wicked witch (including the "evil cackle"), and she sees the road trip as a veritable journey to the Emerald City. Lynch works in a lot of subtle references to The Wizard of Oz with other characters, too. Sailor is something like lounge version of Elvis reincarnated as a gangster flunky, with even better karate moves to match. Yet the two are huge heavy metal fans, especially of a band named "Powermad", whose music exquisitely punctuates many sequences, including some sublime dance scenes. In the first half, important scenes are set in New Orleans, with the familiar unsettling undertone that that locale often has in films--you can just smell the voodoo, sex, drugs and death bubbling beneath the skin of the city. Later scenes are set in the desolate, desert prairie country of Texas, which turns out to be even more unsettling (even though I really find such places refreshing and relaxing). There are other kinds of symbolic, stylistic and literal references worked into the film, such as the constant fire motif, which Lynch shoots beautifully, but the above is to just give you an idea of the stew.

It all seems like it should add up to some subtextual grand narrative, and maybe it does, but I haven't quite figured out what it all means yet. But it doesn't matter. The stylistic flourishes are ingenious superficially, too, and maybe Lynch _is_ just poking fun at being Lynch. Here, perhaps more than in any other work, he has found the perfect balance between the soap-operatic and the utterly bizarre--the filmic equivalent to author Harry Crews' best work.

Tarantino doesn't tend to have pithy subtexts in his films, either, but they're no worse the wear for that, and when Wild at Heart takes a turn into typical Tarantino territory, Lynch is just as captivating, gritty and groovy, plus he's doing it before Tarantino himself. At the same time, Lynch manages to maintain a parallel lush, erotic romance between Sailor and Lula--Dern is incredibly sexy/sensuous here. This material works as well, and supplies what just may be the message of the film after all--that love can (eventually) conquer all, even the stuff that's "wild at heart and weird on top".

39 of 57 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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