Wild at Heart (1990)
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The most interesting feature of this strange movie, I think, was the weird characters, one after the other. Make that ultra-weird.....and the strangest of them all is "Bobby Peru," played by Willem Dafoe. In all my years of movie watching, I think "Bobby Peru" still has to rank in the top five of the creepiest characters. He is so outrageously disgusting and perverted you just have to laugh out loud at him.
In fact, "outrageous" might be the best word to describe this film, characters and all.
This wild and entertaining film sometimes makes me shake my head in disgust that I own it, and at other times makes me just laugh out loud at the absurdity of it. You really have to have a dark sense of humor to appreciate much of it. I do, to some degree....enough to keep viewing this.
Nicholas Cage is particularly fun to watch and provides most of the laughs. Laura Dern is also convincing as a trailer-trash-type. If you want a clue on why Dern would play such a sleazy role, check out her real-life mom in this film, Diane Ladd, who plays her mother in the movie. It looks like Mom passed on her wholesome values.
As with some other Lynch films, the music is outstanding: just a great soundtrack. I bought the CD to this a year after first seeing the movie, and I've always enjoyed it. And, another Lynch trait that certainly is here is the excellent visual style, which is enhanced by the widescreen DVD.
So, if you are looking for an outrageous two hours and you aren't easily shocked or offended, this would be a film to consider.
The premise is strange, but intriguing. A young couple is separated when the guy, an Elvis fanatic named Sailor (Nicolas Cage), goes to prison for manslaughter after defending himself against a man who threatened him. When he gets out, he is desperate to get Lula (Laura Dern), the girl he loves, back again. Lula is more than willing to pick up the relationship, but if her mother has anything to do with it, she won't have a chance. Being young and in love, the girl rebels. However, her mother's desperation leads her to contact a hit-man she is in knows and the young couple is forced to run away. The two lovebirds head to California and encounter all sorts of crazy situations along the way.
Arguably the best thing about Wild at Heart is its great cast. Nicolas Cage is in his prime here and the role is, somewhat, reminiscent of the "repeat offender" he played in Raising Arizona. Nicolas Cage was great in his pre-action-hero movies. Laura Dern is equally excellent. I'd never understood the reason for her popularity in sexy roles. It's effective here, though, and she embodies sweet yet trashy Lula wonderfully. Supporting performances by Willem Defoe, Harry Dean Stanton, and Diane Ladd also provide liveliness that enhances the film.
Although it deals with such serious subjects as murder, incest, and general family dysfunction, Wild at Heart is anything but serious. The film is chocked full of amusing moments and over the top clichés. The best example of this is the presence of a rich, older crime boss with a penchant for having young preferably naked young girls surrounding him at all times he's present. There are a few moments when the style gets repetitive and the characters do something worthy of much eye-rolling. Despite that, this movie is never boring and fairly unpredictable.
Wild at Heart is a fun adventure to hitch a ride on. It is full of energy and snappy dialogue. Unlike most Lynch films, it is very linear and straight forward. The acting is excellent and the characters are strangely likable. Wild at Heart feels a little long and drags in a few places toward the end, but this barely hinders the film in its entirety. This is an amusing film, one that would make a good introduction to Lynch for those unfamiliar. For the rest of us, it's simply an enjoyable piece of film-making.
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".
This is simultaneously a thrilling road movie and a revelation of small town, American country folk. The two protagonists, Sailor and Lula (Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern) are so in love with each other that they'd go to extreme lengths not to be separated. Their separation is exactly what Lula's crazed mother wants, as she believes that Sailor is a cold-blooded murderer who is putting her daughter in danger. Her anger is so fierce that the viewer becomes slightly scared by her: her manic fits of rage where she plasters herself in red lipstick; her bizarre paroxysms fueled by numerous cocktails. All of her slight idiosyncrasies and mannerisms well up to create a very intimidating mother. She sends out a hitman to dispose of Sailor and bring back her daughter, but the lovely couple are on the run from her and the law.
Sailor and Lula meet up with some very strange characters whilst travelling far away from Lula's mother. The eccentricities of 'Tuna Town' in Texas, the insane car accident victim and Lula's nutcase cousin who believes that "the man with the black glove is coming to get him". It's all rudimentary David Lynch fare. He has mastered the art of contemporary film making: a clever blend of black-comedy, violence and fantasy.
The viewer builds an empathy for the two main characters, as it would be a terrible thing to see their undying love for each other shattered. The other characters in the movie all seem to want to destroy that love. Sailor's character, although violent and hardbitten, seems the most normal of the lot. It takes a sane man to make sense of all the insane folk in America's underbelly. He puts up with a lot from everyone, but all he really wants to do is escape from it all with Lula.
After all, who can love in a world that's wild at heart?
Nine out of ten.
I suppose the film is best described as a vicious black-comedy, though the emphasis there is on 'vicious'. Lynch also makes allusions to the 'lovers on the run' genre of crime film-making popular in the 60's and 70's, taking it all further into the realms of the bizarre through his own cinematic obsessions (like deformities, arson, small-town Americana, detective fiction, good versus evil, car-accidents, etc), as well as more arcane references to Elvis, voodoo, incest, and the Wizard of Oz. It's a surreal trip, best summed up by the film's repeated mantra "wild at heart, weird on top" with Lynch seemingly revelling in this carnival of grotesques, whores, thugs and criminals, all gathered together in small-town New Mexico under a haze of blood and sex. American film critic Roger Ebert mockingly referred to the film as a "lurid melodrama, soap opera, exploitation put-on, and self-satire", which to me, sums up the film's most successful attributes. The plot takes off from films like Thieves Like Us, Bonnie & Clyde and Badlands, pre-dating Oliver Stone's similarly over-the-top dark-satire, Natural Born Killers, with two star-struck lovers hitting the road in an attempt to escape from the pressures of the modern-world (parole, poverty and an over-bearing mother). Lynch lays on the melodramatic clichés in broad stroke, to the point where all narrative references are to be taken with a pinch of salt... for example, it's not enough for our hero Sailor to be a murdering jail-bird from the wrong-side of the tracks, but he has to have a loving, sex-kitten girlfriend from a well-to-do neighbourhood with over-protective loved-ones. Admittedly, Lynch does subvert this almost saccharine depiction of moral family values by offering a flashback, in which our heroine, Lula, is assaulted by a predatory uncle, while her mother is later revealed to be a drunk, manic-depressive with mafia ties, which again, is all part of the joke.
There's also the spirit of the 50's, with Fredrick Elmes' colourful wide-screen cinematography bringing to mind the Technicolor melodrama of Hollywood's golden age, and the films of people like Nicholas Ray, Elia Kazan and Douglas Sirk. There's also the obligatory references to the feckless youth of Brando in The Wild One, or the self-aware pastiche of Coppola's great film Rumble Fish, with the characters here looking and sounding like they've walked out of the pages of a lurid slice of pure pulp fiction. Of course, this is another problem that some viewers have had with the film, with Lynch offering no real characters - as he had done with masterpieces like The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet - and instead relying on arcane ciphers and bizarre caricatured grotesques. Again, this is all part of the fun and not really intended to be taken entirely seriously, with Lynch and his actors keeping the film moving from one out-burst of random surrealism to the next; with a number of humours and/or terrifying iconic performances from this esteemed, though certainly eclectic, cast of characters. The centre of the film, and indeed, the real focus of our attention, is established and sustained well through the relationship between the characters Sailor and Lula, which is developed surprisingly well through the strong and fearless performances of Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. Dern has never looked more stunning in a film as the sensual and unhinged Lula, whilst Cage reminds us of what a strong and intense character actor he used to be in the days before he switched to shallow Hollywood blockbusters. Both actors have a great chemistry with each other, and create a believable relationship in spite of the over-the-top abstractions and dramatic flourishes called for by Lynch's script. Amongst the supporting players, Harry Dean Stanton is a joy as the hound-dog private-investigator Johnny Farragut, who is sent looking for Sailor and Lula by his lover, Lula's mother Marietta Fortune, who is brought vividly to life with a grand-standing over-the-top relish by Dern's real-life mother, Diane Ladd.
Add some bizarre cameos from Lynch regulars, like Sherilyn Fenn, Jack Nance, Freddie Jones, Grace Zabriskie, Isabella Rossalini, Sheryl Lee (here continuing the Oz references with her climactic appearance as the good witch), J.E. Freeman, Crispin Glover (in one of the film's most bizarre scenes, as Lula's troubled cousin Dell), and an extended appearance by an unrecognisable Willem Dafoe, who's character Bobby Peru meets one of the most outlandish and overly violent sequences ever witnessed on screen. Certainly this film doesn't quite floor-me with it's madness as it used to when I was 14 or 15 (and would watch this and Blue Velvet pretty much religiously), with Lynch subsequently out-doing himself with the modern masterpiece Mulholland Drive. However, this film is probably more fun, and doesn't take as much concentration to really follow or get into it.
Ultimately, the film works depending on how much of Lynch's bizarre creations you can stand; with the film falling somewhere between the darkly-comic satire of Twin Peaks at it's most wittiest and the dark, industrial nightmare of Lost Highway, only with a more linear plot. I still think it's a great deal of fun, and will undoubtedly appeal to die-hard Lynch fans or those with an interest in cult American cinema.
Isabella Rosselini in torn stocking, shabby wig, and red shoes is swaying gently to some music when Willem DaFoe crashes in and gives her a vigorous smooch. That's the beginning and the end of the scene. Another example? Cage and Laura Dern are having an argument just after he's let out of the slams. She's nervous and upset because she hasn't seen him in six years. He looks at her intently and tells her it's a mistake for them to get back together again. There is about a twenty-second closeup of Dern's magnificent blue eyes. They don't drip with tears. They don't even blink. They stare directly into the camera. Why? Like you, I'd have to guess. (I'd guess that her unblinking, unteary stare is meant to tell us that she sees things pretty clearly despite being shaken. That's pretty banal, I know, but my mind is open to other interpretations.)
I don't mean to sound as if I'm bashing the movie because that's not what I mean to do. Let's linger a little over a much later scene. It takes place in the middle of a city street, El Paso I would guess, but it's one of those industrial-area streets that are deserted on weekends. It's a wide sun-baked silent street cluttered with drunken-looking telephone poles and lined with one-story factories and warehouses, and there is a city skyline way in the distant, cerulean with urban haze. And Cage is walking alone through this bleak and ominous landscape. But it's not only the visuals that makes this scene outstanding. A handful of viperous dudes wearing black fall in behind Cage's figure and another group of Thugees finally blocks his way in mid-street. The music comes to an abrupt halt. Nobody says anything. The atmosphere throbs with threat. Cage sets down his suitcase, takes the time to deliberately light a cigarette, looks around him, and asks, "Okay -- what do you faggots want?" What they want is to beat the hell out of him, and they get their wish. The unconscious Cage has a vision of The Nice Witch of the West (don't ask) and when he recovers he finds he's still surrounded by these sadistic brutes who ask him if he's had enough. He struggles to his feet, gingerly feeling his "broken" rubber nose, and says, "Yes, I've had enough. Furthermore, I'd like to apologize for referring to you dudes earlier as homosexuals. You've taught me a lesson." Then he runs away ecstatically. How many other movies can boast ten minutes worth of film like that?
Now, I can see where a lot of ten-year-olds (or ten-year-old minds) might be bored with this film. It's long. There isn't an abundance of violence, although DaFoe does get his head blown off by twin blasts from a shotgun. I mean, quite literally, his head is blown completely off. It bounces off the wall like a football and lands with a loud splat on the pavement. So maybe there's a little hope for the horror afficionados after all, but not much, when you get right down to it.
The movie is punctuated with violence and, even more, with oddities, but mostly it moves languorously. Cage and Dern thrum through the Texas night in a shiny old convertible whose radio plays nothing but news like, "A man won his appeal today for dismissal of charges that he ate his own child." Well -- not that, but equally weird. One relative of Dern gets his kicks by putting a cockroach directly on his nether orifice. Willem DaFoe should definitely sue his dental surgeon. He thrusts his mouth close to Dern's at one point, urging her to say something filthy to him and he'll let her go, and his mouth is like a limpet's, his lips a disgusting circle of membrane filled with hideous teeth.
I wouldn't argue that "Wild at Heart" should be put into a time capsule, but it's not a movie that's easy to forget. David Lynch may or may not be a hot commercial property but he's one of the most original directors working today.
Nevertheless, if all you want from Lynch movies is memorable surrealism, wacky characters and delirious energy, Wild at Heart still offers plenty to savor. Parts of Wild at Heart do possess a mad energy and offbeat humor that is infectious. The performances are also highly entertaining - Nicolas Cage has rarely been better, and Dianne Ladd is hysterically funny in an utterly unhinged performance. But the madness of Wild at Heart all starts to seem too calculated, too soulless, and too ugly. The weirdness of Blue Velvet and Eraserhead almost always seemed organic, like a natural outgrowth of the film - Wild at Heart seems awkwardly scrambled together. Wild at Heart contains flashes of true Lynchian brilliance and a game cast, but they are lost in a nauseating, patchy, sub-par work.
Sure, there are some cool crazy characters (all right, they're all crazy!) and the photography of the bleak landscape is beautiful. David Lynch has also a cool way of using sounds and music which makes the film very eerie. Apart from that, the film is dangerously close to being a B-movie, almost laughable. It doesn't hold up.
RATING: * * *
But what do you come out with when you've seen a movie that cross-breeds a road movie with "Bonnie and Clyde", "The Wizard of Oz" and "Blue Velvet" (Lynch's previous film)?
Headache, nausea, dizziness and slurred speech, that's what.
This is not a movie, it's a litmus test for how far a movie can go and how much it can get away with. And obviously, the MPAA didn't let it get away with TOO much. But enough, to be sure.
As Sailor (Cage) and Lula (Dern) make their way through a bizarre world replete with oddball characters, twisted situations and nihilistic scenes of violence, it's kind of hard to juxtapose these with scenes of Glinda the Good Witch and Dern clicking her heels to get back home.
Lynch tries to make a joke of the whole thing: blood, guts, severed hands and heads and all, but this is the kind of humor you're more apt to get if you're into jokes about death, dismemberment and a lack of overall morals.
The only scene I did like in this whole mess is set in a dance club, where Cage roughs up a guy trying to put the moves on Dern, makes him apologize, has the guy get himself a beer and then jumps up with the band and breaks into an Elvis song while the girls in the club squeal and scream for joy. Seeing Cage sing like Elvis is worth the price of admission itself.
One star. For sheer guts, this movie has no equals, thank goodness. But though it's "Wild at Heart", its "Heart" is not in the right place. Just like its brain.
I saw this film the other day, and aside from a few touches of visual flair and a terrific performance from Willem Dafoe (nice little 'Sailor vs. Marine' motif), it was an undercooked mess. The "over-the-top" qualities which would serve Oliver Stone so well four years later in "Natural Born Killers" come off as clumsy and forced. Visual cues--such as the plethora of Oz references--are thrown in with about as much subtlety as a beer commercial (but without the sophisticated wit). I got the idea that Lynch was tired, the cinematographer didn't feel like framing his compositions in a creative manner, and the editor hit the bottle a few too many times before coming into work.
And another thing: I was embarrassed for Diane Ladd and Laura Dern. This film is a black spot on their respective careers (though, from what I've read, they have a near-cultist reverence for Lynch and his 'artistic integrity'). I found it most difficult to watch the scene where Ladd has to crouch up against a toilet after having vomited, with lipstick coating her face, and chunks of spew in her hair. I didn't find it hard to watch because it was merely disgusting--folks, there is such a thing as the degradation of women on film, and it's here.
At long last, if you want to see these kinds of stories done right, here are a few alternative film suggestions:
1. Joseph L. Lewis's 1949 film of "Guncrazy", a B-movie classic of star-crossed lovers on the lam.
2. "Bonnie and Clyde" of 1967, which skyrocketed its principal players to stardom, and rightfully so. A cornerstone of '60s American cinema.
3. From across the Atlantic, another 1967 film, Jean-Luc Godard's "Weekend". Even if you don't like the picture, you can't deny Godard's mastery of the medium. Where Godard rebelled and bucked convention in countless ways, Lynch is trapped in his own urge to include another in-joke, pop-culture reference, or blood splatter, and calling those his 'trademarks'.
4. Terrence Malick's first film, 1973's "Badlands", with a remarkably youthful Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, accompanied by Carl Orff's "Musica Poetica" (fans of "True Romance" will recognize it instantly), and elegaic heartland cinematography.
5. The imperfect but extremely likable "True Romance", from '93, with an excellent Tarantino screenplay, the aforementioned Carl Orff score, and the first 'straight' performance from Dennis Hopper since God-knows-when.
6. Finally, the one that puts any David Lynch effort to shame, Oliver Stone's "Natural Born Killers". Fans of Lynch and "Wild At Heart" will be angry with me, calling WAH the main source of inspiration for NBK, but I see it as a rehearsal instead. Oliver Stone, for all his faults, at least takes filmmaking seriously.
I was careful to have seen nearly all of Lynch's films before making a comment. I have seen all but "Twin Peaks/Fire Walk With Me" and the "Twin Peaks" TV show. I also have studied film seriously, on my own, for the past seven years, so I like to believe I speak with a little authority.
I realize Lynch must feel that his works are impervious to the audience's resentment of him, but he's wrong. Without an audience, the celluloid itself is nothing, because it exists in no one's mind except its makers and collaborators. Think about that.
I also acknowledge the small but steadfast group of Lynch devotees. That's fine. I'm happy for those guys. And like them, I have nothing but hope for Lynch's next film .
What a mistake. This movie is one of the worst I have ever seen, hands down. So just how bad is it? Well....
Thinking perhaps I was hasty in hating it, I rented it again, years later.
What a huh-YOODGE waste of time! You know how sometimes you keep watching an awful movie, hoping in the end it will somehow get a skosche better, or that at least something will be explained/justified, so that your time has not been wasted? Only then it never does, and as the credits roll you wonder out loud why you watched the thing? Well "Wild At Heart" is that kind of movie.
Again thinking I must be wrong; no Nick Cage movie could be that ridiculously bad, I rented it again, and this time instructed my teenage kids to watch it, and tell me what they thought of it. I did this WITHOUT FIRST TELLING THEM< OR INDICATING IN ANY WAY, WHAT I ALREADY THOUGHT OF THE MOVIE. Well guess what. My daughter came back with eyes wide and lips wrinkled in disgusted amazement, proclaiming, "That's the worst movie I've ever seen!" Her older brother demanded of me why I made him watch such a terrible movie.
There, see? no spoilers. Just rank opinion.
Okay, here's one, or a few: The staring-at-the-vomit scene..we, the audience, are the ones made to do the staring... and returning to it again as the days go by and it gathers flies..now there's a treat. Oh, but it's an artsy movie! It's got a vomit-staring scene in it! It has references to the Wizard of Oz! It has a lady with an untweezed mono-brow in it! Yep, sure is artsy. How avant-garde. What a meaningful film.
What a load of manure.
Look, if you don't enjoy staring and staring at a splat of vomit, you won't like this movie.
I was disappointed. The creepiness of Big Tuna, Texas was about a 7, but most of the rest of the movie was a 2 at most. The acting is generally poor and the ending of this movie is just plain stupid.
The only other good thing about this movie is Powermad. It's too bad they didn't continue. What a great, technical, speed metal band they were.
I was left thinking about Lost Highway for days. This one I hope to forget.
An inventive, crazy, abusive, drugged up, violent, sexed up, romantic, anti-romantic, road trip pseudo noir campy intense up and down silly disturbing movie.
But is it any good? Is it fun to watch, or moving, or beautiful? Maybe, if you are pre-disposed. At times I was amused or bemused or fascinating or surreal in a raw and theatrical way. It doesn't always add up, and even though it isn't meant to, the movie feels so self-indulgent you feel like the style is used to hide sloppy movie-making. It's a campy mess, really, with a whole slew of episodic turns and twists. You couldn't really care less about anyone or anything. It's too comic booky for that.
Nick Cage is a bit too much to take, too...you might find him funny, or just overacting. There are some terrific performances--a hyped up, silly sexy Laura Dern, a hardened Isabella Rosselini, a characteristic Harry Dean Stanton, an unpredictable Willem Defoe, and so on, quite a quirky cast! A lot happens in two hours, and it has that wide open American landscape behind it. It's no doubt sexist, but I doubt any of its fans care a bit.
And luckily, this kind of highly stylized film has its fans. Surely the glossy saturated nightmare and all the sex and violence is has all the earmarks of counterculture hedonism. That's good if you're into that. But I constantly think how much more powerful it could have been. There are moments, and scenes, that are fabulous, really brilliant. But in the long run it's a lazy movie, depending on its weirdness far too often. For me that's not enough. Curious, but not enough.
I first tried to watch this when it first came on television, but I was watching it with family and felt uncomfortable with the nudity and turned it off. Years later I have seen many other Lynch films, have loved Twin Peaks and looked forward to a chance to watch it. I sat to watch it aware of the basic plot and that it was to be full of references to Wizard of Oz, but I wasn't prepared for the biggest surprise - that it just wasn't that good a film. I am not adverse to Lynch's universe of weird characters but I don't like it when I get the feeling that he is simply being weird for the sake of it.
Certainly that seemed to be the case here: the plot is so loose and meaningless to almost be pointless even as a frame for weirdness - which is what it really is. The references to Wizard of Oz are all there but, rather than being part of the film, they are stuck in with clumsiness all the way - they seem like a gimmicky afterthought rather than a carefully scripted part of the film. The plot is more a collected of the usual Lynchian weirdness and gore. Sometimes this works really well when it is framed within an engaging film, but here the characters, images and action are all just left drifting in a relatively empty film. It's a shame because I really like many of Lynch's films and was looking forward to this, but even I am forced to admit that this film just isn't that good.
The cast features many of Lynch regulars, but many seem to be lost due to the fact that they haven't got the material to do their stuff within. Cage is really quite good despite his simple character. Dern is given more to do but comes across rather hammy with it - her character should have had the emotional buy in to the film but she can't deliver it. Turns from Dafoe, Stanton, Rossellini, Fenn, Glover and others are all good but they exist as free floating weird characters rather than part of the film in the way I would have liked.
Overall this is a typical Lynchian film in it's imagery, weird characters, strange story and violent/sexual content. Usually these would be good things in this context but here they aren't put together very well creating a film that, although worth seeing and weirdly fascinating, is not actually that good a film.
The movie is very hard to put in a genre (like most Lynch's movies), but I would consider it as a romance/drama/road-movie, since it deals with love and family issues on the road. People who mostly watch mainstream films, would probably find this movie sick and twisted. But for people who watch a lot of movies from Lynch or not, will probably find this very interesting, affecting and entertaining.
It's about a criminal, called Sailor (Nicolas Cage) who runs away with her girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern) across the southern states. Lula's mother (Diane Ladd) sends few killers after Sailor to save her daughter. David Lynch has put the world of 1990 into Sailor and Lula's life. What we see in their life is a totally shattered family structure, a shattered society. Among this it deals with death, despair and how crazy all the people have gone.
This obviously is a postmodern film and it's surrealism as most of Lynch's movies are. The music is also outstanding, modern and different. As I mentioned Lynch used the same composer (Angelo Badalamenti), that he used with Twin Peaks. But in addition to that, Lynch mixed some old Rock 'N Roll like Elvis with new Heavy Metal, which expressed the rage and frustration of the characters brilliantly.
So David Lynch is dealing with reality through surrealism. His world view in this film is dark: the world full of misery, death, violence, hatred and horror. While watching you might think that David Lynch is sick, the whole movie is sick and that's the world view Lynch is showing. We're supposed to feel sick, the world around us is sick.
"This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top." This is what Lula Fortune said to Sailor Ripley and it's pretty much what this movie is about.
I don't know why Wild at Heart has a low rating over here, maybe because of its originality (Not that low, but compared to other Lynch-films). In the documentary I mentioned before, they said that this movie was a flop in the United States but a big success in France. I can clearly see why, the narrative partly reminded me of the French style. And people in Europe are more used to artistic films, I'm not talking about all the people, but generally speaking.
8/10 A great postmodern film, which also was Nicolas Cage's best performance. A violent story about the world we live in.