This remains one of David Lynch’s most
controversial films. A dark and violent romance, it’s quite uneven but
still fairly impacting. Even mid-level Lynch is better than most other
filmmaker’s so-called successes!
WILD AT HEART, released in August of 1990, was Lynch’s
long-in-coming follow-up to
BLUE VELVET. WILD AT HEART won the
grand prize at that year’s Cannes Film Festival, but stateside critics
and audiences were upset largely by the fact that it was so different in
look, style and content than BLUE VELVET (even though it dealt with many
of the same themes). David Lynch, being the uncompromising artist he
was/is, never had any interest in repeating himself, which got him in a
fair amount of trouble, seeing as how his previous film was such a
massive cult success.
Then there was the issue of WILD AT HEART’S violence
quota. In 1990 it was about as extreme as mainstream American cinema
got; I was a movie theater employee back then, and can attest that it
inspired more disgusted walk-outs than just about any other movie of the
time. Now, however, the shock factor has worn off--especially since the
film directly influenced much of the independent cinema of the
nineties--making it far easier to appreciate its many qualities.
Sailor and Lula are a young couple in love.
Unfortunately their seemingly blissful romance is thwarted when Sailor
is attacked by a black man one day and ends up bashing the guy’s head
in. The man was hired by Lula’s witchy mother Henrietta, who’d just come
on to Sailor in a public restroom. Her aim was to bring Sailor down
because he witnessed the death of her husband in a fire that Henrietta
and her slimy boyfriend Marcellus Santos caused.
When Sailor is released from prison a few years later
he takes off on a wild cross-country jaunt with Lula, in defiance of her
mother’s wishes. The latter responds by sending Johnny Farragut, an
easygoing private detective, after them. But she also dispatches Santos.
He promptly delivers Johnny into the hands of some psychotic friends in
New Orleans, who enlist him in a “buffalo hunt” in which Johnny assumes
the role of the buffalo.
As for Sailor and Lula, their money quickly runs out
and they end up in a Texas fleapit called Big Tuna. There Sailor falls
under the influence of Bobby Peru, a miscreant who enlists Sailor in a
bank heist he promises will make them both rich. What Bobby fails to
disclose is that he’s in the employ of Santos, and has vowed to see to
it that Sailor doesn’t survive the robbery!
Lula in the meantime has discovered she’s pregnant, and
isn’t so sure she wants to deliver a baby into a world that’s “wild at
heart and weird on top.”
Most of David Lynch’s previous films--ERASERHEAD, THE
ELEPHANT MAN, BLUE VELVET, the TWIN PEAKS pilot episode--had a lean,
streamlined quality to them. WILD AT HEART marked the beginning of
Lynch’s disjointed and overlong phase (see TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME
and LOST HIGHWAY).
The 1989 Barry Gifford novel the film is based on was a pared-down
exercise in minimalism marked by colorful conversations and very little
action. Lynch added his own brand of colorful weirdness, and also quite
a few supporting players. Thus, a simple story about lovers on the run
is rendered extremely complicated and difficult to follow.
Yet there are many impressive touches. WILD AT HEART
has a style and attitude that today might be called Tarantino-esque,
with its darkly comedic noirish atmosphere, startlingly graphic violence
and frequent hommages to past movies (a red pipe from MON ONCLE, a dog
gobbling a severed hand from YOJIMBO). Tarantino’s scripts for TRUE
ROMANCE and NATURAL BORN
KILLERS, for that matter, both owe more than a little
something to WILD AT HEART.
Also on display in WILD AT HEART is Lynch’s gift for
eliciting the absolute best from his performers. Nicolas Cage and Laura
Dern have never been better as Sailor and Lula, who remain one of the
great white trash couples in screen history. The supporting cast is
peppered with Lynch regulars like Grace Zabriskie, Jack Nance, Isabella
Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton and
Crispin Glover, all of whom make quite
an impression. The most impressive performance, however, is delivered by
Laura Dern’s real-life mom Diane Ladd, not known for Lynch movies but
whose sustained comedic intensity makes her quite possibly the ideal
David Lynch performer.
WILD AT HEART
The Samuel Goldwyn Company
Director: David Lynch
Producers: Monty Montgomery, Steve Golin, Sigurjon Sighvatsson
Screenplay: David Lynch
(Based on a novel by Barry Gifford)
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes
Editing: Duwayne Dunham
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean
Stanton, J.E. Freeman, Crispin Glover, Calvin Lockhart, Isabella
Rossellini, Grace Zabriskie, Sherilyn Fenn, Marvin Kaplan, W, Morgan
Sheppard, David Patrick Kelly, Freddie Jones, Jack Nance, Sheryl Lee