Even though I’m a huge fan of the one and only David Lynch, before I started making a dent in my Blindspot Series list, I’d never seen Wild At Heart (1990) – a film which some may consider his most ‘straightforward’ or ‘mainstream’ story. I’m thoroughly used to the David Lynch we see in films such as Eraserhead (1977), Twin Peaks (1990-1991) (and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992)), Mulholland Drive (2001) and Inland Empire (2006), so I got the feeling that this film had the potential to show me a different side of this very strange and amazing director.
Wild At Heart is a story of two lovers named Lula (Laura Dern) and Sailor (Nicolas Cage), whose relationship is not approved of by Lula’s mother (Diane Ladd). Lula and Sailor set off on a cross-country roadtrip to escape Lula’s domineering mother and live their own lives, but unbeknownst to them, Lula’s mother sets a number of freaky hitmen out to destroy their relationship once and for all.
A vast difference between this film and Lynch’s other works is that the story is told in a fairly linear fashion, with some flashbacks to provide backstory and to remind the audience of why certain characters make certain choices. I do think Lynch works best when he’s being authentically weird, but it was also quite refreshing to see a story told by him in this way. Overall, the plot is simple – Lula and Sailor escape across the country after Sailor is released from prison, they enjoy their time together by having sex and dancing at speed metal gigs, all the while encountering crime and violence pretty much everywhere, until the end where Sailor must make a choice as to whether he wants to stay with Lula or not. It sounds simple, but there’s something about the frenetic energy of this film that is constantly compelling.
I think a lot of the energy comes from co-stars Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage. I’m pretty critical of Nicolas Cage (particularly after this travesty), but I enjoyed his performance as a charming criminal Elvis-type character. Laura Dern in particular is fairly stunning in this, with her extremely expressive face being put to good use. It’s also fun to spot the Twin Peaks actors – the beautiful Sherilyn Fenn as a girl in a car accident, Sheryl Lee as Glinda the Good Witch, Grace Zabriskie as one of the creepiest twin sisters ever, and Jack Nance as a crazy rocket scientist. Crispin Glover also performs at his very strange best, as does Willem Dafoe, whose face when covered with a stocking mask will be haunting my nightmares forever.
Lynch’s direction reminds me a lot of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me in particular, possibly because they were shot around a similar time period. In particular, the funny cuts between scenes and a particular focus on strange side-characters caused me to compare the two. As stated earlier, the film is more straightforward and easy to understand compared to his other films, but Lynch never compromises on his unique directorial style, his usual favourite motifs, and strange imagery throughout. Cinematographer Frederick Elmes makes the best use of the roadtrip scenery to make the film visually stunning. Elmes also worked as cinematorapher on Synecdoche New York (2008), and the two share a very dream-like visual landscape, even though one is more located on the road and the other in the city. Angelo Badalamenti’s score also reminded me a lot of Twin Peaks, but that’s to be expected.
A bit of a surprise from David Lynch, Wild At Heart is his straightest story. It is also completely mesmerising. Once you start this film, you’re taken on a trip that you can’t really escape, even as the credits are rolling. This is the first of Lynch’s films where I’ve actively barracked for the main characters and for their love to succeed. The ballad of Sailor and Lula is a sad and complex one, but one that is pretty enjoyable to watch, which is also at odds with a lot of Lynch’s work. I can’t believe it took me this long to see it, but I’m glad I finally did. Like Lula says – “this whole world’s wild at heart and weird on top”, which is an apt description of the film itself as well.
Watch the trailer here.