What To Watch: Nightmarish Daydream of ‘Wild at Heart’ (1990)

David Lynch's minor masterpiece is a film you have to see.

Wild at Heart is a 1990 crime/drama about a pair of young lovers who go on the run from a slew of psychos hunting them down.

‘Uh oh’ says Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage), the first words out of his mouth as he bites back a streak of rage that becomes unleashed when he is provoked, utterly wrecking a man sent to kill him, smashing his head to a pulp on the marble floor of a ritzy gala event. So starts David Lynch‘s phenomenal Wild at Heart, a blisteringly carnal and absurdly beautiful masterpiece that is as relevant today as it was groundbreaking in 1990.

THE STORY: Lest we forget, Cage has always been slightly off his rocker, but in the best way possible. Here as Sailor, he plays a maniac in love with a girl named Lula (Laura Dern), something her mother Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd) is no so pleased about, knowing of a dark past. She hires a man to kill him but it goes sour and Sailor kills the killer in self defense, going to a jail for 22 months.

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart, 1990 © PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

On his release, Marietta is doubly adamant against her daughter seeing Sailor again, but Lula does so anyway, meeting him at the jail and heading off to a hotel to get ‘reacquainted.’ Breaking parole, the two decide to head to California, but what they don’t know is the Marietta has some devilish plans of her own and this time she means to have it done right.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: To call Wild at Heart bizarre would be aiming low, Lynch serving up a Lynchian cocktail of eccentricities and freakiness that have come to define his work, but layered with all kinds of style here that are as jarring and yet entertaining as they come. With quirky dark characters and equally weird visuals, it’s a shocking odyssey, one that threads its loose story together with a pungent array of social condemnation and sociopathic overload. It’s stunning stuff.

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart, 1990 © PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Lynch is not subtle, instead crafting one bombastic moment after another, with each elevating the crazy to almost uncontrollable levels. We go from a woman smearing her entire face and hands in blood red lipstick to a man barking at a TV showing hyenas ripping apart a gazelle. That’s what you get here and honestly, it all comes together like magic – dark, sinister, unearthly incantations that shouldn’t work at all but do, and oh so right.

A GREAT MOMENT: Lula and Sailor are a real pair, a couple of, well, wild at heart lovers who want nothing more that to be free, make love and dance all night. Sailor wears his trademark tan snakeskin jacket, his symbol of individuality and belief in personal freedom and Lula in barely anything at all, skimpy pink or black, skin tight outfits that let her move.

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart, 1990 © PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

At one point, after days of driving and nights of partying, they are on the road again, she taking her turn behind the wheel. Sailor lays in the backseat while she, on an open stretch of deserted desert road searches for music on the radio, only to find one worse bit of news after another as reporters and stories tell of the most vile in Man.

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart, 1990 © PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

As the sun sets, she yanks the car over and leaps out of the convertible and demand that Sailor find music before she loses her mind. And so he does, tuning the dial to Powermad‘s Slaughter House, a heavy metal tour de force of guitars and screams that absolutely ignites the two. Sailor literally (and good on Cage for doing so) flips right out of the car and they take to moshing right there in the desert sun before the music morphs into a sweeping orchestral piece by the film’s composer Angelo Badalamenti. It’s dreamy and so captures everything about the tone and heart of the story.

THE TALLY: Wild at Heart is a surreal fantasy, a nightmare wrapped in a daydream that is unlike most movies you will ever see. Violent and romantic and undeniably strange, it’s an experience well worth seeking out. With sensational performances from Cage and Dern, it features a ton of great support as well, including brief bits from Willem Dafoe and Crispin Glover.

Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart, 1990 © PolyGram Filmed Entertainment

Pay attention to the music as well, an eclectic mix of old radio jazz hits from Glenn Miller to pop tunes by Chris Isaak to Cage himself belting out Elvis Presley songs. If you haven’t seen Wild at Heart yet, it’s time you did it right and discover this piece of cinema gold. It’s what to watch.

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