David Lynch’s Wild at Heart received the Palme d’Or from the Cannes Film Festival in 1990, yet it still seems to have remained heavily underrated in his filmography. Among many things that one could ever find themselves loving about Wild at Heart, it’s also like looking at a new side of the David Lynch that one would be familiar with and even if the sudden shift in tone may not work for the most dedicated of his fans, it still results in what I see to be one of his most beautiful films by far. If there’s any other way to describe Wild at Heart, it would only be fitting to describe it as the happiest film that David Lynch might ever leave us behind with, but it still perfectly blends together all the distinctive elements of surrealism in order to create one of the most romantic movies that could ever have been made too.
Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) are madly in love with one another. However, Lula’s overprotective mother Marietta (Diane Ladd), disapproves of this romance and even sends hitmen out to keep the two of them apart and bring Lula back into her arms. Based on the novel of the same name by Barry Gifford, Wild at Heart is probably best described as the most romantic movie in David Lynch’s filmography, but the mere thought of a film of this sort seeming so unorthodox even by the standards of what David Lynch is known for best exemplifies why his talents remain unmatched. Even on that count, it still retains those distinctive David Lynch touches that only make this love affair so much more dreamlike.
It’s hard enough to doubt that the combination of the talents of Nicolas Cage and David Lynch would make a match that seems almost so uncalled for, yet both are able to embrace their weirdness in order to form a beautiful love story. Nicolas Cage puts himself so into the character of Sailor Ripley to the most impressive manner, overtly expressing his pride over a snakeskin jacket (which was one of Cage’s own possessions) because to him, “it is a symbol of my individuality and belief in personal freedom” (in those exact words). These aren’t even close to the more surreal aspects of Lynch’s twisted love story, but underneath you also have a story about how America is hell-bent on keeping a perfect couple together at all costs, and the many lives being claimed in the ensuing chase.
Despite being more sentimental in tone when placed alongside other Lynch films, it still leans in towards his own sensibilities – somehow blending together to create the perfect romance film. You feel the love between Sailor and Lula burning through the screen (literally from the film’s use of fire imagery), from the performances of Cage and Dern, but even through the dark, ugly, and oftentimes violent imagery. Delving into an obsession with American pop culture, particularly Elvis Presley and even The Wizard of Oz, though not without the inclusion of metal music as it mixes together with Angelo Badalamenti’s more soft and lavish score, what comes forth is a portrait that best represents the spirit of the American love story – burning love in a world where evil pervades through.
In the usual David Lynch fashion, Wild at Heart embraces the absurd, to a point it becomes his most outright funny too. Yet these moments never feel so out of place in the film’s darkest or most creepy moments, following our introduction to Willem Dafoe as Bobby Peru or the sole scene with Sherilyn Fenn, who in Lynch’s eyes is best described as herself playing a broken porcelain doll. But most absurd come the nods to The Wizard of Oz as mentioned prior, as if that’s what David Lynch makes of the idealized American love story – it’s all a fantasy, trying to find a way to battle the cruel and harsh reality. Lynch clearly loves it so much, it also leads into what may be one of the most tender and beautiful ending sequences he had ever filmed: something that feels so unexpected even for Lynch standards but it makes everything so dreamy too.
When you’re watching Wild at Heart, it’s easy to find yourself rooting for Sailor and Lula to triumph because of how much this film makes you feel that burning love they have for one another. As absurd as it can get, with everything coming forth because Lula’s mother does not approve of their love for one another, what makes Wild at Heart a high point in David Lynch’s filmography rings clear from how he’s willing to take what we know and expect from both the traditional love story and his trademark surrealism in order to create a twisted romantic comedy of sorts. It feels like David Lynch is more than willing to try out many different styles of storytelling all at the same time, but it’s all about wanting to be loved tenderly – and meeting the Good Witch along the way.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via The Samuel Goldwyn Company.
Directed by David Lynch
Screenplay by David Lynch, from the novel by Barry Gifford
Produced by Steve Golin, Monty Montgomery, Sigurjón Sighvatsson
Starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton
Release Date: August 17, 1990
Running Time: 124 minutes