Wild at Heart (1990)
Wild at Heart (1990)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 2 hrs. 5 min.

Release Date: August 17th, 1990 MPAA Rating: R

Director: David Lynch Actors: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, Crispin Glover, Diane Ladd, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton, Sherilyn Fenn




ild at Heart” is a chaotic ride through a surrealistic nightmare, in search of love in a vividly visualized hell, infused with a road movie basis and heavy references to “The Wizard of Oz.” Most of the time it’s unquestionably disturbing, but every so often a hint of deeper meaning pokes through the strangeness. And to think that as unimaginably freakish as the whole film is, it’s the most coherent of director David Lynch’s projects. While he’s probably proud of the fact that many people walked out during test screenings and at its Cannes Film Festival premiere, the film went on to win that event’s best picture prize (the Palme d’Or), as well as both Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for Diane Ladd’s supporting performance.

Set between North and South Carolina in Cape Fear, the film opens with a shocking scene of violence and brutality – a great first impression. Marietta Fortune (Diane Ladd) hires petty thug Bob Ray Lemon to kill the irreverent and dashing Sailor Ripley (Nicholas Cage), a man infatuated with Elvis and madly in love with Marietta’s daughter, Lula (Laura Dern). Sailor started smoking when he was 4 and didn’t have much parental guidance, so he quickly beats up the goon and throws him down a staircase – all to the tune of classical music drowned out by heavy metal. The Pee Dee Correctional Institution is his destiny, with a charge of manslaughter.

Lula didn’t receive any better of an upbringing, having been raped by her Uncle Pooch at the age of 13 and having her wildness regularly reined in by her overbearing mother, a thoroughly crazy woman as batty as the Wicked Witch of the West. 22 months after her boyfriend is locked up, Lula defies Marietta by picking Sailor up from the facility, remembering to bring him his snakeskin leather jacket – a symbol of individuality and his belief in personal freedom (a prop brought to the set by Cage himself). In retaliation, Marietta contacts her old flame Marcelles Santos (J.E. Freeman), in control of a band of assassins, while her current fling Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton), a private investigator, also goes in pursuit of Lula and Sailor. The hunt begins in New Orleans, where Santos only agrees to murder Ripley if he can also kill Johnnie. The chase finds all parties arriving in Big Tuna, Texas, a desolate town where the craziest of all the characters will finally corner the carefree rebels.

Lula and Sailor park in the desert and dance when the radio offers no comfort; they come upon a woman in shock moments after a serious car accident; and they meet up with indescribable Bobby Peru (a particularly disturbing and wickedly twisted role for actor Willem Dafoe, who seems to gravitate toward grotesque characters). These seemingly unconnected events provide shocking imagery that is both moving and awe-inspiring for mysterious reasons – even beyond the carefully placed orchestral music, written by Lynch himself. The film holds an interest due to its weirdness alone; there’s something uncannily rewarding about constant, jarring, borderline offensive material mixed with impossibly bizarre characters – but it’s incredibly difficult to pinpoint the specific allure. The equally unusual editing, consisting of flashbacks, repeated imagery, slow-motion, color overlays, montages, and cuts between characters, conversations, and time, add to the visual mayhem. Despite the extreme amounts of aberration, “Wild at Heart” does provide the perfect crazy personas for Cage and Dern to shape in a perfectly crazy movie.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10