Wild At Heart
by Mike Cartel (The Valley Vantage, 1990)
In the bizarre world of David Lynch everyone is otherworldly-challenged while facing a damascascene moment to ponder.
Without commercial restraints with Wild At Heart, Lynch has auteured a film emptying his night mind of private demons and grisly fantasies into his own cinematic voice.
Out of Lynch’s psychath’s delight of ratass trailer court pain/pleasure are Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern), the best that a nihilistic universe of crazed gods can produce. Sailor and Lula are on the lamb from Lula’s malicious mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd), who has contracted Sailor’s murder because of reasons that make perfect sense to any lunatic. Sailor and Lula’s adventure is a reworking of The Wizard of Oz-gone-mad theme that eventually dumps them into hellish Big Tuna, Texas.
Lula peers into the fast moving desert night and sees her mother bark-laughing while riding a broom as the wicked witch. Then, when Lula needs to leave a bad situation she chants and clicks her heels like Dorothy. But she is fated to live through the worst her mother and central casting can throw at her.
Sailor, meantime, is a jailhouse-tatted, snakeskin-coasted, guitar playing Elvis freak. Still, he’s no one’s fool, except his own, and is tenderly bewildered by Lula’s interior monologues. “The way your head works is God’s own private mystery,” he tells her after another scream-screwball lovemaking marathon. But she shoots right back, “You’re hotter’n Georgia asphalt,” in sexy hillbilly.
As the movie wears on there’s less romance and more ultra violence to make Satan puke, although the show begins with Sailor cracking a guy’s skull into jelly with riptides of blood smashing the camera. Like Bonnie and Clyde 23 years earlier, the overlapping carnage, sex, comedy keeps you on edge with a forward movement all it’s own.
Interviewed, Lynch said that he actually had to cut around the Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) torture scene (apparently like watching a bloody organ transplant while the un-drugged patient screams in splitting high A) since audiences walked out of the first screenings. Only because he couldn’t get it distributed did Lynch snip the shots along with his conscience, saying that the original was far more true to the movie.
But the dilemma of this film is its outrageous campiness that really does rival Tex Avery.
Lynch’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink school of violence might separate him from the usual summer overkill movie because it is often true to its theme – that nearly approaches art. But like an art film, Wild At Heart is more interested in how to tell a story than in telling the story.
References to the Yellow Brick Road, Toto, Wicked Witch West and good-witch Glenda, linger too long, apparently for the dumbest in the audience to get the motif. The flashbacks are nettlesome and the extreme close-up of countless fiery match-heads are just student-film repetitious.
Lynch’s fascination with fetid toilet bowls, tinkling urine, gratuitous profanity and tight shots of flies on vomit is understandable within the cesspool story, but his lingering camera merely points out the obvious and dulls the mind.
Despite Lynch’s hellbent fetish for Warhol monotony, Wild At Heart is seldom boring. It’s always mining lateral levels, even if some are at cross purposes. Lynch pulls natural trailer-trash acting from most of the cast, but striking Isabella Rosellini is too warm-blooded for the dragon lady role. Nicolas Cage underplays a confused loser who’s sideways gentle, sensual, violent, and very watchable. When Laura Dern rambles her stream-of-consciousness she’s far more attractive than when naked and impassioned. William Defoe, fitted with outrageous baby-teeth (really), gorges the scenery as a carny-crude hit man that might give Charlie Manson pause.
Now that David Lynch has gotten this highly praised and criticized film off his chest, perhaps he’ll mature to modify and experiment. Wild At Heart is a pose, not a conviction. If Lynch is a genuine Bergman, Fellini, Wells, then his next work will be far less camp, cartoon or the kitchen sink, just because he could.