Wild At Heart (1990)

wild at heart

“This jacket is a symbol of my individuality and personal freedom.”

The Scoop: R 1990, directed by David Lynch and starring Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe, and Diane Ladd

Tagline: N/A

Summary Capsule: An ex-con and his lady love go on a wild and surreal ride across America.

Rich’s rating: I am choosing to symbolise this film with the image of a custard coloured hat floating in a bowl of cheerios (no milk).

Rich’s review: On my more paranoid days, I harbour the dark thought that all of David Lynch’s films are some form of colossal joke at my expense. On my more cynical days, I instead think that David Lynch’s films are made exclusively so that Art Majors and self-proclaimed Film Intellectuals have something they can discuss and feel superior about at parties. Most of the rest of the time (what little of it there is), I spend wondering what it would be like for me to actually understand what the heck is meant to be going on in any of his films at all.

That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them, mind. I’ve yet to see a film of his that didn’t challenge me to think not only after but during the film, trying to figure out whether the fact that everyone in the bar (which is on screen for about 4 seconds) is wearing a red hat is somehow the critical lynch(hur hur joke)pin to the greater understanding of the plot. I enjoy puzzles and riddles; but watching David Lynch’s films, I get the feeling that he’s the kind of guy that spent a lot of time pulling off the labels and rearranging them on Rubik’s Cubes so they couldn’t be solved.

All of which is my roundabout way of telling you that this film is directed by the aforementioned Mr. Lynch, and therefore anyone watching with the intention of understanding it is pretty much screwed. Fortunately for us, however, this is one of the earlier Lynch films, so there is at least a surface plot that we can follow from A to B to C, reach the end and think ‘Yes, I have seen a film with a conclusion’. Anyone who has seen Lost Highway or Mulholland Dr. will understand what I’m talking about.

So, Wild At Heart then. Sailor (Nicholas Cage, being fantastic) and Lula (Laura Dern) are in love; madly, wildly, head-over-heels insane in love; something which Lula’s mother Marietta does not approve of. She approves even less when Sailor is sent to jail for manslaughter (he killed a man in self defence), less even than that when Lula goes to meet Sailor from prison, and her approval drops into super-negative approval ratings when Sailor and Lula decide to break parole and take off on a road trip across America.

Unfortunately for Sailor and Lula, Marietta, as well as being stone cold, wibble-wibble-round-the-bend insane, knows a number of very, VERY shady, weird, and perverse people, who she immediately hires to hunt down her errant daughter and dispose of Sailor in probably unpleasant and painful ways.

And that’s the basic set-up for the film. We cut between Marietta, who flip-flops between crazy and more crazy while debating whether it was really a good idea to tell that shady hitman to find her daughter; Sailor and Lula as they drive across America looking for a place they can start a new life while encountering various shades of weirdness; and Jonny Farragut, Marietta’s private eye boyfriend who she send out looking for Sailor and Lula. And like I said above, you can watch this film as a simple road movie. It more or less has a beginning middle and end which follow on from each other, so there’s no real need for extensive head scratching.

But the attraction of the film (at least for me) isn’t the story itself, but rather the stuff which happens around the story. Small interludes, like Sailor and Lula picking up a hitchhiker with a box full of puppies who he’s taking to Alaska to train as a sled dog team, bombard you with smug weirdness. It’s like watching the entire film with someone stood behind you, pointing at the screen and whispering ‘look, look – that’s an allegory! I bet you don’t know what that represents, do you?’. The challenge then comes from being able to go back to the film, watch it again, and when that smug voice shows up being able to say ‘Of course I do – it’s to do with the death of his stick insects when his crazy uncle ate them all’ or some such nonsense.

If it seems I’m not really making a point here, you’re probably right. While Wild At Heart may be something of a ‘David Lynch Primer’ as it’s at least slightly comprehensible, it’s still confusing and takes great pleasure in messing with you, leaving you with the sense that nothing in the world makes any sense any more; much like this review.

Also, like Poolman/Justin erotic fanfiction, this film is chock full of disturbing images, and as such might lead you to the conclusion “what on earth am I watching this rubbish for?” if you’re of a sensitive disposition. If that’s the case, don’t send me your therapy bills if you watch this film on my recommendation – I’m too busy paying for my own therapy.

So, will you enjoy Wild At Heart? If you like Nicholas Cage, like films that make you think about what they mean without ever telling you, and high strangeness, certainly. If you like films that make sense, run from A to B to C fairly logically, and don’t seem like someone deliberately wrote this to mess with your head, no. And if you’re one of those people who like to watch films like this, then talk loudly about them at parties in a psuedo-intellectual and condescending manner to everyone around you, please send me your name and address. I have a correctional 2×4 I’d like to introduce you to – it’s an allegory for the pretentiousness of Film Intellectuals.

Found Highway
Found Highway


  • During filming, Laura Dern passed out when ‘Lynch, David’ asked her to smoke four cigarettes at once in one deep inhalation. When she came to, she saw a worried Lynch standing above her asking: “Tidbit! Are you alright?”
  • Nicolas Cage does his own singing.
  • The snakeskin jacket Sailor wears in the film was actually Nicolas Cage’s own.
  • David Lynch wrote the additional music for the film.
  • Wild At Heart is based on a book of the same name by Barry Gifford.
  • I’m not going to go into all the weird dialogue and situations in this film here; take my word that there is a lot of stuff to see here.
  • Sailor’s jacket, as well as being a symbol of his individuality and personal freedom, is pretty damn cool.
  • Marietta needs some practice putting her lipstick on.
  • The absolutely hundreds of Wizard of Oz references scattered throughout this film.

Groovy Quotes

Sailor: Peanut, you do say the craziest things.

Sailor: Hey, my snakeskin jacket! Thanks, baby – did I ever tell you that this here jacket for me is a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom?
Lula: ‘bout fifty thousand times.

Marietta: I want you to get rid of Sailor
Santos: Get rid of him?
Marietta: yes – get rid of him.
Santos: How would I do that? Send him on a trip – like maybe to Hawaii?

Sailor: Are you going to provide me with an opportunity to prove my love to my girl? Or are you gonna save yourself some trouble and step up like a gentleman and apologise to her?

(Sailor and Lula are watching The Dating Game)
Sailor: This couple’s going on a date to Hawaii. The girl chose him over the other two guys.
Lula: Don’t the reject guys get anything?
Sailor: Gift certificates to Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Lula: That don’t seem fair…
Sailor: Hell, why should The Datin’ Game be different from real life? At least them boys is gonna get somethin’ to eat.

Lula: That Johnnie is one clever detective. You know how clever?
Sailor: How clever?
Lula: He told me once he could find an honest man in Washington.

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