Rob: Welcome to Weird on Top, a symbol of our individuality and our belief in personal freedom. I’m Rob DiCristino.
Alejandra: And I’m Alejandra Gonzalez.
Rob: Our David Lynch extravaganza continues with 1990’s Wild at Heart, written for the screen by Lynch and based on the novel by Barry Gifford. It stars Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as two young lovers on the run from parents, parole officers, and private eyes. Cage’s Sailor Ripley is a hard-living, Elvis-loving outlaw. Dern’s Lula Fortune is a smart and sultry runaway. Together, they’re breaking free for California along a yellow brick road of their own design, one that skews far away from the horrors of modern living. Meanwhile, Fortune’s mother (played by Dern’s real-life mother, Diane Ladd) enlists the help of private investigator Johnnie Farragut (The Immortal Harry Dean Stanton) and gangster Marcello Santos (J. E. Freeman) – with whom she shares a secret past — to hunt down the pair of lovers at any cost.
Ale, what are your thoughts on Wild at Heart?
Rob: While I agree that Wild at Heart uses familiar iconography to keep it grounded, it does feel at times like a bit of an alternate universe. I mentioned to you earlier that I thought it was the most Twin Peaks — meaning the original ‘90 - ‘91 series — of any of Lynch’s films, even more so than Fire Walk with Me. The dialogue is formally composed and intentionally verbose. The scenarios are melodramatic, campy, and, at times, bizarre. Angelo Badalamenti can be heard banging around on a jazzy piano in the background. The entire Diane Ladd subplot feels like a scheme hatched by Ben and Audrey Horne! This may be because Lynch began working on the film shortly after completing the Twin Peaks pilot. Who knows? Either way, I loved it and felt right at home in this universe.
I like what you said about Lula yearning for a bigger world. We have our usual Lynchian themes of sexual abuse, but what differentiates Lula from Laura Palmer is that she has the agency to articulate her point of view and someone she loves who can listen, understand, and provide support. I honestly felt that one of the most romantic scenes in this very romantic movie was when Lula, disgusted by the stories of death, destruction, and perversion she hears on every radio station, pulls the car over, runs out, and demands that Sailor find her some music before she loses it. He jumps into action (settling on the head-banging Powermad) and joins her for a roadside thrashfest as the camera cranes upward toward the horizon. It’s a really beautiful moment of love and empathy between these two misfits who understand each other in ways no one else does.
In all seriousness, it’s really interesting to watch these incredibly tender scenes and compare them to the cold frigidity of what sex was like in Lost Highway. In many ways, it makes Wild At Heart one of Lynch’s most humane films and one that makes my heart all warm and tingly despite how bat shit things get. I know you had a problem with the love-less nature of Lost Highway, so what did you make of the romance in Wild at Heart?
Rob: Comparing these two is very interesting. Lost Highway is, as you said, very cold and alienating. Sex and love are lies in that movie; they’re out-of-body experiences that fundamentally corrupt our identities in permanent, inescapable ways. On the other hand, sex in Wild at Heart is crucial and life-affirming. These characters are driven by their passion for each other — the interstitial sexual images punctuated by matches sparking to life makes this clear. Their naive passion may cloud their overall judgement, but it’s also a powerful shield against all the extracurricular bullshit that tries to trap them in societal boxes. It’s like Mission: Impossible. They can run from the real world as long as they keep that match burning. I actually thought about True Romance quite a bit on this rewatch. I think they’re interesting companions. Clarence and Alabama are (or at least act) more mature than Lula and Sailor, but they come to similar conclusions about love and sacrifice.
Alejandra: Well, Sherilyn Fenn was my favorite cameo, too. There’s something really moving about that scene in a way that allows the audience to see Lula and Sailor’s relationship evolve into something forever unifying. They have now been through something together. Although the couple sees someone die at the beginning of the movie, it’s very different because we understand that that person was a bad guy, while Sherilyn character was the victim of some tragedy. However, If I had to choose a different favorite cameo, I think I would say that I loved seeing Isabella Rossellini again. As far as far as Bobby Peru goes, I did find myself thinking back to Frank Booth (who, in my opinion, is Lynch’s best “villain”), and sometimes even saw Bad Coop in him. I think Lynch’s best villains (if not all of them, actually) have a certain mobster element to them that is met with an unhinged insanity that makes them feel truly menacing. This is making me wonder which of Lynch’s bad guys would win if they were all pitted against each other. My money is still on Frank.
Rob: That’s a really interesting point. My first instinct is to say that it’s in support of the “young and reckless love” angle, a kind of heightened aesthetic to go along with the heightened reality in which they’re living. Things are just sexier when you’re young and in love and on the run, and the outfits — especially Dern’s (good lord) — reflect that rose-colored perspective. It definitely adds something risky and seductive that feels of a piece with Lynch’s overall style while also ramping it up considerably.
I really enjoyed this Wild at Heart revisit. It’s not a film I think about watching all that often, but it really came to life for me in the context of our series. For the last few weeks, I’ve been considering my overall thoughts on each of the films and how I might rank them when we finish up. So far, Wild at Heart is the only one whose ranking I would dramatically change from where it was when we started. This and The Straight Story have been the biggest revelations.
Any last thoughts on Wild at Heart?
Rob: We’ll be back in a bit to talk about Lynch’s most recent theatrical effort, 2006’s Inland Empire. I’ve never seen it, and my Blu-ray just arrived, so I’m pretty excited. Until then, remember: This world is wild at heart…
Alejandra: And weird on top.