Director: David Lynch
Screenplay: David Lynch, based on the novel Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula by Barry Gifford
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean Stanton, J.E. Freeman, Isabella Rossellini
Running Time: 120 minutes
Genre: Road movie, drama, comedy, romance
This startling film plays like a surreal homage to The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Elvis Presley. Sailor Ripley (Cage) and Lula Pace Fortune (Dern) are a young couple deeply in love. However Lula's deranged mother, Marietta (Ladd), is determined to keep them apart. After Sailor is released following a prison sentence for killing a man in self-defense, he and Lula decide to run off to California. However, Marietta is determined to get Lula back and sends her private detective boyfriend, Johnnie Farrgut (Stanton), to track the couple down. To make sure that Sailor is kept away permanently, Marietta contacts her other boyfriend, the murderous gangster Marcello Santos (Freeman), to send a hitman after the couple. Meanwhile, Sailor and Lula find themselves trapped in a dangerous and very strange world, as they travel through a twisted, nightmarish version of the southern US.
The film opens with a match striking and then billowing clouds of flame filling the screen, and it doesn't let up from there. There is never a dull moment in this hilarious, romantic, shockingly violent and deeply weird movie. One of director David Lynch's trademarks is his mixing of extreme violence, disturbing surrealism, with often genuinely touching sentiment. Lynch described this film as being "about finding love in Hell". A long time fan of The Wizard of Oz, Lynch made the film one of the touchstones for the Wild at Heart script, and the film's sense of hope comes from Sailor and Lula's conviction that there is something better over the rainbow and at the end of the yellow brick road. Lynch also saw Sailor as an Elvis Presley figure and Lula as Marilyn Monroe, and Nicolas Cage does perform two Elvis songs in the film. Nicolas Cage turns in a superb perfomance as the snakeskin jacket clad Sailor (which in the film he claims "represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom"), and is perfectly complemented by Laura Dern as the tough and sexy Lula. The love story between the two is genuinely affecting. They make love, dance and have long rambling conversations about pretty much anything that happens to cross their minds. Laura Dern's real-life mother Diane Ladd is memorable as the insane Marietta, for which she was Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actress.
The film is very different from Barry Gifford's mostly dialogue driven novel. Although the film is far more graphically violent than the book, the book is in it's own way darker, with quite a bleak conclusion. Despite winning the Palme d'Or for Best Film at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, the movie was heavily criticised on it's release for the violence and weirdness, but in my opinion, the fact that this tender love story is set amongst all this horror, darkness and violence makes it shine all the more brighter. Personally I love this film, it's sexy, romantic, violent, tender, funny and bizarre, and is probably David Lynch's most thoroughly entertaining movie. The film's ultimate message appears to be that in an insane, twisted, nightmare world, the only hope for survival is love.
"This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top."
- It's hard to disagree with Lula (Laura Dern)