Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The Score: (First Rating) 7.5 out of 10 (Rating After  Watching 35mm Print of Film) 10 out of 10

Wild at Heart (1990) follows two oddball lovebirds as they take an absurd road trip through America's heartland while on the run from a wicked witch, the police, and numerous assassins. The film begins in flames with the protagonist delivering excessive blunt-force trauma to the head of an attacker in self-defense, and then ends after a visit from the good witch who inspires him to return to his true love and sing her Elvis Presley's Love Me Tender. Everything in between is a disturbing, farcical journey through the dark side of human existence.
Wild at Heart Trailer

Contemporary Movie Poster
David Lynch adapted Wild at Heart (1990) from a "neo-noir" pulp novel written by Barry Gifford in the same year the novel was published. Intending at first to produce the film, Lynch later decided to write the screenplay and direct the film himself. Lynch and Gifford would also collaborate seven years later as co-writers on the screenplay for Lost Highway (1997).
Barry Gifford, Author and Lynch Collaborator
While Lynch was editing the pilot for Twin Peaks (1990), this strangely poignant pulp novel was brought to his attention by one of his producers, Monty Montgomery—who later acted as the memorable Cowboy character in Lynch's Mulholland Dr. (2001). Lynch did not like the ending of the novel, so he altered it to be a "happily ever after" rather than see his two leads break up and move on with their separate lives. Lynch also added new characters, scenes, and strange motifs from The Wizard of Oz (1939).
The Wicked Witch is in Hot Pursuit
Barry Gifford was asked how he felt about the changes Lynch made to his story and responded that "all kinds of journalists were trying to cause controversy and have me say something like ‘This is nothing like the book’ or ‘He ruined my book.’ I think everybody from Time magazine to What’s On In London was disappointed when I said ‘This is fantastic. This is wonderful. It’s like a big, dark, musical comedy."
Sheryl Lee Plays The Good Witch of the North in Sailor's Fantasy at the End of the Film
You Will Recognize Her as Laura Palmer from Lynch's Twin Peaks
Since there is a limited demographic for big, dark musical comedies, Wild at Heart (1990) was not universally loved but it still performed relatively well at the box office compared to most David Lynch films, although never ascending near the levels Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980) made ten years earlier. During test screenings, the film boasted an impressive number of walkouts during the torture scene of Harry Dean Stanton's character Johnnie Farragut, prompting Lynch to cut it back slightly for the final cut. Lynch remarked, "By then, I knew the scene was killing the film. So I cut it to the degree that it was powerful but didn´t send people running from the theatre." Later Lynch added, "But that was part of what Wild at Heart was about: really insane and sick and twisted stuff going on."
Diane Ladd in an Oscar-Nominated Role as Lula's Mother Murietta Fortune (The Wicked Witch)
The film follows two lovebirds played to comedic excess by Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern. Dern's real-life mother Diane Ladd would play her evil mother in the film. Diane Ladd would earn an Oscar nomination for her supporting role as the figurative and literal wicked witch of the film. Of note, mother-daughter team Diane Ladd and Laura Dern would go on to share a scene in Lynch's last feature film to date Inland Empire (2006), as a Hollywood talkshow host (Ladd) interviewing a motion picture star (Dern) about to begin work on a new role for a highly publicized movie within the movie On High and Blue Tomorrows. Ladd and Dern have actually acted together in a number of other films, including a recent reprise of their onscreen mother-daughter relationship for HBO's new quirky comedy series Enlightened (2010-Present).
David Lynch's FiancĂ© Isabella Rossellini Plays a Small Role as Willem Dafoe's Girlfriend
The motifs and themes of The Wizard of Oz (1939) jump into the mix, at times making Wild at Heart (1990) feel unusually raw and experimental compared to some of David Lynch's other films. The movie plays as a darkly disturbing, farcical collection of interconnected short stories, many sequences feeling a little disconnected from each other. One could definitely note enough similarities between Wild at Heart (1990) and Pulp Fiction (1994) to ask whether Quentin Tarantino was influenced by David Lynch's cinematic conflagration of extreme pulp stories that clash together in occasionally nonlinear order.
Bruce Willis Decides to Rescue an Enemy in the Quentin Tarantino Masterpiece Pulp Fiction (1994)
Find Me Music!
Although Wild at Heart (1990) features many bizarre villains, Willem Dafoe stands out from the pack in one of the best villain performances captured on film. Dafoe not only matches the intensity of Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986) but also exceeds it. Dafoe transcends this supporting role into one of the all-time best screen villains, deserving comparison to Malcom MacDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), and Cristoph Waltz's Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds (2009).
Willem Dafoe Steals the Show Late in the Film as the Slimy Assassin Bobby Peru
David Lynch's body of work on film and TV is encrypted with symbolism, to some extent obscuring the overt meaning of his stories on initial viewings, only to accumulate brutal clarity over repeat viewings. It takes time to grow accustomed to these recurring themes and motifs in his work, but once you are familiar with Lynch's style you grow more and more satisfied with the profound layers in his art. And since Wild at Heart (1990) is so raw, emotional, and is one of Lynch's most unrefined, unpolished, and raw narratives of all his films, then interestingly some of the ideas forming the foundation of Lynch's other work can be seen and understood clearly here.
Sailor Ripley Begins to Feel Disturbed by His Growing Responsibilities to Protect and Support a Pregnant Lula
Echoing Henry Spencer's Descent in Eraserhead
Without David Lynch stylistically experimenting with cinematic extremes in Wild at Heart (1990), Twin Peaks (1990-91) likely would not have evolved into such an artistically sophisticated series. And a film like Mulholland Dr. (2001) would have likely never emerged from Lynch's mind without first pioneering the absurd depths and bizarre lengths of Wild at Heart. And to an extent, the film feels like a hodgepodge of every other David Lynch film and project combined into one piece, which makes it one of the most unusual and powerful films ever made. But in all honesty, the film could be hard for audiences to come to terms with as it descends into extremely disturbing and vivid nightmares of rape, murder, and full-blown insanity.
Lula Pace Fortune's Needs and Desires Scare Sailor Away, But Eventually Draws Him Back In
We will discuss Lynch's recurring themes in more detail near the end of this article series, but Lynch has always apparently had an artistic fascination with man's journey from youth to adulthood and the fears that plague his life along the way. Lynch explores the world's corrupting pitfalls, and how in the process of becoming a provider and protector of a woman and children, he can become encumbered with fear and twist himself into a darker version of himself in the process. This happens to Henry Spencer in Eraserhead (1976), Paul Atreides in the half-written Dune sequel: Dune Messiah, and to a lesser degree this theme can be applied to Dr. Treves in The Elephant Man (1980), Jeffrey Beaumont in Blue Velvet (1986), and more than a few characters in the saga of Twin Peaks (1990-92).
Frequent Lynch Collaborator Harry Dean Stanton Turns in a Sympathetic Performance as Johnny Farragut,
A Well-Meaning Private Detective Who Gets Involved with Murietta Fortune and is Trapped in Her Web
Some confusing elements of David Lynch's other films are clarified in light of the directness of Wild at Heart (1990), which can act like a Rosetta Stone to his other pictures. In particular, because Lynch worked on the Twin Peaks TV series while also filming Wild at Heart, many ideas from both shows are complementary between the two projects. Some elements and themes of Twin Peaks seem clarified when contrasted with Wild at Heart and vice versa. We will save those insights for a future article, but you can look forward to our in-depth study of Twin Peaks, which begins next week with our analysis of the pilot episode.

With the Exception of Dune, Wild at Heart Tends to Split David Lynch's Fan Base More than His Other Projects
The Japanese Bridge (A) by Claude Monet
Eraserhead (1976) by David Lynch
The Japanese Bridge (B) by Claude Monet
The Elephant Man (1980
) by David Lynch
The Japanese Bridge (C) by Claude Monet
Dune (1984) by David Lynch
The Japanese Bridge (D) by Claude Monet
Blue Velvet (1986) by David Lynch
The Japanese Bridge (E) by Claude Monet
Wild at Heart (1990) by David Lynch
All great artists reach a point in their development when they push a new style beyond its breaking point. This is a necessary step of artistic discovery, helping all artists better understand the constraints of their medium and craft. As Clint Eastwood explains in the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force (1973): "A man's got to know his limitations." Artists need to know their limitations so they can find ways to master their forms and find their own particular style.
Pictured: Dirty Harry Teaching a Criminal the Limitations of a .44 Magnum Revolver
(Art Instruction at its Best)
Claude Monet was the painter most responsible for first advancing surrealism in art. David Lynch employs the equivalent cinematic surrealism in his modern art, so comparison can be made between the two artists. And one can make the case that Monet and Lynch pushed the envelope of their surrealist art forms beyond their limitations at certain times on particular projects, which perhaps come across messier and less pleasant than usual and no longer reflecting definitely enough the subject being depicted. Many might think David Lynch pushed the surrealist boundaries of Wild at Heart (1990) a tad too far, as demonstrated here in the video clip below.
Pushing the artistic boundaries of cinema is something Lynch has always excelled at, and it is refreshing that this trailblazer of new cinematic frontiers finally won a major award for the first time with Wild at Heart, the Palme d'Or—the top honor at the Cannes Film Festival. However, this was apparently a more controversial victory than usual, as Roger Ebert explains in his review of the film:
Roger Ebert Looking Like a Playa'
"Now comes 'Wild at Heart,' which won the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, to great cheers and many boos, some of the latter from me. I do not think this is the best film that played at Cannes this year... and, in fact, I do not even think it is a very good film. There is something repulsive and manipulative about it, and even its best scenes have the flavor of a kid in the school yard, trying to show you pictures you don't feel like looking at."
Willem Dafoe Stands Out as the Best Part of the Film, Although His Character Arrives Too Close to the End
Dafoe Perfectly Captures the Tone David Lynch is Aiming for When Most the Others Fall Short
Roger Ebert's statement accurately summarizes what many otherwise satisfied Lynch fans think of Wild at Heart. The film unleashes a non-stop barrage of disturbing scenes without providing much in the way of catharsis. And Wild at Heart brims with more extreme violence, nudity, and explicit sexuality than is typically encountered in Lynch's work. Although this is more a matter of personal taste than anything else, the only other film really comparable to it is his other feature film collaboration with Barry Gifford Lost Highway (1997).
Nicolas Cage Does Remarkable Work with Lynch, But Occasionally Struggles to Maintain Consistency
Fans of David Lynch normally take Roger Ebert's criticisms with a grain of salt, since he was a notorious detractor of Lynch's earlier films, too. But in this instance, many of Lynch's fan base probably agree more here with Ebert than they normally do. Interestingly, Ebert eventually reversed course and gave extremely favorable reviews of Lynch's later films: The Straight Story (1999), Mulholland Dr. (2001), and Inland Empire (2006). In fact, back in 2001 Roger Ebert remarked that "David Lynch has been working toward 'Mulholland Drive' all of his career, and now that he's arrived there I forgive him 'Wild at Heart' and even 'Lost Highway.' At last his experiment doesn't shatter the test tubes."
Sailor and Lula Grow Weary of Depressing Radio Newscasts,
So They Pull Over to Dance to Some Hard Rock
And since Roger Ebert is the world's preeminent mainstream film critic, it is interesting to note his eventual reversal from his formerly negative opinion of David Lynch's work. Although Ebert seems to accredit this reversal to Lynch improving his artistic form, it lends credence to our site's argument that Lynch's films tend to alienate mainstream audiences at first but become increasingly enjoyable to watch over time. Consult our first article in this series to read our original remarks.
Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
When Roger Ebert writes his film reviews, he favors the "0 to 4 Stars" scale over his ubiquitous thumbs up/down scale first developed with long-time collaborator Gene Siskel. Although Ebert has not reviewed all of David Lynch's films, those he has reviewed are listed below with his accompanying rating. Links to his articles are included if you are interested in reading his reviews.
  1. The Elephant Man (1980)     Ebert's Rating: 
  2. Dune (1984)                          Ebert's Rating: 
  3. Blue Velvet (1986)                Ebert's Rating: 
  4. Wild at Heart (1990)             Ebert's Rating: 
  5. Lost Highway (1997)            Ebert's Rating: 
  6. The Straight Story (1999)     Ebert's Rating: 
  7. Mulholland Dr. (2001)          Ebert's Rating: 
  8. Inland Empire (2006)            Ebert's Rating: 

And They All Lived Happily Ever After
For better or worse, David Lynch makes works of art. Of those works, some will speak directly to you, others will not connect in quite the same way. Wild at Heart has been the toughest nut for us to crack of Lynch's films we have analyzed so far, particularly because we suspect it requires a real movie theater experience to be appreciated properly. This is something we have not yet had the opportunity to do, so we anticipate our opinion of the film will improve with a theatrical screening. But on video at least, we did not quite engage with Wild at Heart (1990) as we did Lynch's other films. You can take that for what it is worth.
Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) is Noted for its Artistically Deliberate Use of Extreme Content
Wild at Heart (1990) is clearly not for everyone. If you do not have a strong stomach for sex scenes and cannot take too much "of the old ultra-violence," then you might put this one on hold for now. It contains content comparable to Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971). So if you could handle the extremes of that film, then chances are you could handle this one, too. The extreme content is intended to rise above its component parts into the same realm of artistic achievement as Kubrick's disturbing masterpiece.
Laura Dern Tries to Channel Marilyn Monroe and Nicolas Cage Channels Elvis
The good news: you can love David Lynch's films and still feel ambivalent about a few of them at first. It happens. Some of his films are bound to connect to you stronger than others. Some of Lynch's fans consider Wild at Heart their favorite of all his films, and we have heard them make valid points about why. Many others consider it their least favorite for its stranger tone and slightly edgier content. Differing tastes are welcome at the cinematic feast and reinforces what Lynch wants from his audience anyway: engagement with the audience and personal interpretation.
Wild at Heart (1990) and Lost Highway (1997) Were in Part Written with Barry Gifford and Share a Very Similar Tone and Style to Each Other. People Who Tend to Favor One of these Films Tend to be Big Fans of the Other
But if you think you are not quite ready for Wild at Heart now, then skip it for now and move on directly to the Twin Peaks (1990-91) TV series. While there are many bright and entertaining moments in Wild at Heart (1990), including its amazingly Lynchian ending, you may have to work a little harder to get that sense of catharsis that normally accompanies Lynch's work. Otherwise, prepare yourself for a wild and intense cinematic experience that apparently helped inspire a fledgling filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino set the style and tone of his second film Pulp Fiction (1994). Wild at Heart is a tour d'force in the pure language of cinema and won the Palme D'Or at Cannes for good reason.
Addendum: I recently had the opportunity to watch a 35mm print of Wild at Heart in a movie theater, the way David Lynch designed the film to be seen. I cannot emphasize enough what a difference the film's emotional impact makes when viewed with an audience at the cinema. I withdraw my former rating of 7.5 out of 10 and now give it a perfect rating of 10 out of 10. Hands down, this is one of the most brilliant films I have ever experienced. This leads me to believe that whenever presented with an opportunity to watch a 35mm screening of one of David Lynch's films, you should never miss it.
Wild at Heart (1990) is available on Blu-Ray in the U.K. but is not yet scheduled for release in the U.S., which is also the case for David Lynch's The Elephant Man (1980), Lost Highway (1997), Mulholland Dr. (2001), and Inland Empire (2006). Hopefully the U.S. rights holders will make greater efforts to release all of Lynch's films on Blu-Ray soon, but we could have a long wait. But there is hope since Blue Velvet (1986) will be released finally in November of 2011.

Murietta's Hit on Sailor
Wild at Heart (1990) is available on a Special Edition DVD in the U.S., based on the high definition master restored under the supervision of David Lynch. The best version of the film currently distributed in the U.S. is in David Lynch's Lime Green Set, which contains all his short films, films, and assorted video projects from the beginning of Lynch's career up to the release of Wild at Heart. This is currently the best way to watch the film in the U.S., although the U.K. now has a Blu-Ray release.
Although Wild at Heart (1990) can be found on Netflix Instant Watching, Netflix visually dropped the ball again as they did with the video presentation of Dune (1984). Netflix presents the bulk of WAH in a haphazardly cropped 1.78:1 transfer, presenting only the opening and closing credits in its correct theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Cropping off parts of David Lynch's film frames is completely unacceptable and we urge Netflix to correct these glaring errors immediately.
Next week we begin our ten week analysis of the Twin Peaks TV series, the most popular and successful project of David Lynch's career. All episodes can be found in an excellent DVD box set: Twin Peaks - The Definitive Gold Box Edition. As with Wild at Heart (1990), the high definition transfers for the Twin Peaks episodes were overseen by Lynch. He also participated in a new, feature-length interview made exclusively for this box set that is well worth watching.
Twin Peaks (1990-91) Goldbox Trailer
The box set contains other excellent special features, including new retrospective documentaries on the making of the show and video clips from contemporary Saturday Night Live skits starring Kyle MacLachlan. In one skit, MacLachlan plays Agent Cooper in a hilarious parody of Twin Peaks, and in the other skit he pretends to unintentionally give away the secret identity of Laura Palmer's killer.
Twin Peaks can also be found in gorgeous 720p High Defition format at the iTunes Store, which is currently the best way to view the series for the highest quality video and audio presentation. Ultimately, a Blu-Ray release is inevitable in the future, but no news has been released yet. [Update 01/28/2012: Months ago Twin Peaks began to be available for Instant Streaming on Netflix in 720p HD. But to our eyes, the iTunes image still appears slightly sharper.]
Most episodes of Twin Peaks can be found in Standard Definition for free video streaming at CBS and Fancast. And as an interesting side note, the TV series Psych (2006-Present) last week aired an episode titled Dual Spires paying tribute to the 20th Anniversary of Twin Peaks (1990-91). The episode includes significant guest appearances from many of the original cast, and the episode itself is set in a strange small town similar to Twin Peaks.

Psych's Twin Peaks Reunion Episode: Dual Spires
For those of you unfamiliar with Psych, it is an entertaining comedy-mystery series featuring a comedic tone in spite of the murders being investigated. Some episodes might come across a little too cheesy at first, but the show is fun and generally worth watching when you are in the mood for some light-hearted entertainment.
Recent David Lynch and Laura Dern

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  1. Im loving this man! Keep it up. Fantastic reads!

  2. Where is Twin Peaks???

  3. I am working hard to finish it. My analysis and coverage of the Twin Peaks Pilot will be longer, more detailed, and more significant than most my other articles, so it is occupying far more time to develop than normal.

    I should have it completed no later than Tuesday. I will be back on schedule soon with the coverage of the shorter Twin Peaks episodes starting next week. Thank you for your patience.

  4. I run a Twin Peaks site called 'Twin Peaks Archive' and will spread the word...

  5. Great stuff man. Looking forward to the Peaks analysis.

  6. ridiculous, wild at heart is a fantastic movie, the brutality of the violence and sex in this film amplifies its beauty and vice versa. the title "wild at heart" combined with the fact that this is a lynch movie seem a good indication that over-the-top acting and costumes are going to be abundant and deliberate.

  7. I agree with the last post, this is still (after all these years) a brilliant film. I have read with interest your other reviews and have found your insights informative, but you have really misunderstood this film. David Lynch is just continuing his thoughts and ability as a director to transfer them to screen. The film contains everything I'm looking for in a Lynch film, but not in the way I was expecting. Every single film he has made from Eraserhead onwards (with the exception of Dune) transcends my expectations, increasing my understanding of what he is attempting to do as a director.

    The key is in understanding David Lynch’s humour. If you see absurdity in the world, how should you react to it? What about all the violence and suffering? Lynch confronts these issues and, at times, depicts them very graphically, but at any moment, he can also make you laugh out loud in a way very few comedy films can.

    Each of his films offers new insights; each has its own moments of pure beauty. Far too frequently, people focus in on the violence and gratuitous sex, whilst forgetting the tender moments like when Lula and sailor are talking and smoking after having made love. This scene is just beautiful, natural and poignant. The other is the car crash scene. This is so true to life and so sad, it’s almost unwatchable, but he pushes us to watch it and face the reality! When I was 19 I was involved in a car accident that killed my girlfriend (we were both passengers) and it’s hard to explain, but he manages to perfectly capture the tragedy.

  8. You both make valid arguments and as time passes, we are more inclined to agree with you. It is not even the more graphic nature of the sex and violence that upsets, only that it seems to feel less relevant in Wild at Heart than it does in his other films.

    Someone commented in our "Concluding Remarks" article that Wild at Heart feels a little too much like Lynch parodying himself, suggesting that he did not tell this particular love story as effectively as he normally does in his other films. And we agree and believe that is the best way of encapsulating our criticism of this otherwise excellent film.

    At the end of the day, even the Lynch film we enjoy least (Wild at Heart) is still one we acknowledge to be a powerful, artistic roller coaster ride. We just share our misgivings that this particular ride feels bumpier than we have come to expect from Lynch.

    Wild at Heart did not draw us in as effectively into its film world as Lynch's other movies. Normally the weirdness of Lynch's films better places us in the minds of the characters, providing us with more intimate views of who they really are.

    But in Wild at Heart, we felt the weirdness seemed distracting and made it harder for us to relate to these characters. Instead of feeling a closer bond with them, we felt a little more alienated from them and their plight.

    But again, this is the Lynch film we are least familiar with currently, and we have already noticed our attitudes toward it improving over time.

  9. I agree with you re: Wild At Heart.

    This is the only Lynch film that I saw at the cinema and I was a little bit disappointed tbh.

    I have to agree that it does seem like someone else is parodying Lynch with this film...even though it is Lynch. It does appear to be more like various seperate sequences strung together.

    I find it enjoyable to watch in places, but for me it doesn't work overall and is the lowest ranking of the Lynch body of work. There are some great performances though and it does have Crispin Glover in it...which is a godsend in itself.

    To put this at the bottom of the Lynch list is no insult either...with the strength of his body of is still a minor masterpiece.

  10. Really like the analysis guys. Underated but brilliant, Wild at Heart is probably the best road movie made in that era. Its theme is timeless and won't date -and the score is superb as well. One of the greatest films ever, a masterpiece.

  11. I think it didn't only inspired pulp fiction, but also "True Romance" and "Naturally Born Killers". At least there is an influence, and Tarantino wrote both films.
    I think Roger Ebert won't recognize that he was mistaken when bashing Lynch's older movies, and is not that Lynch found his thing in "Inland Empire" and "Mulholland Drive" . Why? Because Ebert uses similar excuses to bash "Lost Highway" than to praize the last two movies.
    I guess Ebert is (or was) some kind of authority in America. But i read his reviews of this movie, Inland Empire, Mulholland Dr, Lost Highway and Argo. And he is not consistent, he is so full of premises that it seems that after the beginning secuence of "Wild at Heart" he stopped watching the movie, he also tries to attack what he can't understand (because he says more bad things about Lynch than about the movie, as if he wanted for Lynch's ways to be stopped), and after all he doesn't say too much about the movie itself.
    The contrary he does with Argo: he starts with the premise of being a naive audience that for a turn of events ended up watching this movie that surprised him for its goodies, and gave it a 4/4. He says the best part of the movie is when the iranian revolutionary guards keep watching the sketchs as kids watching an ET poster (which was only an insulting secuence without anything). And he said something about the movie not being inspired by true events, but "based on true events" (as if that would make it better) which isn't true; the escape wen't without troubles, and Tony Mendez was nothing like Affleck's Mendez. So this are all the reasons why the movie is a 4/4 for Roger, who plays the innocent audience (in opposition to "Wild at Heart", where he was already critizicing the audience and Lynch even before saying anything about the movie); but there is nothing innocent about giving a 4/4 to Argo (best movie oscar award winner) without any good arguments to sustain your statement.
    All i am trying to say: you talk too much about Roger Ebert, as if it would mean anything.

  12. You're entitled to your opinion, of course. I personally find the controversies surrounding "Wild at Heart" fascinating. Roger Ebert was the preeminent film critic of our generation before he recently passed away and I found his reviews very informative and insightful, even when I completely disagreed with his opinions.

    I am not enamored with film criticism, but I personally find Roger Ebert shifting opinions of David Lynch's work over the years to be one of the more public changes of heart ever seen in a prominent member of the film community. I found it interesting enough to comment on. If you don't, then you're entitled to your opinion.