Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Wild at Heart (1990)

Welcome back to the Birthday Series. This time around, I have, as noticed, developed a far more high-brow list than the previous run. So, I’ve endured the quirky melodrama of Almodovar, and now I’m girding up my loins to take on the master of surrealist incomprehensibility, David Lynch. The film in question was the surprise Palme D’Or Winner, and features one of Nicholas Cage’s most definitively crazy performances: Wild at Heart (24th August in the UK, 17th August in the USA).  Variously described as being the bastard lovechild of Badlands and the Wizard of Oz, Wild at Heart is an iconic American road trip movie; a star-crossed love-film languishing amongst the freaks and degenerates of an American underclass overlooked by most film makers.

May contain one of the most spectacular head explosions ever filmed and spoilers below. 

You. You mocked my hairpiece. You cad!

Sailor and Lulu are in love, but unfortunately, Lulu’s mother Marietta is insane. Fluctuating between wanting to fuck Sailor, and wanting to have him killed, she’s doing her best to put the kibosh on their relationship. After Sailor brutally beats a hitman to death, he’s sentenced to prison, and Marietta assumes this will be the end. Unfortunately for her, this is only the first 5 minutes of the film. Sailor is paroled and the first thing on his agenda is to hook up with his “peanut” and drive on a madcap road trip to New Orléans and then a surreal town called Big Tuna. Obviously, there’s naff all to do on these trips, so our lovers will have to punctuate their journey with massive amounts of grimy sex and seemingly random acts of sickening violence.

Smoking is cool. You know it.

In the meantime, Marietta has hired her lover Jonny Farragut to track down her missing daughter, and when he’s proving to be too slow goes off the deep end completely and hires the enigmatic Santos, who demands Farragut as his price. Once in Big Tuna, Sailor and Lulu fall in with a band of twisted misfits, including Bobby Peru and Perdita Durango, before a hit disguised as a heist consigns Sailor back to the slammer. Nevertheless, true love will win out, and after his second parole Sailor is reunited with Lulu and his son Pace to drive off into the sunset with Marietta having gone completely batshit insane from her jealousy.

“Next time, are we actually going to have sex, or are we just going to lie here and smoke together instead”

That is possibly one of the most challenging plot synopsis that I’ve ever written. Lynch is driving the bus here, so what this amounts to is some stunning imagery and cinematography capturing a veritable parade of oddballs and lowlife vermin. Plot in several Lynch films is an almost incidental consideration, notably Eraserhead, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and the execrable Inland Empire are all varying degrees of inaccessible,  and while Wild at Heart is far more coherent than these (particularly the latter), it’s not plain sailing by any stretch of the imagination.

“That had best be your finger”

Essentially, this is a fairly simple story- it’s basically a seedy love on the road tale. However, being Lynch Wild at Heart is jammed full of a plethora of frankly bizarre supporting characters. Take, for example, the death of Johnny. He’s murdered at the culmination of a frankly bizarre voodoo ritual conducted by crippled hitwoman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie) and her lover. The whole sequence is so utterly mental as to become disturbing, and that’s before I even get on to the sheer lunacy of Bobby Peru and his stumpy teeth.

The new cast member for Geordie Shore was never going to last.

The acting here is good. Cage is hilarious, being completely OTT, as only he can. He plays Sailor as a kind of white-trash knight of the road, and his performance totally fits a character that wears a snake-skin jacket as “a symbol of my individuality, and my belief… in personal freedom. ” Laura Dern tries to play up the more kittenish side of Lulu, and with reasonable success, but she’s clearly playing second fiddle to Cage. In terms of support, Diane Ladd is stupendous as the increasingly bizarre Marietta, and Harry Dean Stanton stoic in adversity as Farragut. Isabella Rossellini is hot, but frankly wasted, as Perdita, and the villain prize goes to Willem Dafoe’s thwarted attempt to chew (he can’t because he’s got stumpy teeth) scenery as Peru.

Laura began to suspect that this weeks Bridge club meeting wasn’t quite legitimate.

As good as the acting, and as odd as the film is, there are three real features of Wild at Heart to make it almost essential watching. The first is that, unlike most Lynch, it’s actually intentionally funny. There are many laugh out loud funny lines in the film, mostly from Sailor, but special mention to the hilarious post-beating “I’d like to apologize to you gentlemen for referring to you all as homosexuals. You taught me a valuable lesson in life. ” The parade of oddities also includes some genuinely funny touches, such as Lulu’s mentalist cousin (Crispin Glover) who “once put a cockroach on his anus”. It’s the laughter, actually, that helps the film pass so easily, and the levity makes it feel more accessible than the relentlessly glum Lynch films such as Eraserhead.

“Are you sure this end should be pointing at my head?”

Wild at Heart also looks fantastic. The colours are deep and rich, the settings ooze a primal heat and the film really does feel “hotter than Georgia Asphalt”. The relentless barrage of grubby sex and nudity doesn’t hurt this, but Lynch shoots it in deep colours and even manages to imbue a run down motel room in New Mexico with a kind of gutter cool. He also plies several of his stock image tricks, with a burning match forming the link between scenes on more than one occasion. As a piece of visual cinema, Wild at Heart is one of the finest of its time.

“So I can’t just wish for more wishes then?”

Then there’s the soundtrack- unfairly blamed for catapulting crooning douchebag Chris Isaak to fame with Wicked Game, Wild at Heart has actually a really good soundtrack that not only fits perfectly with what moves on screen, but the sleazy sounding jazz score seems to heighten the “cool” factor of the film (which is already really high).


Overall, Wild at Heart is a very good film, that almost flirts with greatness on occasion. It’s not as good as The Elephant Man or Blue Velvet, but it is clearly in the top tier of Lynch films. Wild at Heart may well be a parade of typically Lynchian freaks, but it’s hugely stylish, fantastic looking and genuinely cool. As such, it can have 3 Dorothy’s in the Wizard of Oz out of a possible 4, and I really do recommend it.

Not least of which is because I’m scared by the image of Ladd with all the makeup smeared across her face.

Next up is Baseball in the minor leagues with Bull Durham, a film I haven’t seen since I was a teenager, but one I don’t forgive for trying to make Susan Sarandon attractive.

The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:

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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

51 responses to “Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Wild at Heart (1990)”

  1. Droid says :

    I’ve seen this, and liked it, but it seems I’ve almost totally forgotten it. Nothing in your synopsis really brings back memories of the film. Cage is awesome, and I like Laura Dern and Dafoe. I think I’ll track this one down and give it another watch.

    Funny caption about the wigs BTW.

    • Jarv says :


      Made me laugh.

      I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it this time. I think I may have been too young to appreciate it.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, I saw it back in the 90’s. I didn’t truly appreciate Cage’s nuttiness back then. I’m interested in watching it again.

      • Jarv says :

        I’d also forgotten how violent and how much grubby sex there is.

      • Droid says :

        It’s funny. I really should vividly remember that kind of thing.

      • Jarv says :

        I thought that too.

        What I vividly remembered were bits like the Lipstick and the dog making off with his hand, and the end with the North Fairy.

        Dern gets her tits out at the drop of a hat.

      • Droid says :

        I reckon I saw this around the same time as I saw Freeway. I still remember things from that film (haven’t seen it since, need to revisit). Sutherlands fucked up face for one thing.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ve got both on the PS3. Will copy them.

        Watched PLanet of the Apes remake. That is such a wank film, and I’m debating Orangutan of Dooming it.

      • Droid says :

        Cool. I’ve got Freeway somewhere, but I’ll definitely take Wild at Heart.

        I haven’t seen Apes since the cinema. The only positives I remember from it was mildly enjoying Roth and Giamatti’s performances.

        The rest was bollocks. Especially the end.

      • Jarv says :

        The End was so insultingly bad it actually angered me. It also doesn’t make sense. The rest of the apes films have bleak as hell endings, but they tie in to the narrative:

        Heston doesn’t know he’s on earth, therefore twist= bleak, but good.
        Heston destroys the earth- totally in character, and thematically fits with the first one.
        Humans gun down baby chimp- Totally in character, twist ending thematically fits with events in the film
        Caesar leads the apes to revolution and tears down humanity (represented by the Governor), thematically ties in to the film
        Statue sheds a tear (acknowledges that the peace can’t last).
        Marky Mark crashes in Washington and sees a statue dedicated to Thane- complete nonsense as he was clearly beaten and Apes and Humans were moving forward together.

        Insultingly bad.

      • Droid says :

        Isn’t the statue of Thane the Lincoln one?

      • Jarv says :

        Yes. Slip of the keyboard- it was meant to be Thade.

        Ironically, this is actually much closer to the original ending in the funnybooks/ novels.

        BUT it doesn’t make sense. We last see him hiding in the burnt out cockpit, fine, he gets away, whatever. However, the film makes very clear that this Planet of the Apes ISN’T Earth- it’s got different moons etc. So, therefore, how did Thade get to Earth? Furthermore, how did he, given that he was comprehensively beaten, unite the apes to extinguish the humans- presuming that PotA was Earth all along?

        It’s insulting to the intelligence, actually.

        What’s really annoying though, is that PotA gets a hell of a lot right in how to do a remake: it takes the original idea, and gives it a different interpretation while retaining enough not to piss off the fans. Which makes it even worse in how much it gets wrong.

      • Droid says :

        Abe wouldn’t be happy that Thade took his throne. I think in retaliation…

        Abraham Lincoln: Ape Hunter.

        ps. I realise it’s in the movie because of the shithouse Aperaham Lincoln pun, but that just makes me hate it even more.

      • Droid says :

        I heard Beaks was really, really excited to see it until he found out he had misheard the title. He’d already slotted in Planet of the Rapes at number one film of the century.

      • Jarv says :

        I think it’s fairly easy to see what went wrong:

        By 1993, Fox hired Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher as producers

      • Jarv says :

        Christ, be thankful this never happened:

        “What if Robinson finds himself in Ape land and the Apes are trying to play baseball? But they’re missing one element, like the pitcher or something.

        Fucking suits.

        I also hate that pun.

      • Jarv says :

        Arnie was meant to be in Murphy’s version and then Cameron’s version.

        Be thankful neither made it to the screen. Cameron’s had Apes skiing.

      • Droid says :

        Beat me to it.

        Skiing apes? Awesome!

      • Jarv says :

        There is a kind of dumb appeal to that.

        Burton, apparently, is on record saying that the end wasn’t meant to make sense. It was supposed to be an open-ended cliffhanger in case anyone wanted a sequel.

        No. BAD TIM. Planet of the Apes endings are all about the nihilism.

      • Droid says :

        At least the new one got that bit right. Although it wasn’t really twist.

      • Droid says :

        Admittedly, the spectacle of seeing an Ape skiing (or better yet, snowboarding) sounds more entertaining than anything in Burtons movie.

      • Droid says :

        For some reason, I have the image of Teen Wolf van surfing. That tickles me. I now officially want to see a bunch of snowboarding Apes committed to celluloid.

      • Jarv says :

        We could do an Asylum knock off called PLANET OF THE MONKEYS.

        Set it on a snow planet in the far future and have some knucklehead fighting off a bunch of arctic monkeys that snowboard to attack. The only problem with this is getting a hot actress to take her clothes off.

      • Droid says :

        The only problem with this is getting a hot actress to take her clothes off.

        That’s not a problem. If we’re talking a career in the toilet Asylum level actress, they’d be lining up to get their kit off.

      • Jarv says :

        I meant if we’re attempting to maintain integrity. It’d be very difficult to send her in for an emergency shower when it’s -50 degrees outside.

      • Droid says :

        Um… We’re talking about a low budget Planet of the Apes ripoff heavily featuring snowboarding apes. Where is this imagined “integrity” coming from?

      • Jarv says :

        What? You mean that we’re not artists? With a roster including the Dyketektive, Raging Murphy, Mega Drop Bear and Astrodykes v Werewolves on the Moon?

      • Droid says :

        Bullshit artists? Purveyors of garbage? Sure.

      • Jarv says :

        You wait man, we’re talking Oscar’s with Raging Murphy.

      • Droid says :

        That will be our Leaving Las Vegas.

      • Jarv says :

        And Judge Dredd will clearly be our, er….

        Amazing Spider-Man

      • Droid says :


        The nerds will go apeshit.

        “Not another Judge Dredd movie! It’s redundant! They just made one! I refuse to see it! It’s cynical! It’s creatively bankrupt!”

      • Jarv says :

        Yup. We’ll retell the precise story then say:

        “No, you don’t understand, this is the version that SHOULD have been made back then. Never mind that the first hour is a beat for beat retread of the original”

      • Droid says :

        As long as you don’t have Schneider in it. Unless it’s a 3 second cameo where he gets his head blown off by Dredd at the beginning of the film.

      • Jarv says :

        Schneider’s best performance is in Dredd.

        No, I was thinking of New Joyless Childhood rape Dredd (Stallone’s Mega City One did at least LOOK the part.)

      • Jarv says :

        The thing about Burton’s is that it’s utter shite. But, they got quite a fair bit right: the makeup and performances from roth and Bonham Carter are exceptional, Giametti is great as the Orangutan, and so forth.

        However, Marky Mark is appalling, and Estrella Warren puts in a performance so bad that it made me miss Linda Harrison’s Nova (for non-salacious reasons) from the first film.

        The writing is crap, it’s essentially a big chase movie, the end is dismal, a lot of the actors struggled with the makeup, it doesn’t make sense, the commentary is unbelievably stupid and obvious and it’s boring.

        Apes playing baseball and skiing would be wank, but would at least be funny.

        There were lots of bad ideas floating around fox at that time- Jackson wanted to do Renaissance apes with Leonardo Di Monkey in it, which would have been agonisingly bad.

      • Droid says :

        Jackson wanted to do Renaissance apes with Leonardo Di Monkey in it

        Then we could have gotten The Di Monkey Code!

      • Jarv says :

        Didn’t Hanks star in that a few years ago?

      • Droid says :

        Would’ve been a million times better if it was The Di Monkey Code.

      • Droid says :

        In the 90’s I heard they were trying to get Cameron and Arnie. Thank christ that never happened.

  2. ThereWolf says :

    I’m the same as R2 – I recall liking ‘Wild’ quite a bit but about the only thing I can picture now is Dafoe. So, yeh, I’m due a return to this one, think I’ve got it on VHS…

    Nice one, Jarv.

  3. kloipy says :

    Yeah I really like this movie a lot. Great review for it Jarv. I think Lynch is much better when he can stay a bit more focused. I think even Inland Empire has a good movie in it, if it edits about an hour out of it

    • Jarv says :

      I also think he’s better when restrained- Elephant Man FTW! Although I don’t think IE does have a good movie in it. It may have an interesting 30 minutes if you basically cut it to absolute ribbons. If you want that kind of Lynch, watch Lost Highway.

      • Droid says :

        I like Lost Highway. I don’t think I’ve watched a Lynch film since Mulholland Drive. Fuck I hated that movie.

      • Jarv says :

        He’s only made IE since. I didn’t like MD either, but it’s nowhere near as awful as IE.

      • kloipy says :

        I like parts of Lost Highway but it fails as a film for me. I really like Staight Story, Blue Velvet, and I enjoyed MD in bits.

      • kloipy says :

        I like parts of Lost Highway but it fails as a film for me. I really like Staight Story, Blue Velvet, and I enjoyed MD in bits. Elephant man is great too

      • Droid says :

        I love Twin Peaks. Been meaning to revisit that from start to finish.

      • Jarv says :

        The problem with LH is the body switch half way through. Totally destroys the balance of the film. I like both halves independently.

      • kloipy says :

        Exactly! It makes no sense and is not needed at all! Lynch actually builds some good tension in the start of the film and then that whole second half betrays it and is never as good or interesting (save for the tailgating scene) than what came before it. Although it does have the unintentionally hilarious shots of Pullman playing jazz on the sax

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