Like many people, I became aware of David Lynch through Twin Peaks, but I didn't consider myself a fan until I caught Wild at Heart on TV one day.
It's so insane that I can't help but love it. As some early critics pointed out, it's often more about iconography than character, with Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as oblivious, sexed-up baby rebels named Sailor and Lula. While they're clearly referencing Elvis and Marilyn, it comes off more as reinterpretation than impersonation.
Lynch has described the theme of the movie as "finding love in hell," and it is a violent, vulgar fairy tale filled with caricatures, archetypes, and Wizard of Oz characters. There are so, so many wonderfully unhinged things about this movie.
While Wild at Heart is not for everyone—or for anyone who wants things to be normal and make sense—that's not me, so here we go.
1. Laura Dern Is Wearing Porn Clothes the Whole Time
I finally realized that it was crossing from skimpy into actual porn attire in the scene where she answers the door in a see-through lace bodysuit. Dern's sublime performance makes it feel so natural for Lula that you hardly notice that she's constantly wearing lingerie.
2. Crispin Glover, get those cockroaches out of your underwear!
Crispin Glover's role as Lula's cousin Dell involves a grimy Santa Claus costume, black plastic gloves, lots of nighttime sandwich-making, and underpants filled with cockroaches. How's that for a set of neuroses?
3. All the speed metal.
Musically, Wild at Heart is half Elvis, half speed metal, and sometimes both at once. In one scene, some poor guy hits on Lula at a club and Sailor threatens him and then retaliates by singing "Love Me," accompanied by the speed metal band Powermad. While he's singing, we hear screaming that sounds mostly like teenaged fans... but also a little like someone getting murdered.
4. Speaking of which, Nic Cage is great at singing Elvis.
He wanted to do his own singing, and he pulled it off splendidly. Oddly, he was married to Lisa Marie Presley for a few years in the early 2000s, and I imagine it must have been pretty weird for her to watch this movie.
5. Diane Ladd got an Academy Award nomination for smearing lipstick all over her face.
Laura Dern's IRL mom Diane Ladd plays Lula's mother Marietta, and she received Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for best supporting actress for her performance. The film almost received an X rating, so the early screenings must have been...awkward.
6. Why is there a naked girl dancing in the bathroom while Mr. Reindeer is shitting?
I mean, if you're this guy, why not have a barely-legal Polynesian beauty dancing while you're on the pot?
7. Dern and Cage decided to play Sailor and Lula as two halves of the same person.
Cage and Dern went on an actual road trip to Las Vegas together to bond and decided "that Sailor and Lula needed to be one person, one character, and we would each share it. [Dern] got the sexual, wild, Marilyn, gum-chewing fantasy, female side; Nick's got the snakeskin, Elvis, raw, combustible, masculine side."1
8. Why are Willem Dafoe's teeth so short?
These are not his real teeth—he wore false ones for the film, and they're tiny. WTF. Lynch said the teeth were how Dafoe found his character, and they are also how he found his way into my nightmares.
9. Sherilyn Fenn's cameo is vivid and beautiful.
Some of the gore in the film is Tarantino-level bloody, while at other times it's much more subtle. When Sailor and Lula come across a recent car accident on a lonely highway, they find Sherilyn Fenn wandering around looking for her purse; she dies moments later.
The scene is so delicate and focused that it stands out like the calm eye of a hurricane in the middle of this chaotic, violent film.
10. Juana Durango
Played by Grace Zabriskie, the contract killer Juana Durango is just so odd in her cocktail dress and campy horror-film makeup with her warped posture. I particularly like the way her white foundation rubs off on Calvin Lockhart's dark Bahamian face when they're making out right before they murder Johnny Farragut. Oops, spoilers.
11. The fake nose Nic Cage is wearing in the final scene.
At least, I'm pretty sure it's a fake nose. The internet is loaded with trivia about this movie, but that's one I couldn't confirm.
I hope you get a chance to catch this bizarro masterpiece (well, let's be honest, it's not exactly Lynch's masterpiece) at some point on daytime cable, but if not, at least you got to enjoy the best parts!