Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart ★★★★★

i really hated this one during my formative 1990s Lynch obsession, because its lowbrow horny white-trash thrash-metal trainwreck vibe was extremely not where my aesthetics were at when i was sixteen. but two decades later, the intensity of adolescent opinions have softened and i can accept and enjoy it for what it is.

it must be said it’s one of Lynch's least focused; i tend to prefer his stuff when it’s insular enough to develop a recursive narrative logic (“Eraserhead,” “Lost Highway”) rather than when it’s full of open-ended unresolved incident (“Mulholland Drive,” “Inland Empire”) and this is emphatically one of the latter. but at a certain point the haphazard aggressive plotlessness stops being disappointing and becomes a hypnotic nightmare, if you let it. 

true to its road-movie structure, the majority of the characters appear in one scene and then never recur, their plot lines unresolved... yet the whole narrative arc depends on these kind of details which are so abruptly introduced and recklessly discarded. about the half the movie is told in flashback, unnecessarily so — we’re often flashing back to a weirdly truncated scene we saw less than ten minutes before, to get further updates that just as easily could have been given to us the first time. almost every scene is interrupted by frequent cutaways to huge, screen-filling, slow-motion fire. basic plot elements, including an apparently crucial backstory, are constantly referred to but never given any kind of satisfactory coherent explanation, and any time events threaten to move forward we are treated to a momentum-destroying sex scene and/or thrash metal interlude — usually both, in abrupt juxtaposition. sudden tonal shifts are the name of the game here, to the point where they constitute almost the entire film.

even those flashbacks are fragmentary and scattered, and even the present-day events are often crudely interspersed: the whole narrative deck has been hastily shuffled and cut, and smoothed over with disorienting fades. it predicts the elliptical structure of Lynch’s immediate follow up “Fire Walk With Me,” and in fact i was surprised that Mary Sweeney did not edit it [oops just checked and she was in fact "1st Assistant Editor," as she was on "Blue Velvet;" i don't know enough about professional film editing to know what that entails but I did file it away as evidence for my grand Women Film Editors theory-in-progress]; mid-career Lynch (starting here) frequently conveys the feeling that dozens of superfluous subplots that have been harshly trimmed until only vague and intriguing signposts remain; with this one, that’s almost the entire movie. a minor character is immediately killed in the first scene and then constantly referred to in passing afterward, i think mostly because his character has a great name. actually a majority of the dialogue is the characters addressing each other by their (admittedly fantastic) names, without imparting much narrative information at all. almost everyone is referred to in absentia, to a degree disproportionate to their meager screen time. many memorable, prominently-billed actors appear only briefly to play strikingly bizarre characters, basically one-by-one getting briefly introduced before evaporating forever from the plot. and the ending is a gleeful fuck-you to anyone who has been attempting to take it seriously to begin with. it’s frankly baffling that this thing was rapturously received at Cannes (while “Fire Walk With Me” was booed); i attribute this mostly to highbrow Europeans’ endless fascination with the US Southwest.

and foreshadowing the strengths of Lynch’s later efforts, this one basically belongs to the women; sure, beloved bro-favorites Cage and Dean Stanton are here reliably delivering what they’re (justly) famous for; but this film is full of female roles that shouldn’t work at all and yet are unqualified successes because the cast is so committed and capable. Diane Ladd is asked to embarrass herself “Mommy Dearest”-style and somehow she owns it and makes it work. Isabella Rossellini does very much with very little. I knew Grace Zabriskie could be compellingly terrifying, but i didn’t really she could be a scary-hot cajun voodoo priestess in a leather dress and a leg brace. Sherilyn Fenn’s brief cameo is as hypnotic and heartbreaking and cartoonishly tragic as the finest moments in “Twin Peaks;” the key to all of this is that it shouldn't work, but somehow does. (unfortunately, this is the dictionary definition of "less than the sum of its parts;" it's a movie that perversely undercuts itself at every possible turn.) and of course there is not a Lynch film in which Laura Dern does not hit an all-time home run; she’s consistently incredible, unbelievably good. although the most indelible performance here, for better or worse, belongs to Willem Defoe, as the most grotesque villain you’re likely to encounter. if you remember one thing about this movie, it’s his sleazy rapist with his horrifying protruding gums.

anyway, now that we are near what is presumed to be the twilight of Lynch’s career, looking back on his body of work as a whole, it becomes clear that the messes are as much a part of it as the masterpieces; and now that i know which this is, i have learned to like it

James liked these reviews