Wild at Heart is a 1990 American film written for the screen and directed by David Lynch, based on Barry Gifford's novel Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula about a young couple from South Carolina who, after Sailor's return from prison, decide to go on the run from Lula's overbearing mother and because of her mother, the mob becomes involved.
The film stars Nicolas Cage as Sailor and Laura Dern as Lula. Diane Ladd and Willem Dafoe also star. The film is a road movie but includes bizarre, almost supernatural events and off-kilter violence. It also contains simulated sex, sometimes overtly heavy allusions to The Wizard of Oz and references to Elvis Presley and his movies.
Lovers Lula Pace and Sailor Ripley are separated after Sailor is jailed for killing - in self-defense - a man who attacked him with a knife who was hired by her psychopathic mother Marietta Fortune. Upon Sailor's release, Lula picks him up at the prison where she hands him his snakeskin jacket and he happily accepts.
He then says: "Did I ever tell you that this here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom?"
To which she replies: "About fifty thousand times!"
They go to a hotel where she reserved a room, they make love and go see a hard metal band to dance. While they are at the club and dancing, an anonymous slam dancer bumps into Lula and begins to dance and grind into her. Sailor gets the band to stop and tells the man to apologize, using his "bravado" to pump up the situation. The man tells him to fuck off and "you look like a clown in that stupid jacket." Sailor tells him about what it represents and they fight. Sailor wins and tells the him to apologize. He does, is told to go get a beer, and then Sailor gets the band to immediately launch into "Love Me" by Elvis as he sings lead vocal.
Later, back in the room, while they are making love, Lula asks why he didn't sing her "Love Me Tender" because she knew it was his favorite Elvis song, to which he replies he would only sing it to his wife. After some more small talk, they finally decide to run away to California, breaking Sailor's parole. Lula's mother arranges for a private detective, Johnnie Farragut (who is in love with her) to find them and bring them back. Unknown to Johnnie, however, she also hires evil gangster Marcelles Santos to track them, and eliminate Sailor.
Unaware of all of the events happening back in South Carolina, the two are on their way until (according to Lula) they witness a bad omen: the aftermath of a two-car accident, and the only survivor, a young woman, dies in front of them.
With little money left, Sailor heads for Big Tuna, Texas, where he contacts "an old friend" who might be able to help them. Inevitably, while Sailor agrees to join up with the loathsome Bobby Peru in a bank robbery, Lula waits for him in the hotel room, being sick and pining for the better times. Bobby is let into the room by Lula while Sailor is out and tries to seduce Lula, but at the last second laughs it off and walks out.
The day of the robbery arrives. It goes spectacularly wrong when Peru unnecessarily shoots two clerks, and as they leave the bank, Sailor realized he has been given an unloaded pistol. Bobby then admits to Sailor he's been hired to kill him, but just as he is about to do so he is shot by sheriff's deputies and as he falls he accidentally blows his own head off with the shotgun he was carrying. Sailor is arrested and given five years in jail.
While in jail, Lula has his child, her mother "vanishes," and upon his release she decides to pick him up with their son. As they pick him up in the car, he reveals he's leaving them both, deciding while in prison that he isn't good enough for them.
While he is walking a short distance away, he encounters a gang of mostly Asian men who surround him. He thinks his bravado will carry him through, by saying "What do you faggots want?" He then gets jumped and beaten and is knocked out.
While he is unconscious, he sees a revelational "angelic vision" (which looks a lot like Glenda, the Good Witch of The North), who tells him "Don't turn away from love, Sailor." Sailor says to her that he is "wild at heart," but she replies that if he really was wild at heart he would fight for his dreams, and that love is all he really needs - and that he has it in Lula.
When he awakes, he apologizes for calling the men "homosexuals" and tells them he realizes a great many things, then screams her name and runs away. As there is a traffic jam on the road, he begins to run over the roofs and hoods of the cars to get back to Lula and their child in the car, with the film ending as Sailor sings "Love Me Tender" to Lula on the hood of their car as the credits roll.
In the summer of 1989, Lynch had finished up the pilot for Twin Peaks and tried to rescue two of his projects Ã¢â‚¬â€ Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble Ã¢â‚¬â€ that were owned by Dino De Laurentiis when his company went bankrupt. Independent production company Propaganda Films commissioned Lynch to develop an updated noir screenplay based on a 1940s crime novel while a filmmaking friend of his by the name of Monty Montgomery optioned Barry GiffordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book, Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula in pre-published galley form. Montgomery gave him GiffordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book asking him if he would executive produce a film adaptation that he would direct. Lynch remembers telling him, "ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s great Monty, but what if I read it and fall in love with it and want to do it myself?" This is exactly what happened as Lynch recalls, "It was just exactly the right thing at the right time. The book and the violence in America merged in my mind and many different things happened." Lynch was drawn to what he saw as "a really modern romance in a violent world Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a picture about finding love in hell." He was also attracted to "a certain amount of fear in the picture, as well as things to dream about. So it seems truthful in some way."
Once Lynch got the okay from Propaganda to switch projects, he wrote a draft in a week. Within four months, he began filming on August 9, 1989 in both Los Angeles and New Orleans with a budget of $10 million. Lynch did not like the ending in GiffordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book where Sailor and Lula split up for good. For Lynch, "it honestly didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem real, considering the way they felt about each other. It didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t seem one bit real! It had a certain coolness, but I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see it." Samuel Goldwyn read an early draft of the screenplay and didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t like GiffordÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ending either so Lynch changed it. However, the director was worried that this change made the film too commercial, "much more commercial to make a happy ending yet, if I had not changed it, so that people wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t say I was trying to be commercial, I would have been untrue to what the material was saying."
Before filming started, Lynch suggested that Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage go on a weekend road trip to Las Vegas in order to bond. Dern remembers, "We agreed that Sailor and Lula needed to be one person, one character, and we would each share it. I got the sexual, wild, Marilyn, gum-chewing fantasy, female side; NickÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got the snakeskin, Elvis, raw, combustible, masculine side."
Cage performed his own singing. The snakeskin jacket Sailor Ripley wears in the film was actually Cage's own. But after filming was completed, he gave it to Dern.
Gewandhausorchester Leizpig - "Im Abendrot" (Excerpt)
Powermad - "Slaughterhouse"
Angelo Badalamenti - "Cool Cat Walk"
Nicolas Cage - "Love Me"
Them - "Baby Please Don't Go"
Koko Taylor - "Up in Flames"
Chris Isaak - "Wicked Game"
Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps - "Be-Bop-A-Lula"
Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra - "Smoke Rings"
Rubber City - "Perdita"
Chris Isaak - "Blue Spanish Sky"
Angelo Badalamenti - "Dark Spanish Symphony" (Edited - String Version)
Rubber City - "Dark Spanish Symphony" (50's Version)
Angelo Badalamenti - "Dark Lolita"
Nicolas Cage - "Love Me Tender"
The North American theatrical version was edited in the scene where a character shoots his own head off with a shotgun: gun smoke was added to tone down the blood and hide the removal of the character's head from his body. The change was supervised by Lynch himself. Foreign prints were not affected. The Region 1 DVD from MGM contains this altered (less graphic) take of the shotgun scene. However, the uncut version has been shown on the Sundance Channel in the U.S.
Early test screenings for Wild at Heart did not go well with the violence in some scenes being too much and Lynch estimated that between 100-120 people walked out. The scene in question was the torture and killing of Johnny Farragut. "I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d pushed it to the point where people would turn on the picture. But, looking back, I think it was pretty close. But that was part of what Wild at Heart was about: really insane and sick and twisted stuff going on."
The film was completed one day before it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990 where it won the Palme d'Or. The announcement was met with a mixture of cheers and jeers, and outrage was expressed by some critics, including Roger Ebert, one of Lynch's most notorious detractors who wrote in his review, "He is a good director, yes. If he ever goes ahead and makes a film about what's really on his mind, instead of hiding behind sophomoric humor and the cop-out of "parody," he may realize the early promise of his Eraserhead. But he likes the box office prizes that go along with his pop satires, so he makes dishonest movies like this one." Barry Gifford remembers that there was a prevailing mood that the media was hoping Lynch would fail. "All kinds of journalists were trying to cause controversy and have me say something like Ã¢â‚¬ËœThis is nothing like the bookÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ or Ã¢â‚¬ËœHe ruined my book.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ I think everybody from Time magazine to WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s On In London was disappointed when I said Ã¢â‚¬ËœThis is fantastic. This is wonderful. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s like a big, dark, musical comedy.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢"
Wild at Heart opened in the United States on August 17, 1990 in a limited release of only 532 theaters, grossing $2,913,764 in its opening weekend. It went into wider release on August 31 with 618 theaters and grossing an additional $1,858,379. The film ultimately grossed $14,560,247 in North America, well above its estimated budget.
As of June 15, 2007, Wild at Heart was given a rating of 64% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.0 rating at the Internet Movie Database. In his review for Sight & Sound magazine, Jonathan Rosenbaum wrote, "Perhaps the major problem is that despite Cage and Dern's best efforts, Lynch is ultimately interested only in iconography, not characters at all. When it comes to images of evil, corruption, derangement, raw passion and mutilation (roughly in that order), Wild at Heart is a veritable cornucopia." However, Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone magazine, "Starting with the outrageous and building from there, he ignites a slight love-on-the-run novel, creating a bonfire of a movie that confirms his reputation as the most exciting and innovative filmmaker of his generation." Richard Combs in his review for Time wrote, "The result is a pile-up, of innocence, of evil, even of actual road accidents, without a context to give significance to the casualties or survivors." Christopher Sharrett in Cineaste magazine wrote, "LynchÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s characters are now so cartoony one is prone to address him more as a theorist than director, except he is not that challenging...One is never sure what Lynch likes or dislikes, and his often striking images are too often lacking in compassion for us to accept him as a chronicler of a moribund landscape a la Fellini."
Diane Ladd was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 1990 Academy Awards.
Barry Gifford's character Perdita Durango (played by Isabella Rossellini in Wild at Heart) also appears in Alex de la Iglesia's movie Perdita Durango (1997), where she is played by Rosie Perez.