Where were you when you were first radicalized by Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet? I was in my high school freshman English class. It was in that class I learned what love looked like; what true love and devotion looked like, set against a gorgeous backdrop, rich with religious imagery and vibrant colors. This was a movie. This was art. This was how I wanted all film to look and feel. Rich, excessive, and exploding with romance.
I was radicalized again, last summer, when I saw Wild at Heart for the first time. I sat, completely transfixed, in stunned silence and felt that familiar sin-sation I first experienced in Dr. Lovelace’s English class. I was so stunned that when the movie had to buffer because of my crap internet (sorry to offend, I had to stream this one!), I had a chance to breathe. Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, we all know I have a flair for the dramatics.
Happy Birthday Wild at Heart, dirty thirty never looked so good!
Wild at Heart is Lynch’s fifth feature, coming out a few years after the critical success of Blue Velvet, which, like many others, was my favorite until Wild at Heart showed me the light. Wild at Heart follows a pair of star-crossed lovers played by Nic Cage and Laura Dern. Cage as the sexy, Elvis loving, Sailor Ripley, and, Dern as Lula Pace Fortune, the literal definition of ‘ride-or-die’ travel cross-country in the hopes of a new and better life together. However, no relationship is free from its flaws. Sailor, with his fierce temper and short fuse, and Lula, with a hateful mother, hellbent on keeping her daughter away from that ruffian, have their work cut out for them. But these violent delights have violent ends, as a wiser man than me once said; and boy are these delights, violent.
Wild at Heart is my favorite Lynch film and one that, if I had more friends, I would happily introduce them to Lynch with this masterpiece. This film toes the line between the more surreal, the Lynchian, and the more straight-forward narrative storytelling. A more palatable balance for the uninitiated. I think we can owe that to the already outlandish source material of Berry Gifford’s novel series of the same name. Furthermore, thematically there are two iconic texts the film pulls some of its visuals from. The first of course, is Romeo and Juliet, and the second, The Wizard of Oz.
When I say Romeo and Juliet I of course, mean the play. I realize earlier I mentioned the fabulous film, but here I mean the play we all read in high school. We recognize the story of two star-crossed lovers, kept apart by their friends and family, who all clearly know best when it comes to the intimacy of the two’s relationship. We also recognize the love, devotion, and passion of young love and lovers, and we root for and cry with the two when things go horribly, horribly wrong. By no means am I saying Wild at Heart is Lynch’s answer to Romeo and Juliet, nor am I saying that you should describe this movie as Romeo and Juliet to your friends; I mean that Sailor and Lula’s relationship of deep love and devotion is one we’ve seen before, just more modern, and in a snakeskin jacket.
As for The Wizard of Oz, Lynch has made several references to the film in other works, but the homage here in Wild at Heart is so necessary to the narrative structure, but it also serves to show how deeply embedded The Wizard of Oz is in our minds. Sailor and Lula leave their homes behind, and go on a cross-country journey to new lands, in search of something better; someplace new, and magical where they can be happy. The wide-open highway lays before them like the yellow brick road, carrying them to the beautiful city of Oz, or to a motel in Big Tuna, Texas, who knows; I left my map at home!
Gorgeous visuals, vibrant colors and heavy metal interludes all serve to upset and disorient, true to Lynch’s style; and while it’s all so exciting, my favorite part of the movie is the love between Sailor and Lula. I’m a romantic of the hopeless variety. I’m a sap and a sucker for a good romance, and Wild at Heart delivers. With a leading couple like Dern and Cage, the chemistry is there right from the very beginning! Both lovers are so completed devoted to each other (how many times can I say “devoted” in one article?), and it really shows. I mean, it really, really shows. Apparently Laura Dern broke her “no nudity” clause for this movie. She felt that Sailor and Lula’s physical relationship was so necessary to the narrative, and that the relationship was so protected, that she consented to some light nudity. I really admire how well Lynch was able to convey such intimacy and raw passion in all of Sailor and Lula’s love making scenes (and there’s quite a few). With that being said, it was nice to experience female nudity that wasn’t at the expense of the actress, or for anyone’s satisfaction. I also found it very refreshing that Lula enjoyed sex just as much as Sailor.
When confronted with the harsh reality of the world they live in, these two lovers realize they never made it over the rainbow. They only have each other to rely on, and no one can keep them apart.
Also, my hottest take for you, I firmly believe that Wild at Heart and Natural Born Killers would make the perfect double feature! Two sets of star-crossed lovers on the run, the two of them against the world! Not to mention the various perversions of life, love, and family, and of course, the senseless violence and all the cool sex make these two films a match made in sinema heaven. My sweet Wild at Heart turned thirty August 17th and I had to write her this article wishing her a happy birthday! I hope this weekend you decide to join in the festivities with me! Let us know what you think. I hope that maybe this will become a favorite of yours too!
You be Sailor, and I’ll be Lula, and we’ll meet again, right over that rainbow!