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Learn Lynch: Wild at Heart & Weird on Top

“Learn Lynch” is a new series here on 25YL where one of our writers watches a David Lynch film for the first time and reviews it. Do you remember what it was like to watch these films for the first time? All of the thoughts and feelings? Or if this is your first time watching Lynch films, allow us to be your companion through this wonderful and strange journey. Hope you enjoy this new feature and look for the latest installment each Thursday evening!

For this installment of “Learn Lynch,” we decided to do something a little different. Eileen watched the film and I did a phone interview with her two days after she viewed it for the first time. We agreed that she wouldn’t tell me anything about her viewing experience ahead of time so I couldn’t prepare for either a good response or a bad one. Being a huge fan of the film, I was not so secretly hoping she would enjoy it, but I was prepared for any outcome. Our interview wound up being a really good, free-flowing conversation, so I collected her responses and typed them out instead of doing a traditional question by question. Hope you enjoy reading about Eileen’s first viewing of Wild at Heart!

Overall impressions: Horatio Hornblower meets a western meets a Wizard of Oz porno set in an Elvis movie. I give it a solid B plus, A-minus. It was a bit heavy-handed at times and I do prefer subtly overall, and it was definitely not a subtle film. It was not what I anticipated and I liked that.

Sailor and Lula: I really like Sailor. I really like Lula too. They’re an excellent pair. They work well as a pair. What I liked is that you’re dropped into who they are, especially Sailor, right off the bat.  Except that you’re given an unequal impression of who they are. You start with him attacking the guy and being super violent, which turns out to be not who he is at all. Getting to know them even though you’ve missed the first quarter of their story, being dropped into that you would expect not to learn more about who they are moving forward, but rather trying to figure out who they were beforehand and that was turned on its head. He becomes not what you’re anticipating. I liked seeing that come from the character. I liked the Elvis references.  That sort of macho yet supportive contrast is always fun to play around with.

I also call it Horatio Hornblower.  I know it’s a road movie but it felt more like the “sailor goes out to the ocean and leaves the lover behind because they have to travel and answer the call of the ocean” story. It was an interesting character aspect for him and I appreciated that.  Lula almost feels like proto-Diane. Everything is shaded in The Return right now for me. Thematically I felt like she was a really, real depiction of that faux southern charm veneer that everyone thinks exists but then you have the reality beneath it. I loved the depth that was given to her character despite that setting.

sailor and lula drive in their car in wild at heart

Nic Cage and Laura Dern:  I’ve seen Laura Dern in The Return, Blue Velvet and I believe one non-Lynch project. Up until watching Wild at Heart, I’ve not been her biggest fan. I think she’s a good actress, but I guess it’s that I haven’t particularly cared for the roles I’ve seen her in. It’s usually the person she’s playing and not how she plays it. I think she does an excellent job; she’s an excellent actress. She can hit highs and lows to the extreme, which is definitely a Lynch requirement. There’s never been a character for me that I liked her as, prior to Lula.  I’ve seen plenty of Nicolas Cage films and most of them are pretty mediocre. I don’t know if it’s him or the roles he’s taking, but I do feel like he was in his prime in Wild at Heart. He gave it his all. It felt genuine, and I have to say that about Laura Dern as well. They put genuine emotion into every scene, every interaction that they had.

black and white pic of sailor and lula laughing in a car in wild at heart

Use of color: Color is a serious thing that I made a note of in this film and in other Lynch films I’ve seen as well. I particularly noted that with Lula and her mother, the color of their nail polish matches their lipstick and a variety of other things on the set and it evokes a certain mood. Color and mood are so closely correlated. To learn that Lynch used the direction of “bubble gum” with Laura Dern really makes a lot of sense to me, especially with the particular colors that are associated with her. When it comes to the 50’s vibe, one of the ways we achieve that is with color, lighting and tone. I think all of those things are carried through Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks and Wild at Heart. There’s that almost warm glow in a lot of scenes, then when a different mood is called for there’s different lighting that evokes a different tone.

Bobby Peru: My very first impression from Bobby Peru was Zorro meets Gomez Adams. In terms of visuals with the clothing, the slicked hair and the pencil mustache, it was a pull between those two characters in my mind. I didn’t expect anything good from him, but at the same time, I wanted to like the character. Starting with his introduction, I knew he was going to be this sleazy, disgusting character right off the bat. It was a fabulous addition to have such an important character arrive halfway through the film. He had such a phenomenal impact on the characters throughout.

bobby peru in wild at heart

The ending: It almost felt like when Sailor goes back, it stops being the Horatio Hornblower story and turns into a western. They return, they kiss, and it feels very much like a western ending. There are the genre blends again and because it was handled the way it was handled I was ok with it. I took it at face value—ok it’s a sailor film, and he’s going to leave, and then he came back, and I made the change in my mind.  With Lynch’s added elements of Oz (the Wizard of Oz elements were not part of the book) it makes better sense because there’s the culmination of “Ok, I can stop being the typical sailor. I can return and stay”.

sailor sings love me tender to lula on a car bonnet in wild at heart

Wizard of Oz: It was very heavy-handed and it was meant to be. It’s meant to be forceful. He’s driving it into your skull. He’s banging your head with a hammer saying “This is what this means, take this away from it please”. Which is so different from where we’re at right now with his work on Twin Peaks: The Return. Before any other exposure to David Lynch, I would have really hated the Oz references. I’m not a big fan of the Wizard of Oz, which is practically sacrilege to most people, I know. It’s never really stuck with me.

I’ve never read the books, don’t know anything about Wicked. I’ve maybe seen the film twice. After a lot of the discussion about Wizard of Oz and the journeys and different characters and what they mean, I’m more open to the reference points. I can divorce it from my general ambivalence about the actual source. The Oz elements, which I did notice right away, such as Lula’s mother as the bad witch, were obvious. Then the whole concept of going back to the crystal ball and the idea that this is someone else watching these things happen or foretelling these things to happen sets it in a different lens for the viewer. Before that, you’re looking at the story in one way, and then after that, you’re asking yourself ‘what is this now, what is greater purpose or symbol?’ Then I was able to pick up on the colors, the whole over the rainbow and desire to be elsewhere. Lula is very much the Dorothy and she clicks her heels, with her red shoes and she desires to go back to something that she’s essentially never had. The idyllic black and white canvas has never really existed for her, or at least since she raped at a young age. After that, she can’t return to what she’s never had. I don’t think her mother has ever been sane, probably, and we can’t speak to her father at all. Very much, her character and how she perceives the world is filtered through that rainbow lens. The lights are changing, and what does each element mean? Has she transcended? Is she over the rainbow? She’s with Sailor and they’re making this emotional connection that she can’t make with other people.

I think that what this achieves especially is connecting Lula’s outlook on life and Sailor’s outlook on life. I don’t remember the words he used, but I loved when he talked about how her mind was so interesting. He doesn’t particularly get it, but he appreciates it. Only at the end when he’s hit on the head, and he has this vision of the Good Witch, he’s coming into her understanding of the world. And not only accepting, but also processing that that is the way she is, and opening to himself to that. That is, ultimately, what allows him to return. Without those elements in the film, if Lynch hadn’t of done anything Wizard of Oz, I don’t know how Sailor would have gained the impetus to say “No, I’m going to go back”.

sheryl lee as the good witch in wild at heart

Marietta: I enjoyed the thin veneer of southern charm. There’s this southern gothic, everything is prim and proper and just so and we have iced tea, we are civilized and underneath it is just rancid. I think she, of all of the characters, really embodies that concept and I loved it.

Other Characters: Seeing Grace Zabriskie was amazing. I loved it. I really loved how crazy opposite she was from Sarah Palmer. I’ve never seen her in anything else, so I loved how different and weird it was, so strange and off-kilter. She still had the perm, so I knew it was her. I would have loved to have seen the original version of Harry Dean Stanton’s character’s death. I feel like I would have been a person who wouldn’t have walked out of the test screenings mainly because that sort of thing interests me. I wanted more in that scene actually, so when I heard that it had been cut; I felt like I was missing out. With Harry Dean Stanton’s recent passing, I was excited to see him, but I was pretty sure his character would die in the film. It goes without saying that any character he plays is phenomenal, but I did want more from that. It was interesting because they cut it off. I wanted to know what happened. I want to know how they do this, what’s this ritual about? I like knowing these sorts of things. I liked the particular close up shots of his face and his expressions. He delivered. That whole moment between Dropshadow and Juanita, I just wanted to see more of that.

david patrick kelly, harry dean stanton and grace zabriskie in wild at heart

I liked our Texan layabouts that introduced Bobby Peru to Sailor and Lula. These sort of typical Lynchian characters that I anticipated. I was waiting for them to pop up and be normal in their environment but weird contextually.  That weird moment of magic and then Jack Nance showing up and talking about the dog; all of that made me feel very at home in my understanding of Lynch and his work. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. Loved it, loved the character it gives to the location. In the book I’m reading, “The Architecture of David Lynch” is all about location and how his architectural framework is built around places rather than around characters. I really noticed that in this film. Even if it is a road movie and we have different environments and different situations.  I definitely appreciated that. Sherilyn Fenn was the first scene I ever saw from this film. I searched for it specifically after watching Twin Peaks because I wanted to see more of her. She’s my favorite Twin Peaks character, and I love both her and Audrey, so I went looking for this scene. I believe that I read that the only directions he gave her was that she needed to find the contents of her purse and you’re obsessed with it.

I think it’s so fascinating where small directions take capable actors and actresses into these really captivating moments that are so small yet so significant. That scene changes the entire tone of the movie. Even though we start with extreme violence from Sailor’s angle when he kills the man, it doesn’t set the tone of the film as being particularly dark or violent. It’s the accident and particularly the fact that it is an accident that really changes Lula and her views. That happens to her in particular. It resonates with her being pregnant and that these people have died. It’s almost like the Jeffrey Beaumont moment in Blue Velvet where he says “Why do all of these awful things to people?” Then when he remembers that he’s hit this woman, there’s this whole destruction of innocence that can come in so many ways.  For them to experience that with Sherilyn’s character walking around, just being so focused and they’re experiencing how she’s dying. It was very emotionally charged and just a wonderful scene. It gets me every time when she starts picking at her scalp.

sherilyn fenn as girl in an accident wild at heart

Final Thoughts: Maybe it’s because of a book I just read called “The Evicted” and that I live in Milwaukee, and there’s still so many serious issues with the cycle of poverty—not that it’s poverty on their part although they are running out of money and his desperation is the culmination of his bad decision making. Every time with his jacket—the symbol of his individuality and personal freedom––it’s that desire to remain an individual in a society where poverty and oppression force you to conform in order to live the way you hope to continue to live, except you never can because you are constantly trying to make ends meet.  I guess that resonated particularly with me because it’s been such a big issue here with discussion of rent and how the actual process of renting an apartment contributes to the societal oppression of not even just people in poverty but also the lower end of the middle class. That stuck out to me as a theme. It is the theme of trauma, which was so prevalent in The Return.  We’ve talked about how The Return is his magnum opus and every time I watch a new film I can pick out elements that he placed into The Return. Even if they were just thinly veiled references, even if they have taken on a totally different life, I can still see where they come from, and it just makes me appreciate each film and The Return even more.

Well, that’s going to do it for this edition of “Learn Lynch”. Hope you enjoyed reading about Eileen’s first viewing of Wild at Heart and we would love to hear your thoughts on the film as well! Until next time…


Written by Andrew Grevas

Andrew is the Founder / Editor in Chief of 25YL. He’s engaged with 2 sons, a staunch defender of the series finales for both Lost & The Sopranos and watched Twin Peaks at the age of 5 during its original run, which explains a lot about his personality.

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