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Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart: A Review.
by Michael Pape

Picture the scene in Blue Velvet where Dennis Hopper takes Kyle MacLachlan on that insane nighttime ride with the 50's apartment and the kidnapping and the pale guy singing and the “You're like me.” Ok, now picture that scene taking two hours, and you'll have an approximation of the extended brutality of Wild at Heart. If you've never seen Blue Velvet, picture Romeo and Juliet taking place in Motel Hell. The evil is overwhelming from the very first scene, in which the main protagonist beats a man to death, and it doesn't let up until the very end, when Glenda the Good Witch shows up. Yes, you heard me. Glenda the Good Witch.

As always with a David Lynch film, the plot takes a back seat to the luscious audiovisual feast. Lynch can't let any scene take place without something eye-poppingly macabre happening. Example: Instead of a standard hitwoman, you get a mentally unhinged hitwoman with a unibrow and a curly blonde wig who walks with a walker and has a gang that includes Brad Dourif and a black guy she can't go 5 seconds without brutally french-kissing. If that weren't weird enough, she kills people in elaborately staged sacrifices where she counts up to 10, and her sister (who is also a hitwoman) also has a unibrow and a curly blonde wig. This isn't just a hitwoman, its an abstract expressionist hitwoman. If you interpret things that way, it gets a little easier to take.

However, Wild at Heart's plot is actually linear, and it goes like this: Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern play tragic and fiery lovers Sailor and Lula. Cage has just gotten out of jail for manslaughter after killing a man who pulled a knife on him at the behest of Lula's mother (played by Laura Dern's real-life mother, Diane Ladd) . Sailor and Lula jump bail and head across the country as Lula's mother (and a host of others she puts into motion) give chase. Finally, they end up in a small Texas town that could double for expressionist hell, and the full weight of the forces in motion against them is laid bare. It's kind of refreshing, actually, to find such an easy-to-follow plot in a Lynch movie. Unfortunately, the characters are not up to the story.

It's not hard to see why Lynch fell in love with the idea of Sailor and Lula – two superpassionate lovers against the world, against all odds, with all hell's angels trying to break them apart. Here's the problem: we don't like them. We don't identify with either of them, because he's a criminal who makes an unbelievably bad choice, and she's that stupid girl in college who was going out with total jackasses because she was attracted to their bad-boyness. It's not like Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern in Blue Velvet or Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks, or even Bill Pullman in Lost Highway. We could see ourselves in those characters, and were affected by their dread/anger/dark urges/etc. Sailor and Lula are a cartoon, and that robs the film of the usual David Lynch power, which is to bring our nightmares to life. These nightmares never leave the screen.

It's not that Wild at Heart isn't visually striking and terribly gross and filled to the brim with dread, just like Lynch's better movies; It's just that ( along with the Sailor/Lula problems) there are not one but multiple “devil” characters here, and the film suffers from a lack of consistent evil focus. Aside from the hitwomen I mentioned before, there's of course Lula's Sailor-hating mom (who at one point paints her entire face with red lipstick), an evil guy named Santos who has designs on Lula's mom and will stop at nothing to have her, a man named Mr. Reindeer (further evidence of Tarantino's constant theft of Lynchian ideas) who orders hits based upon an system of silver dollars and who keeps a standing army of beautiful women at his creepy beck-and-call at all times, and finally Willem Dafoe as Bobby Peru, a slick-talking creep with bad teeth who might be the devil himself, but seems almost understated in the cavalcade of darkness that comes before him.

But those are just the blatantly evil characters – Lynch also fills every scene with other peripheral problematic people, like the three fat naked ladies or the black guy who sit in a chair and points or the guy who says weird stuff and barks like a dog or the dying girl who wants to find her personal belongings at the site of her horrific car crash. And that doesn't even really scratch the surface of the random strangeness that permeates every scene. This is supposed to be a nightmare-world, and in that way the Lynch film it most resembles is Eraserhead (although that movie had the bonus of not really having a followable plot.)

Wild at Heart features many actors and actresses that show up in other Lynch productions, most notably Jack Nance (as barking man) and Sherilyn Fenn (as the girl who dies). Hell, there's like 20 Lynch regulars in here, and it's fun to guess when the next one will turn up as a whore wrangler or a witch. All the actors give themselves up for their roles in pure Lynch fashion, and its good to see them having fun even when the audience isn't.

This movie will always be known as the film that killed Twin Peaks, since Lynch left that show's production duties to lesser men as he helmed this project. Was Wild at Heart worth the death of Twin Peaks? Sadly, it wasn't. This film is what Lynch films become when they reach their logical expressionist conclusion, and it jut proves that logic and Lynch don't mix all that well.

Two-and-a-half out of five overpriced popcorns because while it is a visually stunning project from a singularly awesome director, the protagonists are unsympathetic, the evil overwhelming, and the only character in the film I could relate to gets killed by a screaming hitwoman in a goofy-looking wig an hour in.


  • At 9:59 AM, Anonymous millertimefan said…

    Eraserhead, what a weird movie. I saw that late one Fri night w/ some of the Mil Luth crowd at a farm house in Germantown.

    I was eighteen, didn't get it and had to drive home alone on those long secluded country roads. I feel like my eyes barely left the reer view mirror, wondering what / who could actually be in my back seat.

  • At 10:00 AM, Anonymous millertimefan said…

    Sorry about not spelling "rear" right.

  • At 9:41 PM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    It was that baby. In the back seat, I mean. Freaky, freaky movie.


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