Follow TV Tropes


Film / Wild at Heart

Go To
It's like an old Elvis Presley movie done by David Lynch!

"If you are truly wild at heart, you'll fight for your dreams."

Wild at Heart is a 1990 dark comedy/crime/road movie written and directed by David Lynch while he was taking a break from Twin Peaks, based on the novel Wild at Heart: The Story of Sailor and Lula by Barry Gifford.

The film follows Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage), a recently released convict, and his lover Lula Fortune (Laura Dern) going on a road trip from North Carolina to California in order to escape the clutches of Lula's extremely overbearing mother Marietta (Diane Ladd). As they travel and come across Lynchian situations, Marietta has both of her boyfriends, private detective Johnnie Farragut and gangster Marcello Santos (Harry Dean Stanton and J. E. Freeman, respectively) try to track down Lula and dispose of Sailor. Hilarity, Elvis Numbers and Oz Allusions Ensue.

One of the most divisive films of Lynch's filmography: those who love it consider it one of his best, while those who hate it (Roger Ebert among them) consider it laughable, melodramatic trash. Regardless, it's one of Lynch's most distinctive examples of American grotesquerie. Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or in 1990, and was infamously booed when it was announced as the winner.

This film includes examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Mob lady Perdita Durango was supposed to be "a hairy, ugly woman", and the actress who played her was quoted as being "overjoyed" at the chance of grunging it up; as a result, "ugliness" comes down to a cheap blond dye job with visible dark roots. Oh, and the actress? Isabella Rossellini.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Sailor tend to refer to Lula as "Peanut". She in turn refers to him as "Sail'".
  • All Women Are Lustful
  • Arc Words: More like Arc References, as many characters allude to The Wizard of Oz throughout the film.
  • Bar Brawl: Very narrowly avoided.
  • Berserk Button: Whatever you do, don't insult Sailor's snakeskin jacket.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The opening scene has Sailor kill Bobby Ray Lemon, a black assassin hired by Lula's mother.
  • Big "NO!": The whimpiest one ever captured on screen.
  • Blood from the Mouth:
    • Lula bled from her mouth after she was raped by Uncle Pooch; making it at least somewhat ambiguous what he actually did to her.
    • The girl from the car crash vomits up a little blood right before she dies from her injuries.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Double-Aught Spool, the rocket scientist who won't stop talking about his dog (assuming he even is a rocket scientist, since we only have the word of another minor character on this matter).
  • But Now I Must Go: Subverted. Sailor tries to pull this on Lula and his son, Pace, at the end of the film, believing that they will be better off without him, but one very short fight and a vision from the Good Witch of the North later, he chooses to turn his life around and declares that he is going to stay with his family instead.
  • Crapsack World: Lots and lots of violence everywhere.
  • Creepy Uncle: Lula's "Uncle Pooch", who raped her when she was 13 (although, she points out that he wasn't an actual uncle, just a business partner of her father).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: An extremely brutal and bloody one opens up the film, when Bobby Ray Lemon attacks Sailor with a knife, and the latter proceeds to utterly trounce him before ultimately killing him with his bare hands.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Sailor's childhood is only alluded to via dialogue, but that's what we discover:
    Lula: When'd you start smoking, Sail?
    Sailor: I guess I started smoking when I was about... four. My momma was already dead then from lung cancer.
  • Elvis Impersonator: Played for Drama surprisingly enough. While wooing Lula at a nightclub, Sailor sings the Elvis Presley song "Love Me" to her. Later, Lula asks Sailor why he didn't sing "Love Me Tender", his favorite Presley song, to which Sailor replies that he can only sing that song to his wife. During the final scene, he sings "Love Me Tender" to Lula to confirm that he is going to marry her.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: Sailor and Lula ends up fornicating in pretty much every hotel room they make a stop at. And they're just the tip of the iceberg here.
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Sailor namechecks the tropes when he is telling Lula, who is a blonde, a story about a former lover of his. Lula interrupts his story to ask what color her hair was. Sailor explains that it was "Jet-black. Though gentlemen prefer blondes..."
  • Evil Cripple: Downplayed. Perdita, a henchwoman of Santos who has a personal story with Sailor, but nonetheless lies to him, in spite of the deal they had to warn each other if they knew that someone ever called out a hit on them and participates in assassinating Johnnie Farragut, can still walk, but she is shown to have a strange way of carrying her body and occasionally is seen using leg braces and crutches, implying that she suffered some serious physical damage at some point.
  • Evil Matriarch: Marietta.
  • Evil Wears Black:
    • Downplayed somewhat with Santos, who is very overtly a mobster, and tends to wear a black shirt and pants combo with a white tie and a grey blazer as his standard outfit.
    • Played painfully straight with Bobby Peru, whose every article of clothes are all pitch black. Lula even refers to him as a "black angel".
  • Exact Words: When Johnnie Farragut suddenly disappears from the hotel they are staying at, Marietta asks Santos if he has done anything to him; and more specifically if he has done anything to hurt him. Santos denies this, so Marietta asks to swear on his mother if he is telling the truth. Santos then swears, on his mother, that he hasn't done anything to Johnnie. As they speak, however, Dropshadow, Reggie, and Perdita, who just so happens to work for Santos, have knocked Johnnie out, kidnapped him, and currently preparing to kill him...
  • Gorn: There's the opening head-smushing sequence and then the bank robbery.
  • Impossibly Cool Clothes: Sailor's snakeskin jacket. He takes a lot of pride in it.
    Sailor: Did I ever tell ya that this here jacket represents a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom?
    Lula: About fifty thousand times.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played with, since Lula finds out she's pregnant midway.
  • Karma Houdini: Several examples, most notably Santos and many of his accomplices and associates.
  • Large Ham: Everyone, but especially Sailor and Marietta.
  • Mad Hatter: Several examples, notably pigeon-obsessed George Kovic and dog-obsessed 00-Spool.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Played with, as Marietta tries - and fails - to seduce Sailor early on- her actual goals are debatable, though, since it may as well be a ploy to drive the couple apart, and she's soon revealed to be evil.
  • The Napoleon: Downplayed. Bobby Peru, being played by the 5'8½ (174 cm) tall Willem Dafoe, does not have that much height difference compared to Lula, who is played by the 5'10½ (179 cm) tall Laura Dern. Yet, Peru is notably still able to physically intimidate and menace Lula, despite her standing a bit taller than him.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted. The first scene of the film sees Sailor being attacked by an assassin by the name of Bobby Ray Lemon. While in Texas him and Lula meet Bobby Peru, who is also an assassin who is out for Sailor's blood.
  • Outlaw Couple: Sailor and Lula become one, since they decide to head off to California violating Sailor's parole, and later they get mixed up with Bobby Peru's gang, who Sailor joins in a robbery.
  • Rape as Backstory: Lula was attacked at a very young age by "Uncle Pooch", a family friend; upon learning that, Marietta arranged for him to be murdered.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The crash victim's babbling about her mother and the contents of her purse might seem odd, but that kind of deliriousness is very common for victims of severe trauma.
  • Retargeted Lust: Just hearing about one of her lover's past encounters makes Lula, in her words, "hotter than Georgia asphalt."
  • Say My Name: After his epiphany courtesy of the Good Witch, Sailor screams, "LULAAAAAA!" Lula also screams Sailor's name multiple times throughout the film.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Most of the film references The Wizard of Oz with Glinda the Good Witch keeping a close eye over Sailor and Lula and even giving Sailor advice at the end.
    • After Bobby Peru shoots off a bank teller's hand, a dog steals said hand and carries it in his mouth, a scene that also occurs in Yojimbo when Sanjuro enters the town.
  • Sociopathic Soldier: The very unpleasant and borderline psychotic Bobby Peru is very heavily implied to be a former US Marine. He refers to a toilet as "a head" and he has a prominent tattoo spelling out "USMC" on his left hand.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Sailor and Lula seem to be heading towards that, right up until the very end.
  • Stealth Pun: Sailor once refers to Marietta by her last name, as "Ms. Fortune".
  • Sudden Musical Ending: Sailor sings Elvis Presley's "Love Me Tender" to Lula at the end. Though he does have one musical number earlier in the movie, having sung Elvis' "Love Me" earlier, and he did promise afterwards that he was saving a performance of "Love Me Tender" for the woman who would be his wife.
  • The Take: A variation. When Sailor learns that Lula is pregnant with his child, his immediate reaction is light up two cigarettes at once and then starting to smoke them simultaneously. He then tries to play it cool and tells her in his most deadpan voice possible "It's okay by me, Peanut."
  • Title Drop: "This whole world's wild at heart and weird on top."
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: Lots and lots.
  • World of Ham: Deliberately invoked, it's David Lynch after all.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Reggie and Perdita, two of Santos' henchmen, are very much in love, and they tend to both get off on committing murders together.
  • Your Head A-Splode: Bobby Peru after the robbery.