FILM (1990)

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 February, 2012, 12:00am


Wild At Heart
Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, Willem Dafoe
Director: David Lynch

Maverick American film director David Lynch has never bothered with even a cursory attempt at following what we might consider normal streams of narrative, or even characterisation.

So it's saying something that Wild at Heart is perhaps his most accessible - and easily understood - piece of work. And even then his audience has to deal with visions of Elvis and the ghosts of the Wizard of Oz hanging over all the action.

At the time of producing this mad little gem, Lynch's mind was also sorting out the structure of the TV series that would become Twin Peaks and would introduce his many and varied talents to a wider audience than he ever might have thought possible. So perhaps that's why there is so much about this film that is 'normal', in terms of the Lynch oeuvre anyway.

What's most familiar here - and most romantic - is the message Lynch leaves us with, that life is so much more 'lived' if you follow the callings of your heart.

Nicolas Cage, never the most restrained of performers, produces the type of character that helps the viewer dismiss all the dross that also litters his career.

When on form, there's no better example of a man so thrilled with his own art and in the sketchy criminal Sailor Ripley he fully inhabits what appears - from press reports at least - to be a like-minded individual.

Sailor goes after his passions - freedom and a lady named Lula Pace Fortune (Laura Dern) - with scant regard for consequence. And Dern is his perfect foil, all pouts and poses and (for the men who seem drawn to her like flies) some promise too. But she's a good girl, deep down, and no amount of temptation will ever take her away from her man. Not the knowledge that life would be safer - and easier - without him, and most certainly not the advances of the serpentine Bobby Peru, fully embodied by Willem Dafoe in a cameo that leaves the skin crawling.

The other standout is Diane Ladd, Oscar nominated for her piece as the mother trying to keep our young lovers apart, and a fully realised vision of pure horror for any man who has not quite lived up to expectations laid down for a daughter.

In many ways the film - like life itself - is a race against time. Our couple is trying to escape, across country, through the wilderness and away from Lynch's untamed cast of oddballs, towards the peace they can only hope to find when they can make it (yes, just like Dorothy) 'home'.

The initial script was penned by novelist Barry Gifford, but Lynch picked up the pages and - believe it or not - added a saccharine-coated ending. It is, like much of what Lynch does, almost too much. Regardless, it works and it was rewarded with a Palme d'Or.

Perhaps the most surprising thing - it might even be in all of Lynch's work, if you dare to look hard enough - is that deep down somewhere there beats the heart of a romantic. All of the characters are looking for love, whatever their definitions (or even perversions) of that much-maligned word may be.