Sunday, February 14, 2016

"Love Me Tender" - Revisiting Wild at Heart

You mark me the deepest!
Written & Directed by: David Lynch

1990 Palme d'Or Award Winner

Romance, danger, lust, violence, humor, and of course true love all combine to make Wild at Heart a literal wild ride. Set as a 'lovers on the run' road movie, David Lynch's film adaptation of Barry Gifford's book Wild at Heart, delivers a sexy surrealistic visual playland that, in my opinion, is one of his best films, and by far his most romantic. 

Beginning in Cape Fear, Sailor Ripley and Lula Fortune's young love is torn apart when Sailor violently defends himself at a public event. A local thug named Bob Ray Lemon arrogantly approaches Sailor and makes dirty comments about his girlfriend Lula. Then Bob Ray whispers to Sailor that Lula's mother, Marietta, wants him dead. He attempts to stab Sailor so Sailor responds by smashing Bob Ray Lemon's head into the floor repeatedly, ultimately killing him. After Sailor ends up in the Pee Dee Correctional Institute for nearly two years for manslaughter. When Sailor is released, Lula disobeys her mother and picks him up from jail. She brings Sailor his snake skin jacket, which he reminds her is a symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom. Then they hurry off to make love at the Cape Fear motel. 

After they exchange pillow talk and Lula flashes to a traumatic incident where she was raped by one of her father's business associates at age 13. It appears that consequently the rapist ended up dead from a car accident, likely caused by her mother. Meanwhile, Marietta Fortune talks to her boyfriend, Johnny Farragut, at home about the situation with Lula. She tells Johnny she wants to bring Marcelles Santos, a mob type figure, into the fold to stop Sailor. However Johnny thinks that's a bad idea and offers to help her out instead. While discussing it, Marietta flashes to the night Bob Ray Lemon was killed and we see that she tried to get Sailor to have sex with her in the bathroom, but Sailor turned her down. We also learn that Sailor used to drive for Marcelles Santos and was witness to a fire that killed Lula's father. 

Johnny heads out to find Sailor and Lula, but Marietta decides to involve Marcelles Santos anyway. He comes to her house and it appears that they have a romantic history. Marietta gets excited when Marcelles describes how he will shoot Sailor in the brains. Santos also wants to kill Johnny Farragut so he doesn't find out about their business with a mysterious Mr. Reindeer. Marietta pleads with Santos not to hurt Johnny, but Santos puts a hit out on Johnny anyway. 

Later Sailor and Lula go dancing to Powermad at a club where Sailor once again feels obligated to defend Lula's honor when she is bumped up against by a random club goer. This time it ends with only a minor scuffle and after Sailor decides to sing "Love Me" by Elvis to Lula in front of everyone. Lula loves it and they end up back at the motel for more romance. After Lula asks Sailor why he didn't sing Love Me Tender to her, which is his favorite Elvis song. Sailor explains he will only sing Love Me Tender to his wife. Lula then flashes to imagery of the Wicked Witch of the West and talks about how her father died. Sailor looks guilt ridden knowing she believes her father killed himself. 

Unbeknownst to Sailor and Lula, Mr. Reindeer receives two silver dollars from Santos, which indicate a hit for Sailor and Johnny, and he calls a mysterious voodoo woman, played by Grace Zabriskie, to perform the task. Sailor and Lula head to New Orleans, where they check into another motel and make love again. After they go out for a night on the town while Johnny is making a beeline to reach them. Back at home, Marietta panics that Santos is going to kill Johnny and begins to paint herself red with lipstick. She calls Johnny and tells him she did something bad and is coming to New Orleans to meet up with him. 

Meanwhile Mr. Reindeer receives a visit during a kinky dinner party from the mysterious voodoo woman and her associates. (I should note that Francis Bay, aka Mrs. Tremond from Twin Peaks, was in this scene as a madam) Mr. Reindeer tells the killers to show Johnny something when they kill him and hands them an envelope. Out in New Orleans, Sailor regales Lula with a sexy story that gets her hotter than Georgie asphalt so they go back to the hotel for more sex. After, during more pillow talk, Lula tells Sailor about her cousin nicknamed, Jingle Dell (Crispin Glover), who loved Christmas, couldn't stop making sandwiches and thought aliens were out to get him. She tells Sailor that Dell declined so badly he ended up with cockroaches in his underwear. 

They head back on the road and Lula drives to give Sailor time to rest. While she drives Lula hears nothing but terrible news on the radio and freaks out. She pulls over and orders Sailor to find some music for her to listen to right now. He ends up putting on some Powermad and they dance wildly on the side of the road. Eventually they calm and end up getting close against the backdrop of a sunset. (that might be my favorite scene from the film) Meanwhile Marietta arrives in New Orleans, but denies to Johnny that she involved Santos. They tell each other they love each other and decide to look for Lula and Sailor together. However when they head back to the hotel, they separate just long enough for Mr. Reindeer's hit men to capture Johnny. 

As Lula and Sailor drive through the night, Chris Issac's Wicked Game plays on the radio and Sailor tells Lula that he knew her daddy. He explains that he saw her house burn when her father died and her mother and Santos think he knows something. Lula imagines her mother as the Wicked Witch riding on a broomstick beside the car. Then she tells him,"it's just shocking sometimes when things aren't the way you thought they were." They stumble upon the scene of a terrible car accident and find a bunch of dead bodies on the side of the road. One girl remains, Sherilyn Fenn, walking around profusely bleeding from her head and in a state of confusion. She eventually succumbs to her injuries and sadly dies. 

Back in New Orleans, Marietta freaks out when she can't find Johnny. She receives a note from one of the hotel workers, (also Dell from the bank in Twin Peaks) saying Johnny went buffalo hunting. At first she assumes Johnny took off, but then Marcelles Santos arrives and says she's his girl now. He swears he didn't hurt Johnny, but we see that poor Johnny is kidnapped by Juana, Dropshadow (David Patrick Kelly) and Reggie aka Mr. Reindeer's voodoo people. Reggie shows Johnny Santos' ring so he knows who is behind it. Then Juana yells,  "fuck me now, Reggie!" and Reggie shoots poor Johnny dead.

Sailor brings Lula to Big Tuna Texas where he meets up with an old associate of his, Perdita Durango, played by Isabella Rossellini. Perdita tells Sailor that Marietta and Santos killed Lula's daddy and they think he saw them. Sailor asks if she knows about a hit out for him, but she says no. Later he goes back to the motel where he and Lula are staying and learns she is sick to her stomach. Lula asks if they can stay for a few days to rest. They end up hanging out with some of the other motel residents later that night, one of which is Jack Nance, who tells them about his dog who barks some. They also learn there is a porn movie being filmed in one of the nearby motel rooms. Then we meet Bobby Peru, played by Willem Dafoe. He's quite a character and sports a mouth full of awful teeth. Later that night, Lula has a disturbing memory of having an abortion after she was raped by her father's associate. It makes her realize that she's probably sick now, because she's pregnant. She decides to write a note to Sailor saying, "I'm pregnant!"

In response, Sailor lights a cigarette and says, "it's okay by me, Peanut." Lula isn't sure how she feels and keeps hearing laughing like from the Wicked Witch. Sailor promises he will take care of things for them so their situation doesn't get worse. The next day, Bobby Peru comes knocking on the door looking for Sailor when Lula is alone. He asks to use the bathroom and notices the smell of puke. Bobby gets rude to Lula and asks if she likes to fuck like a rabbit. Lula tells him to get out, but instead he toys with her, grabs her, gropes her and crudely describes how he would "fuck" her. He insists she ask him to fuck her before he'll stop. Lula is almost seduced by him, but when she finally whispers it to him breathlessly, Bobby pulls back laughing and leaves. Lula gets upset, starts crying and smacks her red high heels together three times, like Dorothy does in the Wizard of Oz.

Later Bobby and Sailor take a ride for a beer and Bobby asks Sailor to help him with a robbery. Sailor says no, but Bobby works him by saying he talked to Lula and guessed that she's pregnant. Bobby thinks a little money in Sailor's pocket might help them out. Bobby says he'll bring the car around in the morning if Sailor changes his mind. Sailor ends up drinking a bit more and goes back to the motel room later pretty drunk. Lula wonders if he's up to something with Bobby. She thinks Bobby is bad news and Sailor will regret it if he hooks up with him. Lula cries and says she wishes he would sing Love Me Tender to her and they could go somewhere over the rainbow. 

Bobby goes to see Perdita and we learn she is part of Mr. Reindeer's hit squad. Bobby shows her a silver dollar and says Sailor might have an "accident" during the robbery. Then they go to pick Sailor up. Sailor isn't happy to see her, but Bobby explains that Perdita is his girl and they're all going to make some easy money. However the robbery quickly goes bad, Bobby starts killing people for no reason and Perdita takes a cop down outside with their getaway car. She ends up driving off without Bobby and Sailor. Inside the robbery, Bobby turns his gun on Sailor and tells him he's next. Sailor tries to shoot first, but learns that Bobby gave him a gun with dummy bullets. Bobby psychotically laughs, "those are dummies, dummy!"

Sailor decides to make a run for it. Bobby follows with his shot gun ready. Outside the cop gets up from the ground and starts firing at Bobby. Sailor dives to the ground with his hands up and watches in horror as Bobby gets shot and ultimately blows his own head off with the shotgun. Inside the store, the clerks Bobby shot up fumble in a pool of blood. One of them searches for his shot off hand while the other tells him it can be sewed back on. Then we see a random dog runs off with the hand in its mouth. Afterward Sailor ends up in jail and Marietta arrives with Santos to take Lula home. Then we see that Lula writes to Sailor in jail and tells him she's keeping their baby.

Five years, ten months and twenty one days later, very much against Marietta's wishes, Lula takes her son to pick up Sailor for his prison release. On her way, Lula passes by yet another deadly car crash with more dead bodies on the road. Upon seeing Sailor for the first time in so many years, Lula is overcome with emotion. Sailor meets their son, but thinks it's a mistake for him to be with them. Lula pleads with him not to walk away, but Sailor says his goodbyes and walks off nonetheless. On his walk, Sailor encounters an eclectic gang of multiple nationalities who are looking to rumble. He foolishly asks, "What do you faggots want?" to which they begin kicking his ass and knock him out. While unconscious, Sailor gets visited by the Good Witch (Sheryl Lee) who reminds him that Lula loves him. Sailor thinks he's a no good manslaughterer who never had any parental guidance, but the Good Witch tells him Lula forgives him and if he's truly wild at heart, he'll fight for his dreams. She says, "don't turn away from love."

When Sailor wakes up, sporting a humongous broken nose, he apologizes to the gang for referring to them as homosexuals. He says they taught him a valuable lesson, then screams Lula's name and runs off to find her. Sailor finds Lula stuck in traffic. He races toward her car, leaping and running across other cars to get to her. When he reaches her, Sailor finally sings Love Me Tender to Lula as their son watches with a smile. The credits role, Sailor finishes the song and finally they kiss.

The End

I think the final scene of the movie really captures the essence of the whole film. Watch below!

What I love the Most 

If you're driving into a new town and see this sign just turn back. Nothing good can happen in town called Big Tuna, but still I think the last third of Wild at Heart is really when the movie is at its best, so thank you Big Tuna, you were thoroughly entertaining.

Diane Ladd, Laura Dern's real life mother, was terrific has the crazed Marietta Fortune/Wicked Witch. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for this role and it's no wonder why, she knocked it out of the park. 

Willem Dafoe is so incredibly creepy yet nothing short of awesome as Bobby Peru. Despite how gross and disturbing he is, I find it impossible not to enjoy every moment of him. 

The soundtrack from Angelo Badalmenti in this film is fantastic. In many scenes, I feel it's truly the music that defines the romance between Sailor and Lulu. 

Even though I don't recall the heavy Wizard of Oz references in the book, I did enjoy them in the film. I think it adds to the surrealistic side of the movie in a really fun way.


Lula and Sailor's free wheeling ways and utter devotion to one another is a secret fantasy that I think most people dream of on some level. The cynic in me has learned that real life isn't like that, but who wants the muck of real life when you want to get lost in a movie? I feel like that is the magic of film and David Lynch, in particular, is a director who takes you in a different world. In Sailor and Lula's world, all the matters is each other. Laura Dern and Nicholas Cage had such amazing chemistry in their perspective roles that despite some flaws in Wild at Heart, its core story, their love story, never stops delighting throughout, which is why Wild at Heart is one of my all time favorite Lynch films.

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