Nicolas Cage in: Wild at Heart

Wild at Heart

Released in 1990 ▪ Review posted December 29, 2014

“To judge a man by his weakest link or deed is like judging the power of the ocean by one wave.”

Elvis Presley

You don’t watch a David Lynch film, you survive it. After having tried and failed twice, I finally survived a viewing of Wild at Heart from beginning to end today. And just like when I watched Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, I feel empty and frustrated.

Like all of his projects, Lynch builds a semi-realistic world where bizarre characters undertake bizarre actions in a casual and increasingly intense manner. Lynch’s cinematic vision may not be the most accessible, but it’s at least different. I respect a filmmaker who knowingly creates something disturbing and does it with such dedication. I do wonder what his take on Return of the Jedi might have been. But he’s not my favorite, and except for Twin Peaks, I don’t find myself drawn to his style.

As Roger Ebert describes the plot of Wild at Heart, “[Laura] Dern and Cage play young lovers on the run from unspeakable secrets in the past, and the vengeance of the Dern character’s mother and her hired goons.” Along the way, the male characters commit acts of violence, the female characters scream hysterically, and whenever they meet, there is an unpleasant sexual event. Ebert hated this movie more than I did, describing it as juvenile in form and misogynistic in content.

Evaluating a David Lynch movie means resigning oneself to his idiosyncrasies, of which he has a lot. It would be fruitless to compare Cage’s performance in Wild at Heart to another film of the same period or to Cage’s oeuvre overall. In settings as distinctive as Lynch’s, it’s better to look for whether a character harmonizes with what’s going on around them, or if they stand out in a negative way. Here, Nic Cage is perfect. His channeling of Elvis is crazy to a level that’s appropriate for a world full of insane people and continual Wizard of Oz allusions. Lynch knew what he was getting by casting Cage, and Cage delivered.

The ultimate question for Wild at Heart is whether Cage’s performance made the movie any worse, and it did not. Little, however, could have been done to make the movie any better.

How was the movie?
Not interesting, loud
How was Nic Cage’s acting?
Not bad contextually
Did his performance make the movie worse?