Wild at Heart

Director: David Lynch
Screenwriters: Barry Gifford, David Lynch

Institute History

  • 1995 Sundance Film Festival


Because we first see Sailor, the character Nicolas Cage portrays in Wild at Heart, brutally beating a man, it’s easy to write him off as another big, bad antihero like so many in film today. But the extraordinary thing about Cage’s characterization is how multilayered it is; as the film unfolds, Sailor evolves into an increasingly complex and sympathetic figure. In fact Sailor and his girlfriend, Lula (Laura Dern), have very little in common with the characters in Natural Born Killers or even Badlands. Instead they are cut from the same romantic cloth as Bowie and Keechie in Altman’s Thieves Like Us, or its predecessor, Ray’s They live by Night: victims of forces they can neither control nor understand.

Wild at Heart is basically an odyssey film ,two young people setting out in search of America, refracted through the unique gothic sensibilities of director David Lynch. One of Sailor’s and Lula’s chief motivations for hitting the road is Marietta, Lula’s gleeful gargoyle of a mother (played with relish by Diane Ladd, Dern’s real mother). She is so determined to keep them apart that she puts out a contract on Sailor. In a journey that is the deliberate mirror image of The Wizard of Oz, the two come to an abrupt halt in Big Tuna, Texas; it is, as Sailor observes, “a long way from the Emerald City.” Along the way they encounter a slew of perverse and colorful characters and begin to grow up.

“We all got our secret side,” Sailor admits halfway through the film. Watching Cage reveal Sailor’s secret side is one of the chief rewards of Wild at Heart. Under his brash, flamboyant exterior—he wears a snakeskin jacket, “a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom, “ and sings like Elvis—lies a basically caring person who is capable of commitment and great tenderness. By the end of the film, Sailor has discovered that being wild at heart can include loving and being loved, and that he can make choices that will keep him from just being swept along through life. Cage handles this acting challenge with bravura and finesse; his Sailor is funny, sweet, macho, bewildered, philosophical, and crass by turns. His performance is certainly one of the main reasons why the film made such a splash at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990, where it won the Palme d’Or.

— Barbara Bannon

Screening Details

  • Section: Piper-Heidsieck Tribute to Independent Vision
  • Film Type: Dramatic Feature
  • Country: U.S.A.
  • Run Time: 127 min.
As you use our Online Archives, please understand that the information presented from Festivals, Labs, and other activities is taken directly from official publications from each year. While this information is limited and doesn't necessarily represent the full list of participants (e.g. actors and crew), it is the list given to us by the main film/play/project contact at the time, based on the space restrictions of our publications. Each entry in the Online Archives is meant as a historical record of a particular film, play, or project at the time of its involvement with Sundance Institute. For this reason, we can only amend an entry if a name is misspelled, or if the entry does not correctly reflect the original publication. If you have questions or comments, please email [email protected]