I've said it once; I've said it a thousand times. David Lynch is a perv. Of course this movie is going to be R, because he can't tell a story without perving it out as much as he can. A pervy R.
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
I don't know if this will ever get discussed on the podcast, but I watched it for the podcast. I think I have more David Lynch and George Lucas reviewed on this blog than any other director, and neither is particularly close to my heart. I've pretty much panned every one of Lynch's movies, but this one gets a decent review from me. Yeah, I'm just putting that out there early. I'm not going to hide it. If you decide to stop reading here, you can do so. I'm not saying it's great. He's still David Lynch and golly if he isn't going to try to play by his old bag of tricks. But I kind of enjoyed this one. There's something there that I haven't seen in a lot of his other movies.
I think the reason it works for me is that, while it is still very weird, it establishes its rules for weirdness early on. I know that seems very nitpicky. If you are truly weird, you shouldn't need to establish rules. But the rules are there for the audience. There's something admirable, if not a little simplistic, about making a movie for yourself. It is a romantic attitude, knowing that you are making something that only you will like. But what is lost with that romantic notion is that if you make a movie that only you will like, you can't be mad at others for not liking it. "But, Tim," you may ask, "shouldn't you have an appreciation for him?" I'm very much in a "shut up" mood. So, no. I have to watch the movie for my own enjoyment at a certain point. Now this is where I hit a crossroads. Like I said, Lynch gives us a set of rules for how weird things are allowed to get in the first twenty minutes. I like that. The question I have to ask is, did he come up with those rules or did it come from the novel that he is adapting. The film, ultimately, is Lynch's. But he does have to serve a basic narrative. Certain plot points need to happen, so Lynch can't just wing the story like he does with a lot of his other films. (I still argue that Mulholland Drive is an exercise of letting the story tell itself, regardless of sense. Fight me. Okay, please don't.) I've been saying that Lynch works best when he is given a set of restrictions. His creativity has to work within guidelines and that's kind of true here. With a story that has certain important beats, going into his weird dream fugues doesn't really work here. Instead, he uses carefully constructed reveries to show the past, which gives the movie a weird aesthetic typical to his other movies, but the reveries enhance the story as opposed to simply establishing mood.
The movie kind of falls into the catalog of other criminal road movies like Natural Born Killers and Bonnie & Clyde (that last one's a stretch). But it mostly just reminded me of the early works of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Those guys may be more violent, but the vibe of the movie is the same. Really, if we replaced sex with violence, I could see this to be a spiritual cousin to something like El Mariachi. Those movies embrace weird and infuse the film with cool and that's kind of what Wild at Heart does. Perhaps it is on the nose having the protagonist as a young Nicholas Cage doing an Elvis impersonation, but that's kind of cool. Nicholas Cage acting weird in a weird movie works. I know that people criticize Cage in many of his other films, but that's because he acts weird in movies that shouldn't be weird. He's really bad in the movies where he is trying to make enough money to pay off his spending addiction. When he's great, he's really great. He's across from Laura Dern, who is apparently David Lynch's IT girl.
I like Laura Dern...on paper. She's so much different from Ellie Satler in most movies. I loved her in Big Little Lies and most things she does are pretty safe roles. She's a fantastic nuanced actress...except when she is in David Lynch films. My theory is that Lynch doesn't have her plays roles that might be considered typecast for her. She is allowed to play roles that most people wouldn't put Laura Dern in. I don't ask her to apologize for how she plays with characters in Lynch films because I'm pretty sure she doesn't have the opportunity to play those types of characters very often. I think I'm slightly burning out on her because I've watched so many David Lynch movies back-to-back that I don't know if I have another David Lynch performance in me. She plays these intentionally simplistic girls who have no grasp of reality. I wouldn't go as far as to say that these women are weak, but they are defined by a strong sexual male character. (I'm referring to both this and Blue Velvet.) So it's great that she's having fun on screen and she totally deserves it. She seems like a genuinely cool person (from what little I know about Laura Dern). I just wish that her characters had more depth. She is completely objectified. This might be the dumbest spoiler I've ever posted, but looking at the closing credits, her character is defined by this moment. After revealing that she was raped at a young age, forced to get an abortion, and having the father of her child imprisoned, how does she wrap up her character's arc? She has Nicholas Cage sing to her as she stares there and looks at him lovingly. She's a character that has been in the abusive situation from the beginning of the movie. She's the one who waited and raised a child alone and had all of the burdens of Nicholas Cage's mistakes. Cage sits in prison, which seems pretty relaxing compared to the home life that Dern's character had to return to. She had a son who didn't know his father and a mother who is evil incarnate. This character could have been ridiculously strong, but was just treated as a plot device for Cage's Sailor *yup, I forgot that was his name* and a means to make the movie more sexualized than it already is.
BIG SPOILER : I was about to punch this movie in the face in the last ten minutes, but the last two minutes mostly redeemed it. The movie almost did the most Hollywood garbage ending I thought possible. When people say a movie has third act problems, I think that having a grandiose ending is part of that. There was almost a completely tacked on ending with Sailor leaving Lula and son almost without reason. There was a moment of awkwardness and I totally saw the Shane walking off into the sunset ending attached to the movie and I was going to punch the movie in its stupid face. Then Lynch's weird logic somehow worked in my favor for the first time in history. Something really weird happened that had no consequence (you know, the thing I hate in his movies), but it woke Sailor up to the truth of the situation. And somehow, the movie had a big Hollywood ending that worked. Perhaps that moment was added in there to add a beat before the end. The movie really could have ended with Lula picking up Sailor from prison. He gives a look to his boy and the movie could have ended. Some part of me wished that happened, but I'm sure Lynch wanted to have Sailor earn the song that he sings at the end. It all reads very false, but the movie establishes the superficiality of the entire scenario, so it is kind of okay.
Every time I talk about David Lynch, I have to talk about how immature he is when he deals with sexuality. He kind of disgusts me. Part of art is dealing with the disgusting and, if I had a long conversation with Lynch, he would tell me that my concerns about his portrayal of sexuality is that he wants me to deal with the disgusting. But I don't really buy it. I feel like that is a ploy for a genuine obsession with deviancy and objectifying women. Lula is kind of a fridged girlfriend. Her sexual abuse is there to give the male character plot to deal with. There isn't much that Lula deals with emotionally when it comes to her sexual abuse. She cries, but the story isn't about her coping with what has happened to her. Rather, Sailor gets mad. Similarly, the movie is meant to be erotic for the most part. If Lynch wanted to establish that they were sleeping together, he wouldn't hammer the point home so hard. There's a lot of sex in this movie and it all feels a little voyeuristic. Having Willem DaFoe, whom I normally dig, molest Lula as well. Yes, it is gross, but it is also really drawn out. Lynch likes the darker elements of sex, but again, from a very immature point of view. He doesn't give these moments the emotional weight for the characters, but uses them to establish tone. That seems really cheap to me. These movies play out as fantasies for the director and I just get creeped out by all of it. From her IMDB page, I see that Laura Dern joined the new Twin Peaks (I am having a hard time getting through it.) I can't help but think that somehow she'll be pigeonholed into the same character arcs I've seen in his movies. He's making the same creepy sexual choices that he did in his films in the new show and I just don't enjoy watching the show because of it. There are themes to explore for the sake of art, but I can't see any of the choices he is making as a contribution to art. It just feels like an old man being gross and calling it art.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.