I didn't expect to like Greg Olson's chapter on David Lynch's Wild At Heart. I didn't expect to like it because I do not like Wild At Heart. It is my least favorite David Lynch film (for reasons I will discuss below). So I was dreading reading this chapter, expecting to find myself at odds with Olson, forced to explain why I think the film is unsatisfying while he praises it as an artistic success. But now, after reading this latest chapter from Beautiful Dark, I do not find myself in this position. Olson does praise the film. He finds much merit in Wild At Heart. He casts a perceptive eye on the work and provides a valuable discussion of the film's themes and Lynch's over-all approach to his material. I cannot argue with such a lucid and respectful approach to any work, especially one by David Lynch. In short, Olson has written another fascinating and valuable analysis of a Lynch film.
Like any good film criticism (and like all of Beautiful Dark's chapters so far), Olson analysis made me want to go back and watch parts of Wild At Heart. I re-watched much of the film and found that, despite Olson's keen observations, I still don't like it. Though Olson shows that there is a psychological complexity to Lula and Sailor, the film's protagonists, they are, to me, less compelling than most Lynch characters. Wild At Heart is about two people reacting to the insanity and excesses of the world around them. Through Lula and Sailor Lynch wants to show that the world is, indeed, "wild at heart and weird on top." It is full of violence and unfairness and uncertainty. In order to stay grounded and safe in such a crazy, brutal world, Sailor and Lula seek comfort and security from each other. It is their relationship and their connectedness—rather than their individual relationship to the world—that is central to Wild At Heart. This is what makes the movie different from other Lynch works where conflict is typically found inside a main character who must cope with psychological imbalance or emotional insecurity.
These individual conflicts are not absent from Wild At Heart; Lula in particular struggles with her own denials and perceptions of self. As Lynch told David Breskin in the book, Inner Views, "Lula plays tricks on herself, like we all do. She blocks out many parts of reality so she can still continue to be Lula" (p. 86). (I've written in Wrapped In Plastic that Lula is very much like Laura Palmer in that she creates mental barriers against difficult truths in order to stay sane.) But these internal struggles do not occupy the foreground of Wild At Heart. The relationship between Lula and Sailor takes that spot. As Greg Olson points out, it is through this relationship that Lynch explores a violent and crazy world: "Lynch felt an out of control craziness in the American air . . . ." (p. 307.) and "saw Wild At Heart as a chance to express his concern for the health of his cherished country and his belief in the saving grace of human connection" (p. 309).
And so Wild At Heart is about two people who together encounter an extreme, bizarre and seedy American landscape. Lynch's desire to explore the craziness in America gives him license to fully depict the grotesque, the repulsive and the ultra-violent. It is this aspect of Wild At Heart that turns me off. Lynch goes to great lengths to show extremity everywhere and in everyone. Wild At Heart features out-of-control fires, car wrecks, brutal murders, rape, torture, sadism and insanity. Lynch turns an unflinching eye on all of this (in fact, as Olson points out, Lynch's original cut was so extreme that the director knew he had to make edits for fear of making his film too repulsive). All of the insanity in Wild At Heart is happening outside of Sailor and Lula's control. The only way to cope with it is for the couple to stay true to one another, to let their love give them shelter. I find this a rather simplistic theme. What's more, a viewer has to go through a lot of messy excess just to get this easy message. In the end, Wild At Heart turns out to be less relevant and less thought-provoking than what we expect from David Lynch. As Craig Miller wrote in Wrapped In Plastic 74:
There is an unusual distance between the viewer and the main characters [and so] we do not feel their passion for each other. Neither [do] we feel the violence. These elements just lie on the screen, shiny and pretty . . . . If we're not supposed to feel the passion and the violence how are we supposed to respond? The film is not an analytical dissection of violence--say, the problems Lynch saw in America at the time--or a treatise on finding love in a crazy world. In short, there's nothing much to think about in Wild At Heart. (WIP 74, p. 10)
Fortunately, Greg Olson gave me more to think about than I expected. He provides and important look at Lynch's motivations for making the film and his examination of Lula shows that there may be more at work in Wild At Heart than first appears. I ended up enjoying Olson's chapter on Wild At Heart far more than I did the movie, itself. It was a far more cerebral experience and certainly more comfortable. Despite Olson's good analysis I still maintain that the film has less to offer than any other Lynch film. I do not feel challenged by Wild At Heart and I certainly don't feel moved by it. And that seems an odd reaction to a David Lynch film, don't you think?