There’s a clip doing the viral rounds of Nicholas Cage going a bit mental on Terry Wogan’s old chat show in 1990. The sobriety of the actor is definitely questionable, but his performances in some of his film’s since make you wonder if this level of hyperactivity is just ingrained in his very being. Anyway, have a watch at the clip and then we’ll reflect back on one of the Cage Train’s finest hours.
That was an interview to help promote David Lynch’s 1990 film, Wild at Heart, starring Cage and Laura Dern. Now it’s hard to say this today but in 1990 Cage was a respected young actor with a very promising career ahead of him, and Wild at Heart was the film that made him iconic for a generation for the first time. Indeed, it so influenced me at the time that I jumped onto the bonnet of a car to proclaim my love for my then-girlfriend by singing “Love Me Tender.” Her response was to tell me to get down and stop being a daft prick in the firmest Northern Irish accent I’ve ever heard.
Wild at Heart is one of Lynch’s most linear, and sequential films. Yes, there’s flashbacks, but the narrative is perfectly clear. Cage plays Sailor Ripley who’s imprisoned after brutally murdering a man in self defence in front of his lover, Lula, and her mother who paid him to try to kill Sailor. The story picks up after Sailor is released from prison and both he and Lula hit the road to escape her mother, breaking Sailor’s parole in the process. The film then becomes a road movie which introduces us to a number of shady Lynchian characters, including William Dafoe’s demonic criminal Bobby Peru.
Based upon the novel by Barry Gifford, Wild at Heart is part thriller/black comedy/road movie but at the heart of it all, is the romance between Lula and Sailor, who throughout the film are painted as lovers who were meant for each other. This holds it together when Lynch does wander a tad, or the Wizard of Oz allusions get a wee bit too annoying. Both Cage and Dern turn in fantastic performances with Cage, the older, Elvis-obsessed man utterly in love with Lula, younger but every bit his match.
Released around the time of Twin Peaks, the film shares some of the same cast and indeed, the black humour. But this is Lynch at his most cinematic. There’s huge vistas of the American road on display when we’re with Lula and Sailor contrasted with the claustrophobic surroundings of those out to kill Sailor and return Lula to the cloying, repressive grip of her mother.
Wild at Heart is a smart, brilliant, cult film that remains for me, my favourite Lynch film – and for all the sex and violence is astonishingly romantic and sweet. It isn’t his best, but every time I see the film it’s impossible not to see Cage in this and, as a man full of manly testosterone, want to pull on a snakeskin jacket which represents a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom, jump on a car bonnet and sing “Love me Tender” to pretty girls. If it wasn’t for the fact I’d have a restraining order slapped on me I’d do it now.