What struck me the most about the film was its post-modern take on pop culture. The film was pretty clever in its use of very famous cultural icons such as Elvis and The Wizard of Oz, and how it re-contextualized these icons into a new understanding of character, imitation, and self-awareness.
For instance, Nicholas Cage’s character (Sailor) is a walking Elvis impersonation, but refit into a surreal, tough guy mold. Lynch uses the icon of Elvis to create a dissonance between our knowledge of the pop icon and the violent world that is created in the film. Lynch toys with our expectations of who Elvis was and what he means now, and how his image and his music are a recognizable sign-post in this nutty little film. But our expectations of Elvis are not met in the film. Instead, our image of Elvis collides with Sailor’s depiction of Elvis and we are left somewhat ill-at-ease and awe-struck. I just couldn’t turn away. The best moment for me was when Sailor gets in a fight in a mosh pit at a metal concert, and then makes up for it by getting the band to play Elvis’ “Love Me” as he sings the lyrics. It was a great little break in the narrative and summed up Lynch’s use of the Elvis icon.
Similarly, the use of The Wizard of Oz iconography created a tear in our understanding of that film. Oz and its characters and settings are pretty well burned into everyone’s memories, including those of the characters in the film. Lynch uses the signs used in Oz (the old, dilapidated Kansas house, the curled, black shoes of the Wicked Witch, etc.) to create similar meanings in his film. But there is a gulf between Oz and Wild at Heart, and it is in this gulf where new meaning is created. Once again, our understanding of the original film is directly juxtaposed with the recontextualization offered up by Lynch, and the resulting synthesis is mildly off-putting and bewildering.
It all leads to a very active role for the spectator, as we are given the opportunity to create new meaning from old icons, and to blend our old understandings with new contexts. From now on, whenever I hear “Love Me,” I’ll think of Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe getting his head blown off. And isn’t that what David Lynch would want?