At the cinema. Attending a Slightly Unusual and Exciting Premiere of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart

Here’s a cinematic experience I’ll never forget. During my time in Basel as a PhD student, I spent much of my free time in the cinema. My wife was living a few hundred miles away, the evenings were long and the winters cold.

My chum John and I went to see David Lynch‘s Wild at Heart, with Laura Dern and Nicolas Cage. As this was a Tuesday night, the cinema was almost empty.

The movie starts. A young man in a snakeskin jacket (Cage) enters a theatre. He chats with his girlfriend (Dern). A hired killer (Gregg Dandridge) approaches the couple, a fight ensues, the young man throws the assassin to the floor, grabs him by the ears and bangs his head on the marble steps, until blood and gore explode all over the place. The young guy is arrested and sent to jail. His stepmother (Diane Ladd) drinks a martini from a large glass, her face filled with glee.

The weird thing we notice is that David Lynch had decided to film these initial scenes by compressing the picture horizontally. Cage, Dern and Ladd were barely recognizable; bodies and faces stretched out into much thinner versions. But OK, we thought, this probably had some special meaning, perhaps some “vintage-thing.”

Suddenly the movie stops. We sit in the dark and wait. The operator has apparently reversed the movie, as it soon starts from the beginning.

The (elongated) young man enters the theatre. He chats with his (elongated) girlfriend. The killer approaches the couple, a fight ensues, the young man throws the man to the floor, grabs him by the ears and bangs his (elongated) head on the marble steps, blood and gore explode all over the place. The body liquid runs down the stairs. Bang. Bang. Bang. The young guy is sent to jail. His stepmother drinks a martini from a large glass, her (elongated) face filled with glee.

The movies stops again, for the obvious reason that there was no sound. “Damn,” whispers John.

The movie restarts. Cage (the elongated version) enters a theatre, chats with his girlfriend. Dandridge approaches the couple, a fight ensues, the young man throws the man to the floor, grabs him by the ears and bangs his (elongated) head on the marble steps, blood and gore all over the place. Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! The man’s skull audibly cracks. Body liquid runs down the stairs. It’s a bloody mess, Cage’s face, jacket and hands are full of blood. He is sent to jail. His stepmother drinks a martini from a large glass, her (elongated) face filled with glee.

The movie stops and the lights are turned on. John, who’s suffering from bladder issues, hurries to the loo. He returns and we wait.

The movie starts again. By now we agree that the picture shouldn’t be elongated, this isn’t some artistic element, but an error with the projector. And the good news is: it has been fixed!

Cage enters the theatre, chats with his girlfriend. We in the audience applaud, as these are the normal, fat versions of Cage and Dern. Gregg Dandridge approaches the couple, the young man throws him to the floor, grabs him by the ears and bangs his head on the marble steps. Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! And again: Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! The man’s skull audibly cracks wide open. Disgusting amounts of blood, bone and gore spray all over the place. Red blood runs down the stairs. Cage is soaked with blood. He is sent to jail and his stepmother drinks a martini from a large glass, her hands shaking and her face filled with glee.

Alas, the sound was missing. The lights go on again, then after five minutes out again. Some members of the audience get up and leave.

Cage enters the theatre, chats with his girlfriend. We can hear what they’re saying, but why are they so strangely elongated? Dandridge approaches the couple, the young man bangs his head on the marble steps. Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! We can see the pain in his face up to the moment of this horrible, agonizing death. Disgusting amounts of blood and gore spray all over the place. Red blood runs down the stairs.

The movie stops. We wait in the dark. The lights go on, then off again. The door opens and a woman appears. “There is a problem with the projector. We are fixing it.” Without a word of apology she bangs the door shut behind her.

Cage enters the theatre. He throws the black man to the floor, and bangs his head on the marble steps. Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! It is unbearable to watch the final seconds of the man’s life. The man’s skull audibly cracks open, his eyes are filled with fear, then stare into the void as his spirit is erased forever. Cage looks like a war criminal, a disgusting grin on his bloody and yes, elongated visage. Not a word is said, not a sound can be heard. In silence, the stepmother pours a martini from an elongated glass into her elongated mouth.

The movie stops. John and I, and the final remnants of the audience, stare at the dark screen. Soon the carnage starts again. And again. And again.

Cage enters the theatre. The label in his neck shows that his snakeskin jacket originates from a company named “Feeblebert”. He throws the assassin to the floor and bangs his head on the marble steps. Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Dern lets go of an inaudible scream, her third molar on the left needs dental work. It is unbearable to watch the final seconds of the assassin’s life, especially since he put his t-shirt on the wrong way. He stares into the void as his spirit is erased forever. Cage looks like a mass murderer, a disgusting grin on his bloody visage. The reflection of a camera is clearly visible in his left eye. Not a word is said, not a sound can be heard. In silence, Diane Ladd pours a martini from an elongated glass into her elongated mouth.

We see that same scene fourteen times. Never before, and probably never again, has a movie managed to convey the truth about death in such a powerful way. An absolute masterpiece. That is what cinema is about.

Holy holy holy
Maria Magdalena

Leave a comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.