Beginning with the familiar Lynch motif of a car driving down a highway at night, the headlights surrendering to the all consuming darkness from all sides, the lights never quite strong enough to reveal enough of what is to come. Suddenly clothes litter the road and Sailor and Lula stop the car to investigate.
What they find is the wreck of another car, complete with two bloodied corpses, as they survey the scene of the accident, out of the darkness a girl appears. She speaks to no one in particular but becomes increasingly agitated about how she has lost her purse, one side of her face is covered in blood.
Sailor tries to help the girl but she's oblivious to his offer, she expresses only urgency and how important it is to find her purse. She raises a hand to her head in frustration and complains of the "sticky stuff" in her hair as she pokes the hole in her skull. Sailor and Lula stand powerless to help as they watch the scene play out, as she collapses to the ground, they realise the girl is dying right in front of their eyes, as Sailor tries to comfort her she asks for her lipstick, and tells him it's in her purse.
David Lynch's Wild at Heart has divided audiences ever since it's official debut at the Cannes film festival, where it was famously booed, before going onto win the prestigious Palme D'Or award. This division extends to Lynch's fervent fan base, with critics pointing to the film's structure, storyline and the movie's mix of sex, violence and trademark Lynch weirdness being weaknesses, while the film's defenders (myself included) point to these "weaknesses" as being strengths. As a (loose) adaptation of Barry Gifford's novel, filtered through many of Lynch's own obsessions, it's probably the most entertaining film Lynch has made. By amping every element of the film to either hysterical or absolute deadpan levels, Lynch pulls off an amazing mix of touching sincerity while maintaining an arch sense of humour, two elements that don't usually play nice together.
However you feel about the film as a whole, the car wreck sequence must surely rate as one of the best scenes Lynch has ever filmed, as ever subtly enhanced by Angelo Badalamenti's wonderful music. Achingly sad and darkly beautiful, the scene works as perfect punctuation amidst the movie's combustible fusion of skin, blood and The Wizard of Oz. Coming as it does around halfway through the film, just after Lula's resolve is tested by a confession by Sailor, the scene signposts events are about to take a much darker turn for the two lovers.
So powerful is the roughly three minute sequence (although it feels much longer), it has the feel of film within a film, and Sailor and Lula seem almost to be part of the audience along with you as they stand and watch the trauma unfold.
It may only be a tiny role but Sherilyn Fenn's performance is pitch perfect, with her radiance only adding even more power to the already heartbreaking waste of life. It's hard to believe Fenn never became a bigger star than she did, this cameo alongside her scene stealing performance as Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks should really have been enough to cement her place as an A lister. Ironically as David Lynch built her career, the Lynch connection probably killed it too, with Jennifer Lynch's disastrous Boxing Helena. Whatever the reason, Audrey Horne and Girl in accident are enough for me to forever cherish Miss Fenn.
Every time I watch this extraordinary scene it's power and hold over me grows stronger, I was floored seeing it in the cinema at the time of release and with subsequent viewings both on it's own and in the context of the film it becomes harder and harder to watch, yet more and more rewarding, and that for me is the appeal of David Lynch.