Wild at Heart is one of Lynch's most divisive films, not just critically but artistically. When the film won the Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, legend says the booing was as loud as the applause, but the film also uniquely blends Lynch's stylistic eccentricities with one of his most conventional narratives, a familiar story about young lovers, against the world and on the wrong side of the law. It is often repulsively grotesque, lingering on ideas like flies buzzing around vomit left on a dingy motel carpet in the sun or the bloody brutality of Sailor's response to Bob Ray Lemon's attempt to kill him. Yet, there's a strange sweetness to it all, as Sailor and Lula chase a shared dream based on The Wizard of Oz, in which they could escape the clutches of Marietta's Wicked Witch and the harsh realities of the real world through the power of their love. Every sensation in Wild at Heart is saturated, including their youthful passion.
If there's a serious problem with Wild at Heart, it's probably the movie's erratic, jerky pacing. At least an hour of material was cut from the finished film, and what remains definitely suggests a more hypnotic film carved down to size in an intentionally fractured, jagged way. The film opens suddenly, as if 20 minutes of Sailor and Lula meeting and falling in love were lopped off the picture, and Sailor's entire prison sentence passes in a single cut. Conversations will suddenly jump to a related character or event for only a couple of seconds, which is almost startling. These editorial jolts fit the film's personality, but other choices are less successful. There's a mystery that links Sailor and Lula's pasts together, but the way their brief flashbacks fit together is pretty obvious from the very beginning, making the thread's slow burn (no pun intended) a bit of a slog. When Marietta hires Santos to kill Sailor, Santos delegates the work to Reggie (Calvin Lockhart) through a bizarre middleman named Mr. Reindeer (William Morgan Sheppard), a character that could've been cut out of the film entirely.
Lynch has a reputation for being "weird", and Wild at Heart is certainly unconventional, but his interest in the offbeat and crazy is employed to capture honest emotions, and some of Wild at Heart's most compelling sequences stem from this. When Sailor sings "Love Me" to Lula in a dark dance club, it's certainly surreal, but Cage admirably channels Elvis' magnetism. Many romances have "the sex scene", but Lula and Sailor make love constantly, with Lynch focusing time and time again on their animal energy, and the way they look into each other's eyes. As the film shifts into the second half, Lula and Sailor come upon a crashed car on the side of the road, and Sherilyn Fenn's performance as the passenger, already succumbing to her wounds, captures the terror and sadness of death better than many prolonged speeches by more developed characters in other movies. Shortly after encountering the accident, Lula and Sailor meet the intimidating and sinister Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), who is staying at the same motel. Dafoe's scene with Dern is possibly the most memorable in the entire movie, fluidly shifting from tense to terrifying to sexy to darkly humorous and back to tense.
Although Lynch doesn't necessarily focus much on the film's thematic ideas, he constructs a crazy nightmare world with the lovelorn couple at the center. While the film's other characters are corrupted and swallowed up by the evils of the world, an evil which walks right up to people and announces its intentions, they fuel their energy into each other, and tune out everything else. There is a hint of a parallel in Marietta's sweet romance with Johnnie Farragut, but she's unable to break herself away from her obsessive hatred of Sailor. When Marietta gives into a stronger form of evil to destroy what she believes is another, kindly Johnnie takes the heat for it. Fans of the book will know that Lynch changed the ending, feeling that the film was asking for a different resolution. Although it may seem a bit canned (and the makeup effects are terrible), Lynch's instincts were right. Wild at Heart is a dark and stormy movie, but there's light at the end of the yellow brick road.
The Video and Audio
Huge fans of Wild at Heart may have purchased Universal's initial UK edition of the film, which was region free. Although both transfers appear to have originated from the same source and thus have many of the same quirks, there is one subtle but noticeable difference between the two editions: the disappearance of a faint yellow tint. Although the film still exhibits a certain desert orange, skin has been restored to a more natural pink on this Twilight Time edition. However, it's been pointed out that the DVD -- the only home video edition of the movie that Lynch was directly involved with -- also featured the yellow tint. Although the natural-looking skin is pleasing to the eye, perhaps the tint is Lynch's intention. As I don't know, I personally find the TT Blu-Ray's appearance to be superior, but it's worth questioning. Should Lynch ever see the Blu-Ray and comment on it, the review will be updated accordingly.
The region free UK release was hounded by an issue: the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack did not properly play through the rear channels. The first locked UK release bungled this further by including only a lossy DD 2.0 track, before finally the issue was rectified by a proper DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. This disc includes that properly formatted aural presentation, along with English and Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks. I listened to the 5.1 (a remix that was also supervised by Lynch in 2004), and it sounds great on this disc, with nice separation in the club scenes (listen to the the crowd's swoons as Sailor sings Elvis to Lula), or the vibrancy of Badalamenti's ominous score. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
The one addition to Twilight Time's disc is -- you guessed it -- an isolated music and effects track, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The one minor but understandable omission? The hour of deleted scenes Lynch included with his specially-produced "Lime Green" DVD box set. (Had they made the jump, the disc would be pretty much indispensable for Lynch fans even with the transfer quibbles.)