I always have a feeling of concern when a movie comes along with a star-studded cast from days gone by that nobody seems to have seen. When David Lynch’sWild at Heart showed up at my door I got that feeling. The film brags the likes of Nicolas Cage, Laura Dern, and Willem Dafoe, yet everyone I talked to had never seen the film – a lot of them had never even heard of it. It turns out that feeling of concern was well deserved.
There are many different ways to tell a story within a movie. A film can be said to be “character driven” if it has really strong, three-dimensional characters. If the characters are weak, but the plot is strong than it’s referred to as “story driven”. The summer blockbusters, mindless in character development and plot are often “effects driven”, leaving writing behind as they pursue huge explosions or awesome special effects. David Lynch has his own way of driving a story, which I’ll refer to as the “What the hell?” method. Within this method Lynch avoids building characters or a solid plot, but moves the story along by throwing in one strange thing after another, leaving his audience to say “What the hell?”… unless they are stoned or otherwise drugged out, in which case Lynch’s films probably make perfect sense.
In Wild at Heart, Lynch throws at the audience the story of Sailor (Cage) and Lula (Dern), two star-crossed lovers if ever there were any. The couple‘s relationship is hindered by Lula’s mother, Marietta Fortune (Dern’s real life mother, Diane Ladd) who believes ex-con Sailor is completely wrong for her daughter and believes Sailor knows more about the family’s involvement in crime than he lets on. In an effort to deter Sailor, she hires a hitman who Sailor beats to death with his bare hands. Unfortunately, much to Marietta’s misfortune, as soon as Sailor gets out of prison the two young lovers are back together again, leaving Marietta with the decision to put out a contract on Sailor’s head, forcing Sailor and Lula to head across the country to get away from the old witch.
If the story were told as simply as that, it would only be fairly interesting, but at least understandable. Lynch, in his “What the hell?” style, instead flashes back to events prior to the story or earlier in the movie, forward to events that may or may not happen, and insists on a close up of a match every time a cigarette is lit. Additionally, following the movie’s key phrase of “The world is wild at heart and weird on top”, Lynch throws in several bizarre characters, such as Crispin Glover’s Dell who is obsessed with Christmas, stays up all night making sandwiches, and keeps cockroaches in his underwear (yuck!). Unfortunately a lot of these characters, like Dell, really have nothing to do with the story and are told in tangent storylines that interrupt the main story, and never go anywhere. The result is a story that never stays in one place, and adds in a lot of extraneous material the audience waits for a pay off on… but the pay off never comes.
For people with a critical eye, the movie is full of symbolism. Patterns of snakeskin symbolize Sailor, whose snakeskin jacket we are repeatedly told, “represents his individuality and belief in personal freedom”. The close up on the match that cleverly segues some scenes, and annoyingly interrupts others, ties in to fire seen throughout the movie. Then there’s the whole Wizard of Oz aspect that appears a quarter to halfway through the film, when suddenly Lynch decides to make the movie an allusion to the classic tale, complete with a Wicked Witch and references to Emerald City. It’s nice to have a film that can be analyzed as deeply as Wild at Heart, however it would be better if the film itself was enjoyable enough to suffer though several viewings in order to catch all the underlying meaning (if there really is any meaning – Lynch is big on not having a true method to his madness).
Some critics have celebrated Lynch’s Wild at Heart and showered it with praise for its story, complete with violence and eroticism. I just don’t see it, and frankly, that eroticism aspect is a bit troublesome. It’s never a sweet, gentle erotic moment. Instead it’s on the verge of rape or brutal lovemaking… not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s definitely not for everyone, but then, neither is this movie. For me, I’m just not wild about Wild at Heart. Lucky for Lynch there will always be people who abuse controlled substances that can appreciate his films on the level he’s looking for.
This Special Edition of Wild at Heart boasts a new digital transfer supervised by David Lynch “with upgraded picture and sound”. This process is the subject of one of the featurettes on the disc where Lynch admits the new transfer will make the film look just like any other DVD out there. Basically the point of the featurette is to let us know the work they went through to get the picture that way. So, in respect for all the hard work MGM and Lynch went through to create this disc, I tell you the picture looks great.
The sound on the other hand is off. To get the sound at an acceptable level to hear dialogue requires setting your stereo so that the music is absolutely blasting. According to one of the other featurettes on the disc, Lynch had it set up this way at the film’s original presentation at Cannes, to the point that the French operators had never seen a movie set so loud and laughed because they thought Lynch didn’t know what he was doing. Constantly having to ride the gain on my stereo system while watching the movie, I’m not so sure the French were wrong.
As you might have guessed by now, there are several featurettes on the disc, including both a retrospective view of the film and a vintage featurette from the movie’s 1990 release. Both then and now, actors and producers talk about Lynch’s genius, why it’s a pleasure to work with him, and how his direction is amazing because he’s not affected by outside sources – Lynch avoids newspapers, television, basically he’s a media hermit. To me that explains much of Lynch’s films. He’s so out of touch with the average Joe, he has no idea how to make a movie for them. Now I’m all about not catering to the lowest denominator, but Lynch doesn’t even cater to the more erudite crowd. He, as the saying goes, works to the beat of his own drum. Again, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it certainly explains a lot.
There’s not much more than the trailers and featurettes, although the insert with the chapter listing gives instructions on how to get to a commentary track that doesn’t exist. That’s probably for the best. Lynch isn’t about to explain his movie to people, so listening to him talk about his movie would be an exercise in futility… much like watching the film. Maybe a mother/daughter commentary track would have been interesting, to hear both Diane Ladd and Laura Dern talk about the sexuality of the movie, and the awkwardness that doubtlessly caused between them during the filming (which is alluded to in one of the featurettes). Maybe even going the route of The Matrix movies and including a commentary by scholars who have tried to define the film would be interesting… although Lynch supervised this whole DVD, so anything that defines the film would probably be out.
I can’t recommend Wild at Heart although I can look at it and see it has an audience out there somewhere, I’m just not in it. Those who are, have probably already seen it and pay tribute to Lynch on a regular basis. This DVD just means they get to watch a crisper image with unbalanced, louder than necessary sound. For those of you who that appeals to, here’s your altar – enjoy. I'll just sit here wondering "What the hell?".