Based on Barry Gilford’s novel (1989) of the same name, Wild At Heart tells the story of Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) as they take to the road in order to escape Lula’s deranged mother (Diane Ladd), her private detective lover, and the hit-man she has hired to kill Sailor. As the narrative progresses, their travels are frequently interrupted by encounters with bizarre strangers, outbursts of violence, and explicit sex scenes that take the traditional road-movie and transform it into something undeniably ‘Lynchian’.
Combining elements of romance, crime-drama, and thriller genres; Wild At Heart takes the traditionally straightforward road-movie and creates a multi-strand narrative, deviating from Sailor and Luna’s story with brief interludes and visions that focus on side characters—namely the fate of private detective Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) and hit-man Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe). By staggering the narrative in this way, Lynch is able to maintain the dreamlike quality associated with his films; with exaggerated white-trash characters, scenes of voodoo-esque rituals of torture, and a woman’s face entirely covered in lipstick appearing in stark contrast to Sailor and Lula’s road trip.
Despite not being Lynch’s first foray into adaptation—with both The Elephant Man (1980) and Dune (1984) slotting firmly into that category—Wild At Heart is arguably the most accessible Lynchian film in his body of work, primarily through its ability to transpose the “normal” characters of Sailor and Lula from the source material into a readily identifiable Lynchian atmosphere. This is helped by a consistency of references towards The Wizard of Oz, which works to allow viewers an opportunity to decipher the usually cryptic meanings within Lynch’s films—such as his outright refusal to divulge the intended meaning of Eraserhead (1977)—at least at a surface level.
What makes Wild At Heart so memorable, to me, anyway, is the quality of the acting. Between Nicolas Cage’s performance as a pseudo-gangster Elvis type, Laura Dern’s fantastic portrayal of the sexually-charged Lula, and Willem Dafoe’s brilliantly sleezy Bobby Peru, there isn’t much to criticise. Each character is exaggerated to the point of caricature, accentuating the hallucinatory feel of the film and complimenting the saturated colours and rich soundtrack perfectly. Plus, Nicolas Cage’s performance of Elvis’ ‘Love Me’ with a speed metal band is good (and bizarre) enough to rival Dean Stockwell’s rendition of ‘In Dreams’ from Blue Velvet (1986), which has to be a major plus-point in anybody’s book.