It’s been a few days since I’ve seen Blue Velvet and it’s remained on my mind since I have watched it. Blue Velvet is one of the most tense, frightening thrillers I’ve seen and I haven’t been quite stirred up during a movie for a long time. Blue Velvet is one man’s fantasy of sex, mystery, and violence, and echoes themes of evil and gloom. Director David Lynch has made a name for himself for his surrealistic, mystifying style in movies such as Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive and while Blue Velvet is more linear than those two, it is also more gritty. When it debuted back in 1986, it was deemed the age’s A Clockwork Orange and rightfully so, as both are not only controversial but explore the depths of humanity and society.
Blue Velvet is, in a sense, a satire of the Regan-era politics and the old traditional values of a past America. The film opens up in a small town called Lumberton, filled with smiling faces, homogeneous lawns and houses, and friendly neighbors (Lynch has filmed in the style of a 50s sitcom, making this sequence very effective). But that is the outer shell of Lumberton. Beneath this curtain is a world of darkness, violence, and hysteria, which central protagonist Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) discovers after finding a severed ear.
After reporting the ear to the police, Jeffery meets Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), a detective’s daughter. Sandy tells Jeffery she has overheard her father talking about a nightclub singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and she suspects that Dorothy may be involved in this case. Jeffery decides to get involved in this case and hides in Dorothy’s apartment to find any clues. There he sees in one of the film’s most powerful scenes Dorothy being raped by a psychotic drug-sniffing crook named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). From there on, Jeffery is involved with Dorothy’s affairs and discovers Booth has kidnapped her husband and son and blackmails her for sexual favors. Dorothy looks up to Jeffery as her only hope.
Blue Velvet is a haunting and powerful film and there are many scenes difficult to watch. One such in particular is a scene where Dorothy is standing outside in the front of a lawn naked, bruised and battered from injury. In his infamous one star review of the film, critic Roger Ebert objected to this scene, feeling that it degraded Rossellini (according to Rossellini’s biography, during the filming of the sequence, some townspeople came to watch, against her and Lynch’s own wishes). Roger’s reaction is justified, but I completely disagree with his assessment of the film. Roger saw the scene as not only an insult to the actors but to the viewers. I viewed it as hurtful but intentionally so, as Lynch is trying to reveal the true ugliness of society. This or any of the other sex scenes are meant to scar the reader instead to appeal to them. Lynch in fact based the sequence off his own childhood experience after seeing a naked woman running across the street, which caused him to cry.
The characters are essential to the story. MacLachlan plays a similar character as he did in Twin Peaks, a man who searches for the truth at all costs. Lynch took a risky mood hiring him, as he starred in Lynch’s greatest failure Dune, but is well cast here. Rossellini gives a tortured, sad performance and is magnificent in her role. However, it is Dennis Hopper who is the highlight of the movie. Hopper was the film’s only major star after previously starring in Apocalypse Now and Easy Rider and makes one of the most insane, twisted characters I have ever seen committed on screen. Booth is similar to the stoned photographer Hopper played in Apocalypse Now and is every bit as crazy, but Booth poses an actual threat. He is less of a man and more of an animal, constantly snorting up drugs throughout the film. He shouts out profanity, rapes, bruises, and (going back to the Clockwork Orange metaphor) is almost exactly like Alex.
David Lynch fills to movie with many of his techniques. His use of campy humor, illustrated through two hardware clerks, is prevalent as well as the significance of dreams. The movie also rings with pained and mourning echoes the ring throughout the environment. Though more subdued than Eraserhead or Mulholland Drive, the echoes give the film a startling effect that may repulse some viewers. For me, it dragged me into the story. Lynch also uses symbolism through candles and robins to represent themes of evil and pureness. In a way Blue Velvet could be a movie that is the brainchild of Stanley Kubrick and Federico Fellini.
Blue Velvet is not a film for everyone and despite my love for it I would have a difficult time recommending it to viewers. But it is a masterpiece that has stood the test of time and remains one of cinema’s greatest achievements. Lynch has proven himself to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.