Title: Blue Velvet (1986)
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Kyle MacLachlan, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance
Blue Velvet came around the time when Lynch was trying to bounce back from the financial disaster that was Dune (1984). Now if you ask me, I’m one of the ones that loves Lynch’s Dune, always have and always will, but more about that on my review for Dune! So for whatever the reason, audiences just didn’t engulf Lynch’s vision of Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. Did this mean Lynch was a bad director? Hell no, he’d already proven himself to be a force to be reckoned with Eraserhead (1977) and the incredibly moving The Elephant Man (1980), both mind blowing in their own ways. Dune was just a hiccup along the road. Dune tanking at the box office was not going to stop Lynch from making more movies. So, thanks to the benevolent help of producer extraordinaire Dino DeLaurentis, Blue Velvet got the green light. The trick to getting this film made was making it for very little. Blue Velvet was a risky picture to commit to because it dealt with both sex and violence and it was a very dark picture. Some sacrifices were going to have to be made if Blue Velvet was ever going to see the light of day, and so, with everyone getting a pay cut, Blue Velvet was made with a mere six million dollars.
On this film we meet Jeffrey Beaumont, a college kid who’s coming back home to see his father who’s suffered from a devastating stroke. While wandering through his old neighborhood, Jeffrey stumbles upon a human ear decaying on the grass. Jeffrey is a good natured kid; he has a very positive, generally happy outlook on life, you get the feeling that he hasn’t seen enough of the world to become bitter and angry. Jeffrey is also a naturally curious young man, so he picks up the ear and takes it to the police, who decide to investigate further. Problem is that Jeffrey thinks he can investigate faster on his own, so he takes it upon himself to go deeper down the rabbit hole. Where will his investigations take him, especially considering the strange world we live in?
Blue Velvet is all about sex and violence, and how sometimes both of these worlds can get entangled to the point where they are difficult to differentiate. At which point are you "roughing it up a little" during sex and at which point does sex become sadomasochistic? Jeffrey Beaumont is a character who is exploring his boundaries, he wants to see that dark side of life that he’s never seen, he wants to see what’s hidden underneath, the taboos, the things no one wants to talk about. This is one of the defining themes of this film; that maybe the picture perfect world we see in front of our eyes isn’t as picture perfect as we’d like to think. I loved how Lynch mixes snap shots of a suburban neighborhood, picket fences, flowers and shinny new cars, with the horrors that are hidden underneath it all. Here, Lynch shows society living a façade. On the surface we see beauty, but if we look just a bit deeper, we see there are some pretty nasty things going on in this world. An example of this is Jeffrey, walking about this grassy knoll only to find a dead, decaying human ear when he decides to look where he’s walking. There are many references to darkness beneath the light in the film, for example, we see the picture perfect neighborhood, while inside of the houses, people are watching violent mystery stories on television, alluding to humanities allure with violence.
On the sexual side of things is where Blue Velvet really takes off though. We are presented with Jeffrey Beaumont and his new girlfriend Sandy Williams (18 year old Laura Dern) both of whom represent innocence and purity. They are so pure that they can’t stop giggling all the time; they can’t help being excited by the mystery that’s unfolding before them, like two little kids. They learn the hard way that some things are better left alone. On Blue Velvet, Jeffrey’s “innocence” is corrupted when he meets Dorothy Vallens, played by Isabella Rossellini, a battered character that’s emotionally and psychologically broken. Rossellini conveys all these emotions wonderfully through her performance which comes off as a woman who can’t escape the darkness she’s in, she’s gone in too deep; to top things off, she’s grown into a masochist. This desire to get pleasure from pain comes as a shock to Jeffrey, who’s only about caring for others. While Jeffrey asks “are you okay?” to Dorothy, she asks him to hit her. So we have to diametrically opposed characters, attracting each other because of their differences. Jeffrey is attracted by Dorothy’s intensely erotic nature while Jeffrey’s tenderness is something new to her. He’s a good natured kid getting mixed up with a damaged soul. So these two worlds are clashing with each other, there’s no way that Jeffrey is going to come out unharmed from all of this. Yet there’s nobility to Jeffrey. He doesn’t have to get mixed up in this, but he does, because he feels sympathy for Dorothy. By the way, this is a very vulnerable performance from Rossellini, she bares all in a character that’s worth exploring.
Enter Frank Booth, one of the most evil, dark, twisted characters you will ever meet on any film. He’s the kind of character that comes off as truly scary, Frank will make you scared of the idea that there are people like him roaming the world. Dennis Hopper delivers an amazingly demented performance, very intense. He represents the worst thing that a man can become and that’s abusive of women. And this is one of the most important questions the film asks: “Why are there people like Frank in the world?” There's a scene where we are in the backseat of a car as Frank Booth is driving, Dennis Hopper plays it so evil that you get this feeling that you do not want to be there! Why are their people so messed up that they have to abuse women? That they get pleasure out of inflicting pain? Men who have to show that they are the alpha males, that they are the ones with physical power and that they can abuse it. With Blue Velvet Lynch once again addresses the theme of psychologically and physically abused women. He also played with these themes in Inland Empire (2006) albeit in a slightly more surreal fashion, but it’s in Blue Velvet that he explores them most deeply. Isabella Rossellini is the poster child for abused women as Frank Booth is the poster child for abusive men. I did like how not all men are portrayed as abusive, because while Frank is all that can be evil about a man, Jeffrey is the complete opposite. He cares for women and wants to show them tenderness and care.
Women have always made up a huge part of Lynch’s body of work. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) is yet another film about abused girls. Mulholland Dr. (2001) also centers on women. Same as Federico Fellini, women are a favorite topic of Lynch’s and same as many Fellini films, an admiration, an adoration of the female is felt. There are many other elements to Blue Velvet that will remind you that it’s a David Lynch film; the art direction, the colors in a room, the mellow lighting, the peculiar looking lamps; that droning sound and same as in many Lynch films, somebody singing a sad song from a stage will always figure into the story, in this case its Isabella Rosellini herself who will hypnotize you while singing ‘Blue Velvet’. Lynch’s love for a good mystery is also at the heart of Blue Velvet. We discover this intricate mystery as we follow Jeffrey, deeper and deeper into this dark, dark world. Also, there are wonderfully weird moments that will let you know you’re in Lynch territory, like this scene in which Dean Stockwell sings Roy Orbison's 'In Dreams', wow, now that's weird! These scenes will stir emotions in you that you didn’t know you could feel, and that’s what is so great about Lynch. He creates premises so strange, so surreal that they’ll trigger an emotional reaction out of you, even if you don’t fully comprehend what you are seeing. But speaking of coherence, Blue Velvet is actually one of Lynch’s most linear films; it just goes into really strange, dark places. But, like any good mystery, you’ll end up loving it and wanting to see it all the way through, like Jeffrey, Lynch will turn you into a voyeur who can’t stop watching.
Rating: 5 out of 5