BLUE VELVET (1986) / Crime-Thriller

U.S. Release Date: September 19, 1986
Running Time: 120 minutes

MPAA Classification: R for abberant sexuality, nudity, some strong violent content, and language throughout.
Cast: Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell
Director: David Lynch
Producer: Fred Caruso
Screenplay: David Lynch

With Blue Velvet, David Lynch presents to us his most mainstream story yet. The plot is coherent enough to make it appealing to the masses, but there is still enough of that typical “Lynchian” behavior to make it disturbing and eccentric. There is some humor in it, but only those with the darkest sense will laugh.

The hero of our story is Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan, “Twin Peaks”), a college kid back home from break and visiting his hospitalized father, who recently suffered a stroke. Lumberton, the city in which Jeffrey grew up, is the ideal American city. The neighborhoods are identical and are filled with cookie-cutter houses, white picket fences, and perfectly manicured lawns. One day, on the way home from the hospital, Jeffrey cuts through an abandoned lot and finds a nearly decomposed ear hidden in the field. Curious, he brings it to the police station and Detective Williams (George Dickerson) says that he’ll take a look at it.

Eventually, Jeffrey meets Williams’ daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), who tells him about the case. Apparently, the severed ear has something to do with a nightclub singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who happens to live not very far from Jeffrey’s house. Becoming increasingly curious, he decides to do a little investigating of his own.

Jeffrey begins to have a secret affair with Vallens, but soon learns that she is a masochist as well and gets off on being raped and abused. During their first sexual encounter, she begs for him to hit her, but he is unwilling to. Eventually, Jeffrey obligatorily gives into her demands and, as the film progresses, is led into a world of which he does not know or understand.What Jeffrey learns is that Vallens is involved in a sadomasochistic relationship with an abusive psychopath named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Booth is responsible for kidnapping Vallens’ husband and son and is holding both of them hostage. In order to keep them safe, Vallens must put up with Booth’s both brutal and sexually violent nature.

In using elements of film noir and surrealism, Lynch makes Blue Velvet all the more eerie and hallucinogenic, giving it an atmosphere that truly defines the term “Lynchian.” Most people will find Blue Velvet hard to watch. That’s not hard to believe; it features some of the most depraved and disturbing scenes in cinematic history. Lynch shows the viewer a harsher look at life, a darker side. Most of the time, the nature of the content is more graphic than the content itself.

But there is more to Blue Velvet than it seems. At the beginning, images of the “American Dream” flash across the screen: sunny skies, friendly faces, and bright green grass. But underneath the grass are bugs. Beneath every innocent exterior is a deeper and uglier secret. Such is the secret that Jeffrey comes to discover. When Sandy explains her dream to Jeffrey, she says that when the robins come, so does all of the good. And at the end, when the robin does finally come, clenched in its beak is an ugly, stinking bug.

While there a couple of standout performances, the one from Dennis Hopper stands out the farthest. MacLachlan brings a sort of innocence and boyish charm to his character, so naturally, his character is easier to identify with as he makes the downward spiral. Laura Dern plays the preppy, all-American girl, oblivious to the evils of mankind. Isabella Rossellini probably has the most challenging character to play. Most of her scenes involve self-depravity and humiliation. There’s even a scene that has her stumbling around completely naked, bruised and battered. But Hopper as the foul-mouthed and drug-addled psychopath Frank Booth is one of most terrifying performances I’ve yet seen. He’s like a volcano that’s ready to burst at any second but never does. It’s the kind of psychotic behavior that puts you on edge, always wondering when he’ll finally snap.

There’s a good chance that you won’t be able to comprehend much of Blue Velvet upon a first watch. (I sure didn’t.) It requires a couple viewings to fully grasp the film’s meaning and understand the symbolism that Lynch so heavily incorporates. While I won’t necessarily deem Blue Velvet a “masterpiece”, it is a fine work of cinematic ingenuity and the most impressive film that Lynch has offered to date.

Final rating: ★★★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

© 2010 Stephen Earnest