Overview: A meek and curious college student finds himself embroiled in a life-threatening mystery that will change his perception of reality. DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group; 1986; Rated R; 120 minutes.
Innocence Lost: After the commercial and critical failure of Dune (1984), director David Lynch produced an original work that incorporates his dark and atmospheric cinematic trademarks. Blue Velvet centers on Jeffrey (presented modestly by Kyle MacLachlan), a well-mannered and inquisitive college student who is home to tend to a family illness. The location is Lumberton, NC, a suburban utopia on the surface, the perfect example of small-town USA. Jeffrey has a natural curiosity that leads him to a severed ear in a field. The voyeuristic nature of Jeffrey’s subsequent investigation ends up exposing him to a consuming new reality: one of torture, domination, depravity and madness. This madness has a first name, and it is Frank.
Heineken!: Dennis Hopper is brilliant as Frank, a Lynch-ian creeper of the highest degree. The idea of a person like Frank is the precise reason I stay the fuck away from Craigslist. Frank is a stunning, complex, sex and drug addicted sadist with a slight Oedipus complex. Laura Dern, another Lynch favorite, plays high-school girl Sandy, Jeffrey’s symbolic link to the “normal” world. Dern works well as the innocent then shocked teenager. Isabella Rossellini takes a star turn as Dorothy Vallens, the abused and mentally tortured victim of Frank’s madness. Rossellini’s dead-eyed portrayal really drives home the film’s abuse of Dorothy, and we sympathize with her plight.
It’s a Strange World, Isn’t It?: Lynch is masterful at towing the line, allowing traces of the subversion to present itself when only absolutely necessary. Here’s the deal: David Lynch hates the idea of an ordinary American society. In Lynch’s world—in all of Lynch’s worlds—the ordinary has extraordinary qualities lurking under the surface. Sure, this sounds like a motivational poster, but from Lynch’s perspective, extraordinary is not necessarily good. This is the metaphorical “seedy underbelly” America and Lynch is careful in picking and choosing when to show it. We expect this kind of darkly surreal perspective from Lynch, we just don’t know when he is going to hit us with it. In Blue Velvet, Lynch only provides traces of it through a patient first act. It gains speed in the second act, but the bizarre hits a full crescendo when we are led to the house of Frank’s business partner, Ben. This is one of Lynch’s most accessible films, a relative Hardy Boys mystery on LSD and a great primer for delving into other Lynch films.
Baby Steps: Overall, see this film if you want to experience neo-noir and cinematic surrealism presented by one of the best in the business. If it intrigues you, by all means journey forward into Lynch’s other works. Let the curiosity fuel you. But be warned: much like Jeffery, you may not be the same afterward.