I have a lot of respect for David Lynch. The man gets a lot of flack for being "too weird," but I don't know when that became a derogatory comment. Weird, in the film industry, often translates to originality. Blue Velvet is not at all lacking in originality. This isn't your typical mystery-thriller. In fact, its genre is a bit hard to define. It has moments of dramatic intensity, as well as scenes that contain biting humorous undertones. It's safe to say this was controversial in the 80s, as it still holds a bit of shock factor in retrospect. Blue Velvet is an accomplishment of a lifetime. Mulholland Drive and Eraserhead are often referred to as Lynch's masterpieces, but to me, Blue Velvet defines Lynch's career.
In one of the best openings I've ever seen, Blue Velvet begins by showing us a typical suburban neighborhood: white picket fences, beautiful gardens, nice houses. Immediately following, we're shown what's below the surface: the ground is being overtaken by bugs that resemble cockroaches. This simple scene foreshadows the rest of the film. What we're shown here is a simple little town, seemingly happy on the outside. However, when you probe below the surface of anything good, you may find something you didn't expect.
After his father collapses with what I assume was a heart attack, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to Lumberton from college. Jeffrey is your typical young man: he's a nice kid, fairly naïve. As he walks through an empty field, he finds something strange. On the ground, he discovers a severed human ear. He brings it into a detective he is familiar with. The detective is the father of Sandy (Laura Dern), a high school senior who Jeffrey knew from school. The two of them are curious about the ear. After overhearing her father's discussion with a coworker, Sandy informs Jeffrey that the investigation led them to a woman named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Jeffrey and Sandy search further and eventually find out where Dorothy's apartment is located. Sandy is unsure, but Jeffrey is determined to crack the case. At his insistence, Sandy helps Jeffrey devise a plan to break into Dorothy's apartment. What they didn't expect was for Jeffrey to find himself locked in Dorothy's closet in a scene that has been given countless homage. This is where Jeffrey uncovers more information: Dorothy is being controlled, mentally and sexually, by a sadistic man named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who has kidnapped her husband and child.
Dennis Hopper's entrance into Blue Velvet is intense and his character is among the most terrifying in film history. This is where the entire mood of the film changes. No longer is this a simple detective story about two kids trying to crack a case. As Jeffrey watches Frank's power over Dorothy, he becomes sucked in. Eventually, he becomes personally involved with the two. Insanity ensues. As Jeffrey's world view changes, his actions become more and more like Frank's. This transformation is well conceived and believable.
As far as acting is concerned, Blue Velvet contains some top notch performances, mostly by actors who never really got their due. Kyle MacLachlan is perfect as Jeffrey. He has that golden boy look that makes his innocent naivety believable, but he's not too square that his transformation is not believable. I truly believe that Kyle was gypped out of a great career. With this, Twin Peaks, and The Hidden, the man should have ended up with better. Either way, this is a career defining performance, one that any actor should be proud of. Isabella Rossellini is just as good. It's truly impossible to not feel anything for this character: a woman whose life is truly out of her hands. The movie wouldn't have been what it was without Dennis Hopper, whose perfect portrayal of Frank Booth is like evil personified. He's wonderful in this role: truly someone to be afraid of, but with some lines that are strangely amusing. Laura Dern is very believable as innocent, young Sandy. She adds a little something to the film, showing the contrast between true innocence and depravity.
Another thing I love about Blue Velvet is, as I mentioned before, the genre bending. Although I'd call this a drama above all, it is impossible to ignore the comedy. Among the funniest scene is near the beginning, when Jeffrey brings the ear to the detective, at which point the detective proclaims, "Yep, that's a human ear all right." Equally funny is the background radio announcer, "Logs, logs, logs. It's 1:30 as the tree falls here in Lumberton." David Lynch's strange sense of humor is another reason why this film is what it is. There are elements of a thriller. Frank is a terrifying character; he's a person whose actions are impossible to predict. The majority of the violence occurs off screen, but this does not make it any less intense. Blue Velvet also, strangely, has elements of romance. It is, like most Lynch films, impossible to place into one distinct category.
I have few problems with this film. The only thing I can really complain about is the fact that it moved pretty fast, sometimes not allowing for enough characterization before certain events transpire. With a running length of around two hours, Blue Velvet feels a little short. I've read that the original cut was nearly four hours, so it's very likely that a lot was lost in the editing process. I have to wonder if it would have been even more amazing if Lynch had left it in its full, four hour form.
Even with it's few problems, Blue Velvet is an astonishingly beautiful, completely coherent film. Nearly perfect film-making, it is chilling, funny, and bittersweet at the end. Blue Velvet is an enduring film, and one of my personal favorites.
10/10, my #7 of all time
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