New Page

Monday, August 15, 2011

Blue Velvet (1986)

Rating: 2/4

Visionary director David Lynch brings his dream-like imagery to the small town of Lumberton. Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLauchlan) returns home from college after his father suffers a stroke, on his way back from visiting his father in the hospital he discovers a severed ear near an abandoned cabin. He takes the ear to detective John Williams (George Dickerson) and he meets the detective's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). Sandy reveals details that she overheard he father  her father mentioning about a suspicious  women named Dorthy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), who is a local club performer. What Jeffrey describes as youthful intrigue and a chance for a memorable experience the rest of us would call stupidity, thus beginning his journey through a shocking underworld with no abundance of sadism, rape, and gruesome murder.

Jeffrey's first exploit after letting his intrigue get the better of him is to sneak into Dorthy's home, but when she comes home early the night quickly gets out of hand. He hears her talking frantically on the phone to a man named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) she talks to her son and another man. After her phone talk she discovers Jeffrey in the closet and threatens him with a knife, her anger is quickly replaced by disturbed sexual flattery. Just as she begins to use Jeffrey for her own sexual game someone starts knocking on her door,  Dorothy immediately knows who it is and rushes Jeffrey into the closet. From the closet he sees Frank walk in and force her to partake in his violent and shockingly twisted sexual pleasures. All in one night Jeffrey learns just how "strange" the world can be.

Created when he was heading in a more "personal" direction with his films after the collapse of Dune (1984), Blue Velvet was a way for David Lynch to release some of his held back emotions.Lynch does plenty of things right with Blue Velvet; the neo-noir storyline perfectly co-exists with the dreamy atmosphere.  He is a master at the use of symbolism; using bugs as a way to symbolize the seedy underworld with Frank as the head insect and Dorthy as his flower. Even the story works on many levels as a engrossing journey into a criminal underworld, but the criminals we are shown are so far-fetched that any attempts at a realistic portrait of small-town life become sawdust in the wind.

An inner battle within this film is just how much it lets the the shocking content go beyond tasteful. There are about 3 scenes where it crosses the taste limit, but it is the extent to where taste is crossed that is the real flaw. Lynch at no point even attempts to limit just how far the any taste barriers are crossed which causes some very extreme sequences. No moment in the film compares to Dorthy and Frank's first shown encounter that reveals just how much his sexual abuse has effected how she views herself and the world. That is a moment where the content nearly blinds us from the tragedy of this realization.

I have a great respect for this film and what it dares to show, but respect and enjoyment are two very different things. I really disliked the detail put into the creation of the very one-dimensional character, Frank Booth. Dennis Hopper plays his character to a perfection, I think he very much deserved the Oscar nomination so many felt he was robbed of. I can respect the performance while despising the role. As a character he is nothing more than a sloppy collage of disturbing qualities with the sole purpose of sickening us to extreme extents. Isabella Rossellini performance as Dorthy Vallens gave me a very similar feeling. With her character I found the closest thing to emotional attachment. While her performance was brilliant, it is the most gruesome moments that outweigh, and overpower, all the others. 

Maybe all the brutality would have worked better if the weakest character wasn't the one in the spotlight. Kyle MacLauchlan does a modest job at playing the role of a character whose decisions are idiotic. There was no convincing factor as to why this head-strong college student would put himself in so many crazy situations when it is so obvious that he is involved in something his mind is unable to understand. Why doesn't he just mind his own business?? Well if he did that there wouldn't be a film, would there?

Blue Velvet has the ideal David Lynch look with all his visual qualities working in perfect unison, and its film noir plot works on many levels. What is wrong with the film is that every ounce of its emotional energy is put into violence and sexual sadism, all the pure emotion is unconvincing.  The look and sound will draw many in, but just how many with stay drawn in once they see the content that comes with the looks is something I do not know. 


  1. You do realise that pretty much the whole film is a dream?

    I love this film, definitely one of my top 50 films, maybe even top 20. And I'm not even the biggest David Lynch fan...

  2. I guess that is the way you saw it, I didn't see it that way though.

  3. Great review. I have never actually seen a David Lynch film, but Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and this are coming to me soon from my library.

  4. I see your main problems with the film are:
    -the brutality and shocking sequences
    -the main performance from Kyle
    -the implausibility of certain events.

    For the last one and to some extent the first one, I have one answer, the film is a dream.
    Towards the opening the camera pans right into Kyle's ear. Then the film proceeds with little indication of thsi dream state except for subtle imagery and bizarre situations. Then towards the end the camera pans out the other ear. To a scene that would not possibly exist had any of the events in the film actually happened.
    It was all just a sick and thrilling fantasy.

    As for Kyle's performance, he certainly is very uncharismatic, and he's one of my problems with the film as well. But I can assure you that he isn't as bad as he first seems. The more I see of his work, and the go back to his performance in Blue Velvet, and I realise there is much more to his performance than at first seems.

    as for the brutality, there is little actually shown, much is implied however, but where Lynch succeeds is creating a film whose atmosphere is more disturbing than any of the actual content.

    It is a tough film, and I don't expect you to change your mind, but I think it's a masterpiece, and Lynch's best (I've seen all his films) and I'd recommend reading some more on it. Some threads over at IMDb are quite insightful.

  5. I really do respect your opinions and I am glad you see it that way, but you are right, that does not change my opinions.