David Lynch’s films are so easy to characterize for carrying a weird aura that only he could ever perfect, yet the world that we’re seeing in Blue Velvet is one that is as ordinary as they get. Yet it’s also what makes everything about Blue Velvet so wonderful too, because it invokes his viewers to look at the world that they know a whole other way, beneath the cracks of the perfections in the “ordinary” as David Lynch brings you to see the underworlds that take the screen. It’s all a part of what makes Blue Velvet so intriguing too, because it’s characteristic of everything that has fascinated David Lynch through his long career in the form of a neo-noir mystery, yet it also happens to be one of the very best films of that sort too. Some can even say that a film like this best captures what also is best described as David Lynch’s America, for his subversion of the idealized lifestyle brings you on a journey of innocence slowly fading away through the exposure to a dark underworld unlike any other. You’re taken into a strange world by David Lynch, but maybe that might very well be the world we live in and we’ve convinced ourselves that everything happens to be moving along like it’s all fine.
Starting off fittingly with images that best characterize the ideal American lifestyle set to Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet,” the film tells a whole other story as we transition from that peaceful image into the grass, revealing bugs that almost appear to be feuding. It is soon after this we are introduced to our protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student like those you see on any other day. In this town of Lumberton, everything seems to be ordinary – and Jeffrey comes by to pay a visit to his ailing father. While on a walk through a field, he discovers a severed human ear and upon taking it to the police station, the local detective’s teenaged daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) believes that the case that Jeffrey has taken a part of through the discovery of the ear may also be linked to a mysterious nightclub singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). As Jeffrey becomes more fascinated with this case, all signs of innocence slowly fade away as Jeffrey finds himself slowly descending into the world of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). Lynch’s transition between the idealized visions of what’s beautiful and what’s repulsive are perfectly highlighted in the opening sequence, but as we see so much more of the underbelly that almost seems invisible to the surface, it also brings one to question the extent to which their “ordinary” lifestyle really happens to be what it is.
With Blue Velvet, David Lynch already has laid out the many elements that would characterize a great neo-noir, but it also becomes the perfect setup for his own subversive portrait of American suburbia as we know it. As a portrait of the idealized American lifestyle broken down to its core, especially as it is challenged by the presence of a dark force that almost seems unnatural, it remains frightening for it makes even the concept of being ordinary seem so terrifying. It’s a film all about the truth about what comes at the cost of trying to achieve the perfect image of the idealized American suburb, as foreshadowed from the opening shot of white picket fences, with the firemen waving as children heading to the school are preparing to cross the road, before we see a force of evil lying underneath – one full of violent crime and sexual perversity. As the more mundane aspects of what already seems so ordinary to the human eye come into contact with the seedy underworld of Frank Booth, what comes forward as Jeffrey takes on the role of the detective is a portrait of innocence fading away bit by bit. As these two different understandings of the world come and meet in Blue Velvet, a more haunting fantasy comes about as it soon turns into something more beautiful.
As Jeffrey finds himself more and more pulled into the mysterious world of Dorothy Vallens, he also becomes more exposed to a world of sexual perversity – best defined by the film’s most infamous sequences. Dorothy Vallens is a woman who’s already every sense of contact with the ordinary taken away from her thanks to the interference of Frank Booth, with Jeffrey Beaumont being all she has left as a means of coming into contact with the naive innocence poised from the film’s opening sequence. A beautifully tragic character is brought to life on the screen by the wonderful Isabella Rossellini, but what makes such a beautiful turn out of a woman who’s so broken is the way in which David Lynch writes her. You can already feel the suffering that she’s endured over time, as she sings nothing but the title song in her scenes while performing in the Slow Club. Of course, it was this aspect of Blue Velvet that has caused such an uproar upon the film’s release but Lynch is always aware of what created her own pains and still remains sympathetic to her downfall, as she continually searches for the missing innocence in her life after having been dragged into a world defined by its ugliest traits.
The strange world that David Lynch pulls you into is one that also invites you to ask yourself if the fall from innocence is something you can be saved from, especially after having been exposed to all the evils in the world. In Jeffrey Beaumont’s case, he asks himself why is it that people like Frank Booth exist, but you see that as Jeffrey takes more active interest in this case, the orderly life that has been established for him and the people around himself starts to slowly fall apart – as if Frank’s mere existence already found ways to invade his life too. David Lynch doesn’t show Frank’s presence merely as that of a foul-mouthed drug-obsessed criminal who takes pleasure in bizarre sexual fantasies together with Dorothy Vallens, but as an entity that pervades one’s life. Perhaps best summed up by a sequence where he confronts Jeffrey while reading out lyrics from Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” Dennis Hopper brings to the screen a villain unlike many other have seen on film, just as David Lynch has created a character so fascinating too – because Frank Booth represents evil as it corrupts the mind of the innocent. He’s an entity almost unreal to normal eyes, but he still finds ways to invade, which is what makes him so terrifying.
You know what it’s like to be drawn into a whole world that resembles your own, only to see the distortions coming out slowly before they take on a new form? If anything else best describes the experience of watching Blue Velvet, it’s all laid out there. At parts terrifying, at parts even darkly comedic, though also romantic and highly hypnotic, Blue Velvet isn’t so much a film all about a world so different from our own but the darkness that lurks underneath the innocence that we’ve naively grown into for so long. Reality in itself is a strange world unlike any other, but if there’s anything else that best captures what it is that makes the experience of watching Blue Velvet so extraordinary, it’s the fact that it’s a film all about the most ordinary facets that make up daily life and what happens as the balance finds itself distorted in any way, shape, or form. In the eyes of David Lynch, the idealized American suburbia even has skeletons in its own closet, but there’s so much more that one’s exposure to such can do to their own psyche. Blue Velvet isn’t just a descent down that rabbit hole of Lynch’s many fascinations as they clash together with the American dream, but a portrait of the cost that comes along with trying to establish the sense of balance we see in our everyday lives. It’s a strange world, they say, full of mystery after mystery as they come clearer to your own sight.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via MGM/UA.
Directed by David Lynch
Screenplay by David Lynch
Produced by Fred Caruso
Starring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell, Brad Dourif, Jack Nance
Release Date: September 19, 1986
Running Time: 121 minutes