Blue Velvet

Now THIS is a weird movie! Well, it's from David Lynch, so it’s not too surprising. “Blue Velvet” is set in Lumberton, USA, a small-town where everything seems bright and happy. We meet Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a nice clean-cut college boy who goes back home after his father has a stroke. Tough break, but Jeff ain’t seen nothing yet. One day, he’s walking in a field and he finds a severed ear. He brings it to a police detective, but he also decides to investigate on his own.

That’s how he gets caught between Dorothy Valence (Isabella Rosselini), a sensual night-club singer, and Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a sadistic psychopath. Booth kidnapped Valence’s husband and son, and now he’s forcing her to be his sex slave. Beaumont, both intrigued and horrified by all this, finds himself getting involved sexually with the singer and wanting to help her. Yet he’s also dating Sandy (Laura Dern), the detective’s daughter, and even more dangerously, Frank doesn’t look like he wants some dude getting in the way of his kinky games…

Watching “Blue Velvet” some fifteen years after its release is still a harrowing experience. It feels as “out there” as ever, and there hasn’t been any movie since quite comparing to it, besides David Lynch’ further adventures into mind-fucking, naturally. But what remains so special about “Blue Velvet”, as opposed to Lynch’s overrated “Mulholland Drive”, is that beyond the oddities, there’s a straight-forward narrative, seemingly by-the-numbers mystery to follow. When it sticks to Lumberton’s simple suburban life, with neat and naïve Sandy and Jeff holding hands and playing detective, you can’t help but think that you’re watching a “normal” movie. The twist is in how these two bright-eyed innocents are pulled into an almost surreal underworld of drugs, violence and deviant sex. Sandy, apple pie catholic girl from head to toes, is utterly appalled, but Jeffrey… Well Jeffrey is attracted by this dark side. He loves his blonde schoolmate (or thinks he does), but when he’s with Dorothy it’s a whole other ballpark. It feels dirty with her, erotic… Dangerous. The film seems to be about this struggle between puritanical decency and perverted impulses, as a boy is divided between the virgin he loves and the “whore” he desires.

Next to Jeffrey, who barely dares to let go of his inhibitions, we have Frank, his mirror opposite. Frank’s the guy who has completely detached himself from morals and civilised behavior. Frank is Man at his worst, devoid of heart and soul and governed solely by rage and lust. Every other word out of his mouth is “Fuck!”, which he repeats constantly as if it was a mantra. “I’ll fuck anything that moves!” Hopper is riveting in this gleefully disturbing part, but I feel it wouldn’t quite work as well if Rosselini couldn’t hold her own opposite him. The tricky, subversive thing about her character is that while she’s technically the victim, you can see that part of her really gets off on it. There’s an incredible nakedness to her performance, a sense that unlike Jeff, her Dorothy has reached a point where she just lets go and abandons herself to her impulses.

What does it all mean? That’s beside the point, but not in the sense that Lynch is being weird just for the sake of it. “Blue Velvet” is thematically rich and open to different interpretations, but it also works if you take it as a thriller. There’s a story being told here, with a beginning, a middle and an end. Scenes and characters serve a purpose, and it pays off. Of course, it could still be seen as a dream or a nightmare or whatnot, but that’s speculation. What I’m trying to get at is that the movie works in involving you and taking you on a journey and, though you might feel confused, you won’t feel cheated. In short, this does right what “Mulholland Drive” did wrong.

And then there’s the constant to Lynch’s oeuvre, his unique grasp of filmmaking and style. From the brilliant opening sequence, which illustrates the dark-side-of-suburbia premise perfectly, to the ambiguous conclusion, which may or may not be earnest in its embracing of love as a remedy to one’s hidden destructive tendencies, “Blue Velvet” is wonderfully crafted. And what to say of the delightful use of music, be it Angelo Badalamenti’s creepy score or the jolly 50s pop tunes which provide an ironic counterpoint to the harshness of what’s on screen. “A candy colored clown they called the Sandman…” Sheesh! What bizarre images Roy Orbison’s “In dreams” now brings to mind!