BLUE VELVET (1986)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: R

BV poster

Directed by: David Lynch

Written by: David Lynch

Starring: Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, George Dickerson, Brad Dourif

Saying that David Lynch makes strange movies is like saying Michael Bay likes explosions. While his films are definitely not for everyone and usually take the viewer to a strange place of untouched ideas, one can hardly deny that Lynch has a definite knack for constructing a film. Case in point: BLUE VELVET. This is one of the most bizarre mysteries I’ve ever witnessed. Besides being a twisted dive into some really dark territory, it also works as a commentary of unmasking of the white-picket-fence America that we’ve seen so often portrayed in the cinematic form. I must admit that this is my first foray into David Lynch country. If any of his other work matches the sheer quality of this film, then I have more than enough incentive to make a return trip.

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Jeffrey Beaumont is an all-American college student, regarded as a bit of a boy scout type by his family and friends. One day, after visiting his father in the hospital, he finds something very odd in a scenic field. It’s a severed human ear. He doesn’t get much help from the police and curiosity gets the better of him. Aided with the beautiful Sandy Williams (the head detective’s daughter), Jeff investigates a mysterious night club singer who may have a connection to the missing body part. Soon enough, Jeff finds himself sinking into the dark underworld of his seemingly perfect town.

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I’ll be careful not to delve into too many specifics, lest I spoil some of the shocks and suspense that are so prevalent throughout the film. I will reveal, since it’s been said about everywhere else about this film, that there is a resident psychopathic criminal involved in the proceedings. This role is filled by Dennis Hopper and he’s nothing short of absolutely friggin’ nuts in this role. Frequently huffing laughing gas and switching his tone on the drop of a dime, but never losing his menace at any point. Isabella Rossellini is fantastic as the alluring Dorothy Vallens, with whom Jeffrey forms a relationship that’s uncomfortable (to say the least). Laura Dern plays Sandy and does a good job of portraying the all around “good girl” that you would find in a TV sitcom like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. This isn’t meant as a slam to her role or performance either. One of the main things that drives BLUE VELVET is thrusting these 1950’s-esque stereotypes into an extreme situation.

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The casting of Kyle MacLachlan (known for his role in Lynch’s TWIN PEAKS and an underrated 80’s gem THE HIDDEN) as Jeffrey may split some viewers. His character isn’t particularly special and is a bit bland. In any other film this might be considered as a serious flaw, but it actually benefits BLUE VELVET greatly. Here’s this faceless “good kid” who finds himself in an increasingly disturbing, bizarre mystery. It just fits well given the content and story of this film. So I don’t consider this to be a problem at all.

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Every shot, bit of dialogue, and scene is carefully constructed. David Lynch’s beautiful style of filmmaking lends atmospheric (almost nightmarish) dread to the proceedings. The use of the soundtrack is amazingly done. These are some of the best incorporating of songs in a film ever, right up there with GOODFELLAS. This is especially true of Roy Orbison’s In Dreams, which I’ll never be able to listen to without thinking of this film!

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The film isn’t excessively violent either, though its disturbing factor is off-the-chart. In a strange way, it almost reminded me of CHINATOWN as a neo-noir with a bit of restraint when it came to the possibility of gratuitous violence. There are only two specific moments that I can think of where there was any gory brutality on the screen, though some scenes of implied and briefly shown sexual violence are pretty hard to watch at points. When the film’s final shot, focusing on a white picket fence with beautiful flowers placed in front, comes to a close, you’re unlikely to forget the sheer insanity you witnessed in this supposedly picture-perfect town.

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In the end, BLUE VELVET is definitely not a film for everybody. The surreal nature of the entire affair may be enough to immediately turn some people off of it. The disturbing content and dark tone may turn even more people away. However, the film deserves its undisputable reputation as an astonishing piece of filmmaking. Those who have a taste for darker, tough, and more demanding cinematic experiences will most likely love everything about David Lynch’s masterpiece!

Grade: A+

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