“It’s a strange world.”
It’s a special time when I can crawl away from my responsibilities to enjoy a strange, entrancing work of cinema. Blue Velvet is one of David Lynch’s most beloved films, though often discounted as a precursor to Mulholland Drive. I saw it for the first time today, and I thought it was absolutely mesmerizing in a more accessible, focused way that I’ve never seen from Lynch before. It plays like a dark mystery while also providing a sensual, reflective breakdown of a common Lynchian theme: seeing.
The film starts like a Scooby Doo episode. Kyle MacLachlan plays Jeffrey Beaumont, a young man returning to his hometown after he father suffers a mysterious stroke. Jeffrey finds a severed human ear in the grass off the road and takes it upon himself to find the truth. What makes Jeffrey such a fascinating character is his unflinching desire to know more straight from the start. He ignores the police’s request to back away from the investigation, and he follows his own set of clues to the apartment of Dorothy Vallen (Isabella Rossellini) where he gets what he bargained for and far more. Events escalate absurdly until Lynch arrives at some fascinating conclusions about scopophilia, power and submission, and the darkness lurking beneath suburban life.
I mentioned that Blue Velvet is about seeing, and I found this taking on a number of forms. Jeffrey is the prime “seer” of the movie, borderline voyeuristic in his stalking of the dark, mysterious Dorothy Vallen. He seems to hold magical properties for sight, catching small details throughout the movie such as the severed ear in the grass or the hidden key in Vallen’s apartment that someone in the real world would never notice so quickly. There’s a charm to Jeffrey, as if some force is granting him this keen awareness of the world, reminding me of the character MacLachlan would go on to play in Twin Peaks. Sight is also explored in other facets, including the blind convenience store worker who astounds Jeffrey with his ability to see through other means. It’s a motif that drives both the story and themes in a fascinating way, as if we’re also stalking the intimate moments of the film ourselves.
Jeffrey is also granted sight into both of the movie’s worlds: the clean-cut, suburban world of his family and the seedy city nightlife. Lynch uses constant foils to highlight this contrast, the most significant being Dorothy Vallens and Sandy Williams (Laura Dern). Jeffrey is forced to decide between a wholesome life with Sandy or to continue his dangerous love game with Dorothy. These foils manifest in other ways, too, such as the use of dominating figures: the wily antagonist Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) violently controlling of Dorothy and the straight-laced Detective Johnson, overprotective of his daughter Sandy in a more wholesome, more fatherly sense.
This is a deceptively accessible work for Lynch’s canon. It boats some grounded mystery (and noir) elements that are only enhanced and deconstructed by Lynch’s twisted direction. This film certainly warrants future viewings for me, and I look forward to digging even further below the surface with Blue Velvet in the near future.
Films Left to Watch: 867