Oh, David Lynch; you madman you. How is it that you can make surrealistic cinema so satisfying for someone like me? By all rights, I shouldn’t like David Lynch’s work, but I do, and I’m not even really sure why; all I know is that Blue Velvet seems to be a standout example of what I like about how Lynch goes about his weirdness. Coming off the flop (both critically and commercially) that was 1984’s Dune, it’s impressive to see what Lynch made with what he had, given how mildly out-of-favor he must’ve been with Hollywood at the time.
Jeffrey Beaumont, played by later Twin Peaks headliner Kyle MacLachlan, has come back to his hometown of Lumberton to take care of his father, who is in the hospital. On his way home from visiting him one day, he cuts through a field and happens to find a severed human ear on the ground, which he takes to a neighbor of his, Detective Williams. With help from the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), he begins an amateur investigation of his own, which leads him into the criminal underground world that Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) has been dragged into by Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper). The film is incredibly unassuming, though decidedly off-kilter, and appears to be your average mystery-thriller… until the first interaction between MacLachlan and Rossellini, which leads to the explosive entrance of Dennis Hopper’s character onto the scene, and from then on the entire film has changed. Hopper’s sadistic and sadomasochistic Frank Booth completely owns the screen from the moment he first appears, and is without a doubt one of the most memorable and despicable screen villains I’ve seen in a good long while. Thankfully, the film as a whole matches his elevated presence, and becomes a surreal and macabre experience that only Lynch could’ve pulled off. Also, it wasn’t just Kyle MacLachlan’s presence; there was an awful lot about this film that reminded me of Twin Peaks. The dour mood, the jazz score, the mystery at the center of the plot; it all seemed like a prototype for what would eventually become Lynch’s TV show. It was also why this one worked as well as it did, so it stands to reason Lynch would want to recycle the format for his later work.
Man, was this entertaining. Again, though, I don’t really know why, but it was, and I liked it a lot. What I especially liked about it, in comparison to the lengthy television show Twin Peaks and even Lynch’s later film Mulholland Drive, was that it was self-contained. There’s enough of a mystery to be uncovered here, but the film doesn’t drag it out for the sake of an extended running time; all the clues lead directly to new information, and at the end everything is resolved. I can see how this was voted one of the best mystery films of all time by the American Film Institute. Hopper’s deliciously evil character aside, there’s still a lot to like about this one. Even if you’re not a fan of surrealistic cinema (like I’m not), this is firmly grounded in reality, but is just weird enough to qualify as surrealistic, and that’s what I think makes it so enjoyable. Don’t discount it just because it’s David Lynch, and Lynch is known for being a little odd; he’s also a damn good director, and Blue Velvet is a great example of why he is.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10