Movie Review: Blue Velvet (1986)

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Rating: C+/ I honestly don’t know if Lynch has created a profound work of art or an extended rape/bondage fetish fantasy on film. Blue Velvet is a movie where nobody behaves like a human being should, characters go on long, bizarre tangents for interminable lengths of time, and the lead female is treated as a hysterical piece of sex meat. Yet there is a kind of an artistry here, in the haunting nature of the imagery and the bizarre atmosphere Lynch invokes that lurks behind a picturesque suburban community. I can’t claim to understand this movie, but there is a genuinely sinister vibe and a beautiful visual element.

There just isn’t enough good stuff to keep the S&M-and-violence tinged absurdity from getting tiresome. That said, this movie has a wonderful first thirty minutes or so, and it’s definitely worth watching once, just so you can say you’ve seen this iconic movie which film students cream themselves over and which inserted it’s influence into countless films to follow. David Lynch has a wonderful (and terrible) imagination, but his films have so little ground in reality or plausible human behavior that they can become tedious.

Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan) could have solved the conflict by calling the police early on, but instead he keeps visiting the enslaved Dorothy Vallers (Isabella Rossellini) while her insane captor is out, as if by giving her some dick on the side he can solve her problems. Why? He says repeatedly that Frank (Dennis Hopper) is a dangerous man, yet he shamelessly pops in and out of Frank’s apartment to see Dorothy while he is out, and he involves the police sheriff’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern), who is smitten with him (I don’t know why; Jeffrey is actually kind of a flake) in the mayhem. I know I shouldn’t take a movie this bizarre literally, but it’s hard not to when the film is this willfully vague.

The movie definitely started with a bang and grabbed my interest when Jeffrey finds a severed human ear in a field, and it continued to keep my attention for about thirty minutes in when it kept some semblance of a plot. I think the film deteriorates when Frank appears on the scene, inhaling something or another while he screams spastically that Dorothy¬† call him ‘daddy’ while he slaps her around and uses her as a personal sex slave. It’s just too hard to take this guy seriously, though at least he provides some good laughs. He’s far from the terrifying antagonist this film needs, he’s a ragey, lunatic clown who’s completely out to lunch.

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He’s kind of funny, and then his presence gets to be a bore. I’m not sure Hopper is acting as much as being the equivalent of a perverted nine-year-old playing dress-up while high on his mom’s batch of PCP. If you mean to say he fleetingly brings all eyes to the screen like a mental deficient having a temper tantrum, he does. If you mean to say he really convinces us he is this character, he doesn’t. Some over-the-top film performances work, and this one is not the worst of the worst, but it’s not the masterwork many believe it to be.

Kyle McLachlan is excellent, and Laura Dern is good in an underwritten role. Rossellini’s character is so shallowly written (as a victim of sexual and physical violence who likes pain, and indoctrinates the not-exactly-unwilling McLachlan into the BDSM lifestyle) that it’s hard to say how I felt about her performance. She feels like the creation of a creepy fourteen-year-old shut-in, if that shut-in knew his way around a video camera. I’m trying not to draw feminist conclusions around Lynch’s total failure to develop her as a characters aside from her constant degradation at the hands of Jeffrey and Frank.

She’s literally there to be raped, beaten, and battered, a kind of critically acclaimed equivalent of porn star Bree Olsen’s ‘Daisy’ in The Human Centipede III. Yes, it makes us uncomfortable to watch, but more importantly, is there some kind of significance to her treatment, beyond that creepy shut-in kid who seems to live inside David Lynch’s wet dream? I honestly don’t know. I can’t pretend to understand this movie. I liked it a bit for it’s fearless presentation, but at the same time, it’s a little more of a bore than you would expect considering it’s out there subject matter.

Like Eraserhead, I liked it cautiously and to a fairly moderate extent, but if not swooning over David Lynch’s films makes me a philistine, a philistine I will gladly admit to being. The man has talent, but he’s just not that good, and his failure to create an emotional rapport between him and the viewer makes his movie kind of a tough pill to swallow.

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