In 2010, young me bought his first ever book related to cinema: Steven Jay Schneider’s 101 Cult Movies You Must See Before You Die. There were two reasons why I bought the book: it contained mostly unknown and weird movies that I had never heard of (except for Blues Brothers and Donnie Darko), and the cover art had a gorgeous singer with a seductive stare. Said shot was, of course, from 1986’s Blue Velvet, written and directed by David Lynch.
The story is a subversion of multiple genres, especially noirs: young university student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) goes to back to his hometown of Lumberton to work at his father’s workplace after the latter had to go to a hospital due to a stroke. Returning from the hospital, Jeffrey finds a severed human ear in an abandoned field. He gives it to Detective Williams (George Dickerson) and befriends the cop’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern). The two decide to find out who the ear belongs to, and they soon find themselves in a story of violence, nightclubs, singing, and sadomasochism.
I do enjoy most movies that I watch, be it mindless blockbusters or art-house flicks, but I always say that the movies that I truly adore are those that you can watch once in a purely superficial way, and then come back later and layers over layers of hidden meanings, foreshadowing, deeper themes, and metaphors. Blue Velvet is such a movie. On the one hand, it tells a compelling mystery that gets more and more disturbing the longer it goes on, a story of psychopaths and criminals; on the other hand, the film is a classic tale of good versus evil, what lies underneath seemingly perfect neighborhoods, and the ambiguity of people’s actions.
What makes this movie truly masterful is how expertly the characters are written and portrayed. Kyle MacLachlan (in only his second feature film) plays our protagonist: a young man walking on the edge between good and evil, right and wrong. Isabella Rossellini delivers a brave and truly committed performance as the nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens: at times seductive and at others vulnerable and fragile, she embodies your typical femme fatale. Laura Dern’s Sandy is a “goody two shoes” that you actually care about and that is never annoying. Last, but definitely not least, is Dennis Hopper’s career-defining performance as Frank Booth: appearing almost 40 minutes into the picture, he is the definition of unadulterated insanity, giving in to his depraved needs, including violent and sexual acts (sometimes both at the same time).
These four characters play wonderfully off each other, and there are multiple juxtapositions that are so fun to look into. Sandy and Dorothy are the love interests of our lead: the former is a young, pure and innocent girl that satisfies the mental needs of Jeffrey, while the latter is the older and more seductive woman that satisfies his sexual needs. Most importantly, the differences and similarities between Jeffrey and Frank are at the core of the film’s themes: Jeffrey is a caring and “good” guy that slowly starts losing control of his senses the longer he frequents Dorothy (so much so that he even hits her once during intercourse to please her), and Frank is who he might become if he loses more control and lets his animalistic side loose.
The cinematography and use of lighting are excellent at setting the mood for this disturbing tale. Notable are unbroken takes and wide shots that slowly gets tighter and tighter, making these moments truly unnerving. The sets and costumes themselves are mixed with so many different elements from the 50s and 60s that you can never tell in what period the actual movie takes place, giving it a timeless quality that makes it accessible even 30 years after it was first released.
The use of music is also masterful in how it enhances the film in a purely cinematic way, and in how it is implemented in the story itself. The titular song was used by Lynch specifically to convey the mood and time of the film, but it is also used as one of the few things that calms Frank. Roy Orbinson’s In Dreams takes a much more disturbing meaning, the feeling of being followed and watched even when you dream. Also, let’s say that you are going to picture something different when you think of a love letter straight from someone’s heart. This film also marks the first collaboration between Lynch and composer Angelo Badalamenti, who does an exceptional job, especially with the original song Mysteries of Love.
Overall, Blue Velvet is an undisputed masterpiece of cinema: it is a noir, mystery, thriller, comedy, romance, and drama all at the same time. With confident and masterful direction, excellent acting, great soundtrack, and a story that is both disturbing and delightful to watch unfold, this is a must-see for all cinephiles, and one of the finest movies of the 1980s that still holds up. An instant favorite of mine!
Visual Effects: 9
Violence & Gore: 9
Sex & Nudity: 8.5
Drugs & Profanity: 7.5
Intensity & Horror: 8