Blue Velvet
(United States, 1986)

I didn't discover David Lynch until "Twin Peaks" debuted with great fanfare on ABC-TV in the early 1990s. I was enraptured by the series, at least during its early days. (The downward spiral of "Twin Peaks" into self-indulgent weirdness remains one of the most bitter disappointments I have endured regarding any weekly television series.) During the break between the first and second seasons of "Twin Peaks," I sought out everything by Lynch that I could find. I didn't understand (nor did I really want to) Eraserhead and I found Wild at Heart to be overrated. The Elephant Man was powerful, but Dune was bad. Then I saw Blue Velvet, and my admiration for Lynch immediately escalated. Watching this movie is a stunning experience. It is intellectually challenging and visceral at the same time. It feeds the mind while delivering a punch to the stomach. It rips open the dark side of humanity and lets the rottenness spill out to spoil and stink in the sun. By nature, I am not as dark as Lynch is, but there's enough of a pessimistic streak in me that I can understand his perspective. Optimists won't get it, or will be horrified. I don't think the director has come close to the level of what he achieved in Blue Velvet with his post-"Twin Peaks" efforts (although I'm sure there are some die-hard Mulholland Drive fans who will argue the point with me). Lynch may still have more good movies in him, but it will surprise me if he surpasses this one. It is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement the kind of thing that will never be duplicated.

Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Blue Velvet opens in a small-town setting (the generic community is called "Lumberton, U.S.A.") that would be at home almost anywhere in suburban America. The protagonist is Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student home during summer break to visit his ailing father, who is in the hospital. While wandering through fields near his home one day, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear. He takes it to the police station, where Detective Williams (George Dickerson) bags the evidence and opens the case. However, instead of leaving things to the professionals, Jeffrey becomes obsessed by the ear and discovering to whom it belongs. Along with Detective Williams' helpful daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern), Jeffrey decides to do a little detective work on his own. His investigations lead him to the apartment of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Dorothy is involved in an abusive S&M relationship with a psychopath named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who has kidnapped her husband and son Ostensibly, she allows Frank to brutalize her in order to keep her loved ones safe, but the reality is that she is a masochist and gets off on being beaten and raped. Jeffrey discovers this first hand when he begins an affair with Dorothy and learns that she likes her sex rough rougher than he is initially willing to provide. Before long, however, Jeffrey is being dragged deeper into Dorothy and Frank's world of violence and depravity.

Blue Velvet is David Lynch in peak form, and represents (to date) his most accomplished motion picture. It is a work of fascinating scope and power that rivals any of the most subversive films to reach the screens during the '80s. For Lynch, the sometimes-auteur, sometimes-illusionist, Blue Velvet was the movie that cemented his credentials as a filmmaker in a way that none of his previous efforts were able to. When pundits refer to something as "Lynchian," they are typically referencing the themes and stylistic approach that is on display in this movie. Watching Blue Velvet is not pretty, and requires a strong constitution. Lynch is a demanding director, and some of the scenes in this movie take an unflinching look at the darker side of human nature. The message is clear perfection often hides deeply-rooted rot. Dreams can easily turn into nightmares. Corruption is everywhere, even in places that seem immune to it. These themes, and others about the pernicious influence of evil, are explored in some depth throughout Blue Velvet.

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