Grossing eight and a half million dollars, Blue Velvet (19th Septemeber 1986: USA) is argued the be one of the world’s most controversial moving pictures. In the 120 minutes of runtime the audience witnesses how a town, Lumberton, that appears to live the ‘American Dream’ has a dark secret when protagonist Jeffrey, played by Kyle MacLachlan discovers a severed ear with the desire to chase the crime. This takes the viewer to diners, college, ‘Slow Club’, a house party, a sort of warehouse and various homes as a disturbing story of how criminal Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), who is part of a big drugs trafficking scandal with corrupt detectives, make Dorothy (Isabella Rosselini) his sexual slave with the threat of killing her son who he has kidnapped.
Directed by David Lynch, I already had the preconception that this was going to be surreal and possibly violent from his other works such as ‘Elephant Man’ (1980). This was soon to be true; very early on in the film, after imagery of white picket fences and green lawns, a severed ear is found: this does not give the viewer much time to become acquainted with Jeffrey before jumping into a quite confusing plot. Jeffrey’s Dad is the first character the audience meets as he water his lawn but somehow collapses, for reasons that are not made clear; it is then not very clear how this has any relation to the rest of the film. This bizarre opening however does project a juxtaposition between the privileged American Dream and how accidents happen; we cannot guarantee a healthy life or a life without evil. Jeffrey goes on a quest to discover more about the crimes of Frank Booth acting as a sort of dangerous hero. His accomplice Sandy (Laura Dern) joins in this quest which ends in their relationship blossoming into love- how predictable. The plot is difficult to follow to begin with a lot of characters being introduced and explanations of characters the audience is yet to meet. The story is over complicated by such strong characters; a mentally unstable villain, a sadist lover, understated hero, a corrupt policeman and a singing man wearing makeup. Yet, the plot would not be successful without them.
A boring start is then suddenly met with a violent rape scene which is partially viewed from Jeffrey’s point of view through the slats of the cupboard. This is a very shocking scene which establishes to the audience of the kind of characters they are about to embark upon though this journey. However, in this scene, the audience witnesses how unstable Booth’s character is and how Dorothy plays the victim.
The characters are such a significant part of this film. Frank Booth, the villain, offers a short temper, coupled with sexual dependency, obsession and a harsh tongue in his choice of language. Booth is involved with drug trafficking and the audience witnesses as he becomes angry, he inhales gas. The heightening of his menacing behaviour from taking this gas highlights his unstable character; during the ‘rape’ scene he calls himself ‘Daddy’ and ‘Baby’; this indefinite confirmation of his persona suggests how he is confused and unstable. This instability is consdolitated by his behaviour as he goes from being in tears on the phone to Dorothy to a menacing sexual predator.
Dorothy Vallens, played by Isabella Rosselini, portrays behaviour of a troubled, abused woman. By night she sings at ‘The Slow Club’ only before meeting the needs of Booth. She is suggested to be involved with murders at the beginning of the film; however, the audience discovers that she is a victim when the fact that her husband and son have been taken from her by Booth; therefore, she is at his dismissal, as his slave. As she is abused mentally (under the threat of the death of her son) and sexually as Booth teases her with scissors before taking a violent hand to her; it becomes clear to the audience that her sadomasochism is so embedded that she believes that this is how she should be treated; asking Jeffrey to hit her during intimacy. However, her character displays a need to be in power: as Jeffrey invades her personal space she threatens him with a knife to undress; just in a similar way in which Booth does to her. Her character breaks down over the course of the film: Jeffrey’s tender, caring character makes her feel like she is ‘liked’; but when she emerges from the bushes naked and bruised, desperate for the pathos of Jeffrey, she is admitted for psychiatric treatment. Her character is important: she is the victim and Rosselini plays the role well; the audience is convinced that she is delirious and desperate for her son back. At the end of the film, they are reunited by the audience still has this preconceived idea of what Booth turned her into over a caring mother.
The protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlen) is an everyman; a college student returned home to see his father; however, this was not clear until I did some research. This would have been more clear had he had more of a character build and revisited his father in hospital. The character does highlight just how extreme the villain is; however, as an everyman, it is not very believable that he would put himself in so much danger as to follow up the investigation to knife point. His sense of ‘danger’ is established early on as he is advised not to go in the Lincoln area, only for a shot of the Lincoln sign to be used (with an added ring of danger from the Dolby sound) as he goes with Sandy to Dorothy’s apartment block. Sandy accuses him of being a ‘detective or a pervert’ which sends a message to the audience which does question his intentions. This idea is coupled with how although he wishes not to hit Dorothy; he returns to her apartment and becomes sexually intimate, only to strike her. This side of his character is highlighted with the imagery of fire, smoke at the same time of the affair being in slow motion; these images are repeated as he reflects over his actions after he is beaten by Booth; this offers to the audience how he has a conscience.
His accomplice, Sandy, serves significant purpose for offering information to the audience early on; however, her persistence to uncover the truth with Jeffrey makes it obvious that she is there for romantic purpose. The fact that she is an irrelevant character is not even redeemed with a good actress: a moody teenager can show more genuine emotion of jealousy than Laura Dern’s gaping mouth. One thing is to be said for Jeffrey and Sandy: they are two naive youngsters who are about to embark upon a dangerous adult world of nightclubs, drugs and prostitution which echoes the juxtaposition at the beginning of the film.
The cinematography offers a sort of ‘film noir’ feel with many of the scenes at night; deep ambitious shadows are cast which again echoes how the two naive characters are on a journey through the wickedness of the world. There is not much of a soundtrack; but music is used to add suspense and atmosphere successfully. Overall, MGM studios distributed a film that will be talked about for years to come. I can’t say that I enjoyed it; however, I can see messages that have been raised in Blue Velvet.