I lived in the city and I have lived in suburbia, and ya know what, I’m as plain as they come because I’ve never been privy to a life like that!
Screenplay By: David Lynch
Directed By: David Lynch
There have been attacks on the underbelly of suburban life before Blue Velvet and after Blue Velvet. However no film has been as daring, some would say crude, in its attack on suburbia as Blue Velvet. This movie is meant to shock, but it’s not meant to shock jut for the sake of the shock. Blue Velvet is meant to shock people out of their stupors when it comes to living a suburban life. From the opening minutes when a calm suburban moment is interrupted by a sudden collapse Blue Velvet presents moments we are used to in life and in the movies in a very off kilter fashion. Watch as an an ant hill spills over revealing that even the most idyllic of suburban settings contains a hidden darkness that will shock liberal and conservative suburbanites alike. Blue Velvet isn’t subtle, but since it’s goal is to shock people into realizing the truth about suburban life it doesn’t need to be subtle, it merely needs to have its events take place.
Necessary to pull off the tranquil suburban life is the perfectly normal cast. Kyle MacLachlan is great as the in over his head young college student. He wants a taste of the perverse life, but when he is given a mouthful he can’t deal with it because it is beyond his threshold. While Laura Dern really needs to learn how to cry convincingly, she is the everyday American school girl, Sandy. The severed ear and Jeffrey pique her interest, but the more she follows her interest the more scarred she becomes on the inside, where no one but Sandy herself can see.
But, there is also the other side of the coin, the cast had to be just right for the rotten suburban underbelly. Dennis Hopper is absolutely terrifying as the irredeemable Frank. Every moment he takes a breath from his oxygen breather a shiver runs up your spine because you realize you are watching true reprehension in human form. He murders, he rapes, he does whatever he wants to make himself happy, but nothing makes him happy so he is always causing chaos of some form or another. Being a big Quantum Leap fan I was shocked to see Dean Stockwell make an appearance as the transvestite pimp, Ben. He floats around the screen, seeming to exist in his own world but at the same time ensnaring us with our curiosity and drawing us into his imaginary land of the depraved. Finally, you have the performance of Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy. She is degraded at every turn and the problem is that she enjoys most of it. Dorothy becomes the hardest character to comprehend and thus most represents the side of suburbia we want to pretend doesn’t exist. Dorothy wants to be beaten and brutalized, she enjoys it and the film asks us to try and deal with the duality of someone who appears to be in constant peril but enjoys the abuse they are receiving. It takes quite the performance to put yourself out there like that and pull the strings on both sides of the spectrum, and Rossellini pulls the strings like an expert. Depraved as can be, yet we want Jeffrey to save her.
Blue Velvet is one long allegory, full of images that exist merely as allegories. The message is that the suburbs are just as messed up as anywhere else, even if we don’t want to realize it. Yes, at times David Lynch does go too overboard with the quaint and smarmy nature of the surface town of Lumberton, but he does so to further enhance the rotten root of Lumberton. Even in the end, when all seems to be right and the families are together for a traditional barbecue, the rotten core is still present. The always present light in the movie, Sandy, notices a robin, but it is a robin with a dark and diseased bug in its mouth.
Blue Velvet isn’t a film for everyone. Those with weak constitutions for violence or sex will not be fans of Blue Velvet or may not be able to stomach it. People who like straight forward storytelling where the journey from point A to point B is laid out for them won’t be fans of Blue Velvet. But, people who like their allegories thick, who like to see the suburban rottenness exposed and who don’t mind a little degradation will definitely be up for Blue Velvet. Much like Jeffrey, it’s up to you to decide whether you fall into the former or the latter group.