A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Monday, March 14, 2016

Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)

Would there have been a Quentin Tarantino if there hadn't been a David Lynch? Blue Velvet represents an opening up of mainstream moviemaking to the perverse underside of American experience. It had been approached before, in 1940s film noir, for example, but only by suggestion. In the era of the nascent Cold War, unusual sexual behavior was typically presented as the product of decadent cities like New York and Los Angeles. But in Lynch's film, made at the height of the Reagan era, it underlies the wholesome atmosphere of a small town where the fireman smiles and waves as he passes by. The film noir detective was disgusted by what he saw, not fascinated and drawn in the way Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is. Jeffrey, barely out of adolescence, teams up to explore the mystery of Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) with a teenage girl, Sandy (Laura Dern), who is both disgusted and fascinated by what she learns. The use of songs like Bobby Vinton's "Blue Velvet" and Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" suggests the way American pop culture, aimed at the young, floats atop a sea of darkness that it only thinly hides. In the end, of course, everything is cleaned up: the vicious Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) gets what's coming to him and Dorothy is reunited with her child. Even Jeffrey's father, incapacitated by a stroke while watering his lawn at the beginning of the film, is restored to health.  Sandy has earlier told us about her nightmare in which the horrors will only disappear when the robins fly down and bring a "blinding light of love." So in the end a robin appears on the windowsill, with one of the disgusting insects we saw at the film's beginning under the grass of the Beaumonts' lawn in its mouth. But Lynch mocks the happy ending by clearly showing us that it's a fake, an animated stuffed robin.