The Movies-to-Watch List: Blue Velvet (1986)

After watching Twin Peaks and Fire Walk With Me I was eager to check out Blue Velvet, the film considered to be Lynch’s masterpiece.

It is…holy cow. It is something else.

First, when looking for an image for the movie poster, I came across some with the tagline of “David Lynch’s erotic masterpiece” on it. I ain’t judging, but if any frame of this movie was erotic to you, you are a bad person. I’m sorry you are, but you are. Okay, maybe some of the shots of Laura Dern or Kyle’s butt but anything else? No. In fact, it’s amazing how Lynch got Isabella Rossellini to be so incredibly not sexy.

The theme of the seedy underbelly of the supposedly idyllic small town wasn’t new to Blue Velvet, and lord knows it’s been done to absolute death since then, but it’s still easy to see how this movie blew minds in 1986. Lynch doesn’t just give Lumberton a dark side, it gives it a Boschean hellscape that he absolutely revels in, and very few stable platforms to hang on to. It’s something that when a threat turns out to just be a jilted boyfriend wanting to beat the crap out of Jeffrey, that’s a relief. At least that’s a normal situation to deal with. Too bad it’s about to be interrupted.

That Jeffrey dives headfirst into this world (his initial plan is not one that looks bad in hindsight, it’s one that looks bad from the get-go, so it’s not like he “gets in over his head” so much as ties bricks to his feet and fires himself out of a cannon into the ocean) is unsettling enough, but instead of using Sandy as a way to find his way back, he tries to pull her in as well.

And then there’s Frank. A good, old-fashioned just plain horrific bad guy. No thorn in his paw, no tragic backstory, no humanizing tic, just a mean and evil guy. There’s nothing relatable there; he’s just a force of chaotic horror. Is it any wonder that only dudes like Brad Dourif are in his running crew? From the moment he enters all bets are off. It’s an amazing character.

And yet, the movie kind of can’t keep up with him. The final act is something of a letdown, where things just spin down in a kind of rote way. There’s this note that the placid calm at the end is fake, that these people and this community have been changed, but it kind of doesn’t take. It ends with a sort of confused shrug and “Frank, man! That guy!” I guess the idea is the artificialities we put on that enable Frank’s world to exist in the shadows, but it seems that Lynch, like Jeffrey, is more interested in selling that world than the normal or even pseudonormal world. Lynch is great at giving us surreal landscapes, but in this case there’s a need to balance it with the real world, and it falls down there.

Nevertheless, a unique movie experience. I’m glad I finally saw it.

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