Movie Project #13: Blue Velvet [1986]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a second round for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

Blue Velvet [1986]

Blue Velvet [1986]
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Crime/Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan and Dennis Hopper
Runtime: 120 minutes

I have been thinking about Blue Velvet quite a bit since I saw it two weeks ago, and I have struggled to put my thoughts into words. How does one write about a film so dark and peculiar, one that turns Middle America upside down on its head?

The classic opening scene sets the tone for this neo-noir. We see glimpses of blue skies, white picket fences, vibrant flowers, school children crossing the street, a man watering his lawn while his wife watches television inside. Suddenly, the man’s garden hose becomes tangled, and in the fuss to get it loose, he suffers a stroke and falls to the ground. A dog playfully sticks its head in and out of the still-flowing water as a child wanders onto the scene. The camera then makes its way through the blades of grass on the lawn before digging deeper into the beetle-infested dirt, no doubt a metaphor of the seedy underworld to be found in this glimpse of suburbia.

The old man’s stroke serves as an introduction to our protagonist, his son Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), a college student who comes into town to visit his ailing father. After walking home from the hospital, he spots a severed ear near the side of the road. Jeffrey takes the ear to Police Detective Williams (George Dickerson), and meets the detective’s daughter Sandy (Laura Dern) for the first time. She gives Jeffrey a tip about the missing ear, and the two of them decide to do some sleuthing on their own.

The investigation leads them to the apartment of nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), and this is where the movie takes a bizarre and unexpected turn. Jeffrey sneaks into the singer’s apartment and unexpectedly finds himself the witness to a violent S&M excursion, as a wild and out-of-control Dennis Hopper (as Frank Booth) bursts into the room and has his way with Vallens. What transpires from this moment on is just crazy, as Jeffrey gets caught up in a strange sexual relationship with Vallens, all while trying to stay hidden from the dangerous Booth.

It really is strange how the movie flips a relatively standard mystery plot into a violent S&M freakshow, but would you really expect anything less from David Lynch? The movie zips along as it pleases, throwing all sorts of odd behavior at the viewer, and it even includes a seemingly random (but incredible) lip-syncing scene featuring Dean Stockwell:

No matter how weird the movie gets, it is always entertaining. This is helped by the addition of Dennis Hopper, in an absolutely deliriously over-the-top performance as the psychopathic Frank Booth. The man is a gas-huffing lunatic who has a strong affinity for Pabst Blue Ribbon:

Seriously, that line had me in hysterics. Isabella Rossellini is also fantastic as her character gradually evolves over the film’s running time, leaving her bare and broken along the way. Her performance drew much sympathy from Roger Ebert, who surprisingly gave this film a negative review.

The bottom line here is that Blue Velvet is quintessential Lynch. I found the movie to be fascinating, but I am still trying to wrap my head around some of its ideas (and reading other theories just muddied my thoughts even further). As expected, this seems to be a film that will reward further on subsequent viewings, and writing this post has made me eager to see Blue Velvet again. If there’s one thing that can be said, it’s that Lynch has a way of sticking around in your brain.


22 thoughts on “Movie Project #13: Blue Velvet [1986]

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Yeah, this David Lynch film is somethin’, alright.

    “I have been thinking about Blue Velvet quite a bit since I saw it two weeks ago”

    I certainly understand that sentiment and remember my first time with this work (you may or may not have read this one of mine). Fine look at this one, Eric.

    • Eric says:

      Man, I still think about Mulholland Drive quite a bit, and I only saw that for the first time last year. Gotta love Lynch.

      I don’t recall seeing that TMT post, Michael. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pete says:

    I just watched Eraserhead recently. That film was something else! Blue Velvet is a bit of an easier watch but Lynch’s work never fails to stick in the brain!

    • Eric says:

      Oh man, Eraserhead is A TRIP. Blue Velvet’s Roy Orbison lip sync gave me definite flashbacks to the Lady in the Radiator scene.

  3. Olivia says:

    I agree, once you see Blue Velvet, you can’t go back. It took me a few months before I could really wrap my head around it…and a few extra viewings on Netflix. (It’s definitely interesting to compare to Eraserhead.) I wonder, what did you think of the ending of the film?

  4. John says:


    I think of this as the most accessible of Lynch’s films (in my admittedly limited exposure to the guy).

    Acknowledgement of this movie while drinking a PBR is one way hipsters can avoid annoying me.

  5. sati says:

    Lovely review! Ebert doesn’t like Lynch, he also hated his Lost Highway. I too think this one is essential Lynch alog with LH and Mulholland drive. Loved the mix of ordinary with freaky here, someting Lynch does with amazing results. Rosselini was particularly wonderful here.

    • Eric says:

      Thank you! I haven’t seen Lost Highway yet, though I am familiar with its soundtrack. It’s definitely on my must-see list. Also completely agree with you about Rosselini — she really gave her all with this performance.

  6. Alex Withrow says:

    Great review of pure, Lynchian bliss. Love everything about Blue Velvet. Dennis Hopper is such a force of nature in this movie, so terrifying and simultaneously amusing… love it.

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Alex! Appreciate the comment. Totally agree about Hopper in this — he is so over-the-top and fun to watch, but also scary as hell.

  7. The Blog of Big Ideas says:

    Even though my comment would benefit from a more recent viewing of Blue Velvet, I will say I had similar thoughts about the film the one and only time I managed to watch it several years ago.
    There are striking moments scattered throughout the film and both Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini put in great, hard-to-forget performances.
    Good review Eric!

    • Eric says:

      Thanks Niels! This is definitely a film I won’t be forgetting anytime soon (much like Lynch’s other work, for that matter).

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