Friday, 20 January 2012

David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986)

Fig. 1. Blue Velvet poster.

Blue Velvet, like so many horror stories, looks at what lurks just beneath the apparently idyllic American suburbia. Opening with picture-perfect shots of life in a small town named Lumberton, the film is very open in suggesting that this is too good to be true, starting with a gentleman watering his lawn then collapsing from a stroke. Of particular interest in this scene is that the hose becomes twisted and ceases to flow properly just beforehand, providing a very subtle piece of foreshadowing as it mirrors the obstructed blood flow in the brain that causes strokes. Following this, the camera pans down to show a plethora of beetles crawling through the grass, suggesting something unsavoury just below the surface. “The message is clear – perfection often hides deeply-rooted rot. Dreams can easily turn into nightmares. Corruption is everywhere, even in places that seem immune to it.” (Berardinelli, 2002).

The protagonists Sandy and Jeff represent the girl- and boy-next-door types one associates with light-hearted teen movies of the era, setting up an expectation that is sharply thrown aside. After visiting his father (the stroke victim) in hospital, Jeff finds a severed ear on the ground. He takes it to the police, but is more curious than the police are willing to let him be. With Sandy, the daughter of the detective in whom Jeff confides, he begins investigating himself. “What they witness is something that their mom and apple pie family life has never prepared them for” (Russell, 2001), and as the socially-enforced blinkers come off the story becomes steadily darker.

Fig. 2. Jeff and Dorothy still.

Jeff and Sandy discover that one Dorothy, a lounge singer, is being used as a sex slave by one Frank, who is keeping her son captive. Frank is, without a doubt, a complete monster. Impulsive, aggressive and without a single redeeming trait, he abuses and belittles Dorothy to the point that, when Jeff meets her, she is thoroughly broken and hyper-sexualised. This is in stark contrast to Sandy, who is the wholesome, demure young lady to Dorothy’s co-dependent masochist.

The erotic element of Blue Velvet is well-remembered, but not for any actual eroticism. The film deconstructs the concept of voyeurism, and the viewer feels utterly filthy as Jeff observes Frank’s violations of Dorothy. Jeff’s resulting sexual confusion – the sexually available Dorothy or the emotionally stable Sandy? – seems to be a direct result of his upbringing. He is completely unable to process what is happening due to his lack of sexual knowledge or experience, and as a result makes potentially life-destroying decisions. The overarching mystery plot, in which Jeff is party to mysterious revelations about the nature of the world around him, seems deliberately similar to his sexual awakening.

 Fig. 3. Opening/ending shot.

In the closing scene, the town of Lumberton appears to be back to normal – all is light and sweetness, Jeff’s and Sandy’s relationship has somehow survived the ordeal intact, and Dorothy is happily reunited with her son. As with the opening, there is the constant sense that all this is too good to be true, and once again we are only seeing suburbia’s fa├žade.

Illustration List
Lynch, D. Fig. 1. Blue Velvet poster. (Accessed on: 20/01/2012)
Lynch, D. Fig. 2. Jeff and Dorothy still. (Accessed on: 20/01/2012)
Lynch, D. Fig. 3. Opening/ending still. (Accessed on: 20/01/2012)

Berardinelli, J. (2002). (Accessed on: 20/01/2012)
Russell, J. (2001). BBC Movies. (Accessed on: 20/01/2012)

1 comment:

  1. Hey Meg - all your reviews arrived so late in the day that I wasn't able to enthuse about them before now - suffice to say, your critical writing continues to warm the heart of this old, beardy lecturer-type, who loves it when improbable film experiences are added to a student's cultural DNA - and your embrace of those experiences - however alien - is very satisfying.

    Meanwhile - see below:

    This is the first time you have been asked to complete the ISS (unlike those veterans of surveys in Year 2 and Year 3), but it's really important that you take a moment or so to reflect on your experiences so far - because students are the voice 'most-listened to' in terms of the 'powers-that-be'. So - complete the survey for me, and then leave a 'done it' confirmation on the blog post below. Many thanks in advance :)