It’s certainly not a news flash that I often have immense troubles dealing with black, satirical comedy. I think the difficulty for me lies in the dividing line between comedy and tragedy. Oftentimes, although I’m not always fond of violence or profanity, I can make a concession if there’s something deeper behind it. With Schindler’s List, this means watching the scenes of the Holocaust, because there are vital realities to be gleaned from that. In a Scorsese film, aside from being well made, I often see them utilizing profanity in such a way that shows the corruption and baseness that lies within mankind. Take Goodfellas for instance.
All this to say, Blue Velvet was hard to pronounce a verdict for. Without a doubt, David Lynch is a worthy director with his own surrealist vision, that is nevertheless polarizing to the viewing public. There is no doubt that his films are fascinating and in moments mesmerizing; there’s no arguing on that account.
However, Blue Velvet is a dark and brooding film, as are many others, but the big difference here is that all of that is buried under a thinly layered caricature of suburbia. These scenes are so superficial; almost stupid, because the dialogue seems torn off some billboard or magazine cover. There are flowers, white picket fences, and robins denoting the changing seasons. It reminded me of some precursor to American Beauty, except the ending was brighter and the depths seemed darker.
Under the surface lies something sinister and it all comes to a boil when Jefferey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his hometown of Lumberton to visit his injured father in the hospital. The college boy comes across a severed ear, and it leads to stakeouts, and eventually brazen attempts to break into a mysterious woman’s apartment.
And as you would expect Jefferey gets in too deep, getting sucked into a twisted, subversive spiral that includes singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rosellini), a sociopathic maniac named Frank (Dennis Hopper), and a whole lot of ambiguity. All things return to the status quo in this suburbia and we can go back to singing “Blue Velvet” and “In Dreams” in peace. But there’s this nagging sensation that Lynch’s treatment of this topic is utterly cruel. Isabella Rosellini gives a stellar performance that is a constant emotional roller coaster, while Dennis Hopper is the definition of a screwed up, drugged up, lunatic. These individuals have so much darkness and twisted caverns in their characters that it’s hard to leave them like this.
After all, this isn’t a big joke, and it shouldn’t be, but it’s hard to get away from that idea since the dichotomy between the two is separated here by a hair’s length. However, for others who find it easier to parse through the tonal problems I have with Blue Velvet, there’s undoubtedly a lot to take note of. This is one of those enigmatic films we leave with more question than answers; more confusion than clarity. It’s not always the easiest, but it can certainly be rewarding.