Monday, September 07, 2009

Monday Movie Review: Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet (1986) 8/10
When Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a severed human ear in a field, he discovers a world of corruption hiding just past the edges of his peaceful community. Written and directed by David Lynch.

I saw this movie a couple of months ago, and haven't known what to make of it. Its reputation is so big it almost drowns out the experience of seeing it.


There are ways in which it's all too heavy-handed. OMGZ! Look! There's filth underneath the pretty suburb! Laura Dern as Jeffrey's innocent neighbor is a bit too innocent and too baby doll, Isabella Rossellini is too histrionic, throwing herself to the floor, throwing herself, in fact, pretty much to the exclusion of normal movement. And Dennis Hopper is too Dennis Hopper. It's a garish movie painted in garish colors; very much a painting, something extreme and splashy and full of symbols for art students to discuss.

And yet the images are striking and remarkable. It's David Lynch, after all, the master of the strange image, and I'm a believer in movies as a medium of images. I loved Mulholland Dr. and didn't understand it; I kind of feel like understanding the narrative isn't always necessary. Maybe it's usually necessary, but the David Lynches of the world are there to be an exception.

The world that Jeffrey spies on through Dorothy (Rossellini) is so dark as to be incomprehensible. It is perverse, violent, and anarchic. It was really hard for me to follow what was going on with the crime plot, even though some of it was pretty simple in retrospect, but it is seen through the eyes of Jeffrey, to whom it is all foreign. The darkness of it is repulsive, and I am left, as I often am, wondering if I'm the only one actually repulsed by repulsiveness. It seems like Frank Booth (Hopper) is a character everyone loves to quote, as if kidnapping, rape, and murder bring the funny. My take on Booth is he is a nightmare, a "monster from the id," and not at all funny.

Roger Ebert somewhat famously wrote a one-star review of this film. Although I disagree, I see his point; it's not complicated to see Blue Velvet as hateful. At some level, though, I think he fundamentally misunderstands.

Isabella Rossellini's husband and son have been kidnapped by Dennis Hopper, who makes her his sexual slave. The twist is that the kidnapping taps into the woman's deepest feelings: She finds that she is a masochist who responds with great sexual passion to this situation.
I doubt it. Ebert is saying that first Hopper kidnapped Rossellini's family, using their captivity to get her to bed, and she ultimately became aroused, despite hating him and hating her arousal. No way.

More likely, Rossellini discovered her S&M desires in a consensual relationship with Booth, perhaps seeking him out because of those desires, and then, when she wanted out, he kidnapped her family in order to keep her enslaved. Like Jeffery, Dorothy wanted to toy with the edge of the dark unknown, but she fell in. She's Dorothy, stuck in Oz, needing a Wizard to free her.

Ebert hates, and is uncomfortable with, the constant contrasts in this film between "nice" and "perverse," as embodied by the two women; "nice" Sandy (Laura Dern) and "perverse" Dorothy. He sees the nice as snide and satiric, and the perverse as a straight story (ha! see what I did there?). But carrying around a gas canister to suck on while raping a woman and calling yourself Baby at the top of your lungs is really not normal, and is no less exaggerated than the nicey-nice scenes. Both sides are equally broad, and in a way, equally disturbing. The nice is bad because it isn't real, the dark because it's bad, and hyper-real. Our hero, Jeffrey, walks between the two worlds, spying on each, before finally making a choice.

(Blue Cross-post)