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Cult Column: Blue Velvet

I have always adored Blue Velvet, as a fan of surreal story-telling, non-sequitur narratives, and, frankly, just the plain weird. A new found appreciation for David Lynch’s 1986 neo-noir thriller has awakened in me against the backdrop of global horror.

Blue Velvet follows Jeffrey Beaumont, a college student who returns to his hometown and becomes intertwined in a half-hearted romance with a lounge singer and a complex web of organised crime. The film, standing in a  line-up alongside Fire Walk With Me, Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive, stands out as muted when it comes to the magical realism aspect that is to be expected from a Lynch film. Do not misinterpret my words: the film is quite bizarre. It stays true to the eerie, dream-like qualities of the rest of Lynch’s repertoire, the catalyst of the story is Jeffrey finding a severed ear in the middle of a field. Yet, Lynch strays from an overuse of uncomfortably long stagnant scenes and restrains from his long-winded, metaphorical anachronisms (to my initial discontent). This is, however, all for good purpose – the divergence from his usual fortifies his commentary on the wickedness underlying the “perfect” Americana.

The willful obtuseness of both major and minor characters in this film could not be as effective with the typical kaleidoscopic Lynchian subplots. Neither would the personal character journey of Jeffrey, the protagonist played by a terrifyingly young Kyle MacLachlan, be as dynamic. Lynch sought out to create a more “personal” storyline and he has succeeded – he focuses on the stark contrast between the initial naivety of Jeffrey and the vile, sexually perverse brutality of the ‘dark part’ of town, the former which is deeply tarnished as he spirals deeper into crime. This dichotomy of innocence and perversion is consistently uncomfortable to watch, especially when it comes to the various brutal, long wide-shot scenes of the apartment Dororthy is held captive in. The film is saturated with similar surrealist symbolism and odd character peculiarities (ie, Frank Booth’s usage of Amyl Nitrate before committing violent acts, perhaps to reach higher sexual pleasures from sadism). The plot,, is composed almost fully of a sequence of events that could very well happen in the audience’s world. And this is where it triumphs.

Take Twin Peaks, the viewer has the option of being somewhat comforted in knowing that (spoiler) being possessed by an evil spirit named Bob is far outside the realm of possibility. Blue Velvet removes this shield: an underground world of gangster-led sex traficking is not an impossible scenario. The ignorance of some of the characters regarding the violent underbelly of their neighbourhood becomes unjustified and alarming in almost equal proportions. Within the context of Lynch films, this is a reason behind why the film is gravely deserving of the cult following it has amassed since its release. It will forever be relevant outside of the Lynch fan base, however, as a testament to the pitiful luxury of privileged ignorance.

The story culminates in gripping suspense that is resolved by the final scene, albeit deliberately lackluster. The criminal ring has been busted by the police and all is normal in the neighborhood yet again. Nevertheless, Jeffrey has now been exposed to the fact that the perfect suburbia is not a reality. He is a link left behind to evidence the inefficiency of the system: the sins that he witnessed and took part in solving might have come to end, but what about the others? What is happening in the next town? In the next state? Everywhere, there is a white-picket fence suburbia turning a blind eye to what is happening right under their noses. 

It’s easy to see the allegory being expanded. Extracting Blue Velvet’s commentary and applying it to our current global context forces us to become self aware. Climate change crisis?, racial injustice, elitism in our institutions – the whole of it. Are you Jeffrey, getting your hands into the dirty work? Or are you Mrs. Beaumont, tanning in the backyard while the world turns to ash?

Image: Gabriel Machi via Wikimedia Commons