This post is rated R for language. Given the nature of the film I didn't see a point in censoring myself.
I go through periods where my tastes in movies change. Sometimes I can't sit through slow moving artsy type films to save my life, and others I'm happy to sit back and watch them happen and try to decide just what the filmmaker was trying to represent. I've noticed that lately I've been feeling the latter, so I decided it was time to dig into some David Lynch. I had really wanted to start with Twin Peaks, but it's only available via disc on Netflix and the first disc has a "long wait," whereas Blue Velvet is available for streaming and was just sitting there waiting for me to watch it.
I'm going to get all spoilery now. I went into this movie about 90% blind, and I think that blindness helped me enjoy it a lot. So if you haven't seen the film before, I wouldn't suggest reading this unless you're 100% sure you're never going to watch it. It's definitely odd and not for everyone, so I can't demand that you do, but I will highly recommend it.
We start off with images of a picturesque suburban town until we cut to an old man struggling with his hose while watering the lawn. He suffers from a stroke and falls to the ground. A dog jumps on him, obliviously drinking the water coming from the hose while a toddler waddles up in the background. We zoom from the old man to the grass where we see beetles writhing around. This opening scene is a warning for exactly what you're in for. Things start off the way you expect them to and at first slowly then quickly take a turn toward the odd, strange, and downright disturbing.
Young guy Jeffrey comes back home because the old man we just saw was his dad. On his way back from the hospital he finds an ear in a field. Would you just pick up an ear you saw laying around? Seems to me like you shouldn't disturb a crime scene. The detective he brings it to doesn't seem to mind though, nor is he really upset that someone in his town got his or her ear chopped off at all. I guess a lot of strange stuff goes on in this town regularly.
The movie is set up like an old film noir, where the ladies either walk in mysteriously from the night or sing on a lounge club's stage. Jeffrey gets caught up with two very different women and slowly starts to unravel a deeper and deeper mystery as the story goes on. I was reminded of Rear Window in the beginning. He's so determined to find out what happened and who that ear belongs to that he breaks in to a woman's apartment to try to find out. It seems like just your run of the mill mystery, but then Dorothy (Isabella Rosselini -who I swear I could listen to for hours talk about anything she wanted) starts acting strange, and then Frank (Dennis Hopper) shows up and the oddness gets cranked up to 11.
Jeffrey is hiding in the closet and can't make a sound because Frank will probably kill him. He (and we) are forced to watch as Frank huffs a gas (Netflix lied to me and said it was helium. Some people say it's nitrous oxide, Dennis Hopper claims it was amyl nitrite. Whatever it is, it's bad), becoming more insane with each huff. He rapes her, smacks her around a lot, and brings what looks to be a pair of scissors way too close between her legs for my comfort. It's fucked up. Jeffrey remembers this scene later and cries, and I don't blame him one damn bit.
On the sort of up side, I now know where the "Cassie Eats Cockroaches" middle quotes came from. The scene did a great job of disturbing the hell out of me. I wasn't expecting it at all. It's horrible and yet you can't look away.
Dennis Hopper really knows how to bring some scary bastards to life, doesn't he? Later, when he takes Jeffrey for a ride, I had actually seen a piece of this scene already, specifically the part where Dean Stockwell lip syncs to Roy Orbison's "In Dreams." It seemed so odd when I first watched it and I thought it surely couldn't have fit in place with any movie ever made. For whatever reason, seeing it now in it's context I found it fit the mood almost perfectly and doesn't seem out of place at all. Dean Stockwell is just great by the way. So wonderfully low key and just fabulous. It's a brief part but the movie is better for it.
From there we get to see Frank get high again and threaten Jeffrey, while putting on lipstick and kissing him. He compares love letters to bullets and generally just had me fearing that he was going to rape him. It's really, really intense. Luckily he goes the more traditional route and just beats the crap out of him instead. I'm starting to understand why Dennis Hopper has the reputation he does. It's also disappointing knowing how mild most of his roles are these days by comparison.
The weakest points of the movie are between Jeffrey and Sandy (Laura Dern), who is a high school senior and daughter of the detective Jeffrey brought the ear to. I've seen Laura Dern do better jobs elsewhere, but here her delivery is kind of stiff and the dialogue between her and Jeffrey just comes off awkward. It's at its worse when we're forced to listen to her try to sell the most pretentious part of the movie, this description of a dream she had where the world was gray and sad until the robins came and brought happiness. They also do the thing I hate the most, where people who have only known each other for a week are suddenly in love. Even when she finds out he slept with Dorothy, she forgives him almost immediately. It's possible I may be too harsh, maybe most teenage girls are stupid enough to do that.
I was worried that the strangeness of the film meant we weren't going to get any answers, but mercifully we do. Things get wrapped up almost a little too nice and neatly for my tastes, but I think that was the point. See, we see a robin eating a beetle in the end scene, so the happiness has come and the dark underbelly of the suburban life is now going away. I took from the film the idea that sometimes horrible stuff happens and we don't know why but we can take comfort in the fact that we can also get the white picket fence and the cheery girlfriend sometimes too.
I could tell Lynch wanted colors to represent things, as there are lots of vivid ones, both in dress and set pieces. What they meant I have no idea, but it was pretty to look at. It reminded me of a much milder version of Tim Burton's style. I also noticed a lot of times he would use quick cuts and close up shots of items, usually street or building signs, that would quickly move us from place to place or represent the passage of time without feeling the need to spell it all out for us. There's a lot going on in this movie and I appreciate the way he kept it moving forward.
So.. that wasn't so bad really. Don't get me wrong, there's some really crazy ass shit that happens in the film. It's odd, but it seems to exist in a universe where odd is common place. It's possible that had I seen this movie when I wasn't in one of my more open minded moods, I might have hated it but I don't really think so. I think the way Lynch tells the story makes all the difference. I liked it a lot and it definitely left me with a desire to see more of his work.
I'm still kind of afraid to watch Eraserhead though.