Return to Blue Velvet
By Jessica Machado
I first learned about David Lynch when his TV show Twin Peaks debuted in 1990. It was the thing the older kids in school were talking about, even though they weren’t supposed to be watching it, either. It wasn’t until my parents paid less attention to what I was doing that I started worming my way through the bizarro-creepo canon of directors listed above. By the time I was halfway through my Lynchian phase––after my gangster- and gangsta-movie phases (I had quite a range of phases)––I was certain none of his other movies were going to top Blue Velvet. And I was right.
In my memory, Blue Velvet was his best because it was his most fully formed, the easiest to grasp. If my memory is correct, I don’t plan on going out of my way to revisit any of his other movies anytime soon. This is not to say that after re-watching Blue Velvet I think it’s now terrible or less-than, just that it’s uh, very Lynchian. Which, to be honest, is why I re-watched it in the first place: To figure out, is this the kind of film that only college kids, in all their exploratory glory, can get into?
Well, yes and no. For all the camp and gratuitous “Good lord!” moments, Blue Velvet is, above all else, cinematically compelling and well cast––and some of that over-the-top shock is what’s most successful about the film. Isabella Rossellini is a dark-haired porcelain beauty with a stare that’s as desperate as it is ravenous. She is the ultimate seductress, victim and martyr to Dennis Hopper’s brilliant, masochistic sicko. I could watch the two of them for hours, whatever that says about my psychological health, which brings me to that scene. Holy gajeezus, that scene! In a movie with a particularly slow, waltz-like pace (as though in time to the song “Blue Velvet” itself), it comes like a shovel to the head. There’s the intensity of “Daddy” Hopper busting into Rossellini’s apartment, demanding, “Baby wants to fuuuuhck”; his predatory inhaling and exhaling into a gas mask; the combination of fear, titillation, and expectation on Rossellini’s face as he does this; his gagging them both with the dueling ends of her robe sash; his tackling her to the ground, slapping her and forcefully sticking his hand, then himself inside of her––all over a quick four minutes. It was violent and terrifying and yet I didn’t feel ashamed for not looking away. I even admit I too was a tad turned on.
Our hero and protagonist Kyle MacLachlan, on the other hand, I could give or take. But I’ve always felt that way about him, and I almost believe I’m supposed to (though he’s actually embraced his blah persona with age––see Portlandia, not Sex and the City). And as much as I love Laura Dern in just about anything, her courtship with MacLachlan is so annoyingly 1960s coy (though the film is set in then-present-day 1986), I was tempted to fast-forward every time they were in a scene together. Sure, their goody-goody courtship in the surface world is a satire and a contrast to Rossellini-Hopper’s pairing in the underbelly, but I wish Lynch would’ve given the same dynamic treatment to MacLachlan and Dern’s rudimentariness that he did to Rossellini and Hopper’s messy mental war. Lynch’s corny dialogue works best when it’s in the mouths of the least expected––like villainous Hopper or sex-kitten Rossellini––so when MacLachlan tells Dern he loves her toward the end of the movie, after his own obsessive affair with Rossellini, I yelled at the screen, “Oh, puhlease.” Complicate and twist, Lynch, just like you do with the gory stuff.
I was most captivated by MacLachlan when he wasn’t the cool, regular-town college guy but rather the confused, freaking-out fumbler––especially while he was trapped in the closet during the aforementioned sex scene. And speaking of trapped in the closet, this movie makes quite a few nods toward the future of hipsterism. First, we have that reference to the greatest long-form video since “November Rain,” (far-fetched, I know, but stay with me) and then there’s that infamous line that Hopper, in a collar-tipped shirt, screams at a party where a dude who looks a hell of a lot like Buster Poindexter sings lounge-y karaoke in a minimalist mid-century apartment: “Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst! Blue! Ribbon!” I mean, c’mon! It’s like Lynch designed a cult classic for the next generation to study.
So here’s where I testify to the film’s college-kid-driven audience. While Lynch under-complicates the banality of relationships, he is spot-on with the mundane details of suburban day-to-dayness. There’s MacLachlan’s mom sitting in the house, time practically standing still, while she drinks a cup of tea; the roboticism of the local fireman waving hello from his fire truck; the sad everyday way his father suffered his debilitating injury (by watering his yard) that brought Kylie boy back to his hometown in the first place. There is nothing a teenager or young adult loves more than giving the middle finger to becoming our parents or the way they live their quaint, boring lives. We love any justification to not do what’s expected of us. And the one thing you can expect from Lynch is that he puts great stakes on what’s unexpected. If only he did so in a tighter, shorter format.