Blue Velvet | Teen Ink

Blue Velvet MAG

December 20, 2022
By BenParker3737 DIAMOND, South Burlington, Vermont
BenParker3737 DIAMOND, South Burlington, Vermont
91 articles 5 photos 16 comments

With Blue Velvet, David Lynch has surely created one of his career's most bizarre paradoxes. Even compared to later shockers like Wild at Heart and Lost Highway, it perhaps tops the list of this filmmaker's edgiest, scariest cinematic nightmares, to the point where certain parts may be downright unwatchable for some. Just as arguably, however, it's the very finest gateway into one of cinema's most distinctive visionaries.

Understandably, Lynch fans may argue that Mulholland Dr, a more universally well-received Hollywood noir starring Naomi Watts, is just as recommendable for the uninitiated, but it does ultimately require a greater patience for confusingly nontraditional storytelling. Blue Velvet isn't really as experimental, yet despite rewarding more adventurous viewers, a very strong stomach is necessary. No matter what unforgettable images Lynch sears into your mind, though, you won't be able to look away.

All the unhinged, unnervingly dream-like weirdness expected from this director is certainly present here, but it’s firmly anchored in a narrative easy to keep track of, yet creepily mysterious enough to linger long after it's over. Retreating from Hollywood after 1984's Dune flopped (not to be confused with Denis Villeneuve's Dune from 2021, a far more critically and commercially successful adaptation of Frank Herbert's acclaimed sci-fi adventures), Lynch carefully ensures his trademark surrealism never over-complicates or distracts from the story, but vividly enriches it.

Even after a jarring prologue of sorts, Blue Velvet begins as a generally innocent coming-of-age mystery, as introverted college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan, whose quietly powerful performance is too often ignored) is brought back to his small hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina by his father’s near-fatal stroke. Despite the warm smiles and cozy shops populating this friendly area, a grisly discovery convinces Jeffrey of something sinister lurking just out of sight.

Before long, these suspicions propel him into the life of reclusive nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), whose apartment key he steals while masquerading as the local bug exterminator. From there, he only ventures deeper and deeper into Lumberton’s sleazy underbelly, which, as sharply reflected in Frederick Elmes’s eerie cinematography, only strips away any real sense of innocence from the whole town—and even Jeffrey himself.

In essence, Blue Velvet is the darkest, haziest, most graphically perverse spin on taut Hitchcock thrillers like Rear Window, where a sympathetic character’s voyeurism into a world entirely apart from theirs casts them within dangerous territory, leaving them to desperately fend for themselves against the most frightening of human psychopaths. Angelo Badalamenti’s beautifully haunting score, which is uncannily Hitchcockian in its own right, is just sinister enough to make that work, but what really sells it is the psychopath himself.

That psychopath would be Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a gas-huffing, menacingly short-tempered drug dealer Jeffrey does his best to hide from. How he's involved with the story should not—and, at the risk of raising too many eyebrows, cannot—be given away, but that’s not really necessary to understand the extent of this character's viciousness.

With a piercingly angry voice, disturbingly casual attitude towards inflicting extreme pain and terror on others, and relentless determination to snuff out anything standing in his way, Frank just might be one of the most intimidating villains the silver screen has to offer. Showing a courageous intensity some actors might balk at in bringing this character to life, Hopper’s fierce performance is guaranteed to get some kind of visceral reaction from you, whether or not you’d like it to.

No matter the film's infamy, most critics did, but as many of you might already know, Roger Ebert (among the most influential critics of all time, even after his passing in 2013) did not. Awarding the film 1 out of a possible 4 stars, he wrote “…[D]irector David Lynch chose to interrupt the almost hypnotic pull of that relationship [between Jeffrey and Dorothy] in order to pull back to his jokey, small-town satire… After five or 10 minutes in which the screen reality was overwhelming, I didn’t need the director prancing on with a top hat and cane, whistling that it was all in fun.

To be clear, it’s completely understandable for someone to walk away from Blue Velvet just feeling cold or disgusted, but surprisingly for a critic who (generally) otherwise stood out for his fairness and understanding, this is a puzzlingly misguided interpretation of the film’s goals. Once Lumberton’s darkest secrets, including the true nature of Jeffrey and Dorothy’s developing relationship, really come into focus, all that “jokey, small-town satire” immediately vanishes, making it clear that Lynch is not “whistling that it was all in fun.”

By that point, even the slightest glimmer of something akin to comic relief, like one of Frank’s friends (Dean Stockwell) lip-syncing to Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”, is far more discomforting than funny, and that’s exactly the point. No matter how often this “small-town satire” is present in Blue Velvet (and trust me, it’s really not present all that often), the film’s most vile scenes simply aren't played off as some overall farce, although Ebert insisted otherwise: “What’s worse? Slapping somebody around, or standing back and finding the whole thing funny?

By saying that, it’s undeniable that Ebert dramatically misunderstood Lynch’s intentions in crafting this story, but even a harsh critic like him was clearly affected by it: “’Blue Velvet’ contains scenes of such raw emotional energy that it’s easy to understand why some critics have hailed it as a masterpiece… These sequences have great power. They make ‘9 ½ Weeks’ look rather timid by comparison, because they do seem genuinely born from the darkest and most despairing side of human nature.

Perhaps without even realizing it, Ebert precisely hit the nail on the head as to what makes Blue Velvet so brilliant. Above all else, Lynch is deeply studying the parts of the human psyche we’d most like to ignore, no matter who they might surface in. What you take away from that is for you to decide.

The author's comments:

My first published article on Teen Ink since 2019. I'd left the site to focus on high school and other personal projects, but since graduating this past summer, I've realized having a platform here gives me greater motivation to continue reviewing film.

However, much of my older work under this account is, to put it lightly, incredibly unrepresentative of the writer I am now. To be frank, some of it’s genuinely pretty embarrassing for me to look at.

Thankfully, with three more years of writing experience under my belt since then, I've become determined to improve on all these past mistakes, before it's too late to continue publishing here (after my 20th birthday in August 2022, I'll have to move on from this site). I'll see what the future holds for me after that, but for now, I'd really like to remain more dedicated to all this.

This review was originally published on my blog, Boards of Cinema (, around July 2022, but I figured it would be a good tentative step back into uploading to this site. If all goes well, new reviews will be published here far more frequently.

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