Blue Velvet. “It’s a strange world, isn’t it?” Graphic sexual violence and Dennis Hopper’s shocking portrayal of a sadistic psychopath holding a singer’s family hostage for her acquiescent brutalization provoked a storm of controversy around David Lynch’s dark, disturbing, dreamlike mystery. Lynch’s depiction of the cruelty, sickness, and horror lying just beneath the surface of nice, clean, white-picket-fenced middle America is not exactly subtle, but it is remorselessly gripping, bold, and stylish. Blue Velvet combines an air of twisted mystery with ironic, satiric Americana and a singular, chirpy, lightly stylized tone. The same winning mixture of the repulsively strange and the cozily familiar, the artful and artless, made Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks the cultural phenomenon of 1990 and strongly influenced numerous imitators.
Kyle MacLachlan and Laura Dern are engaging as Jeffrey Beaumont and Sandy Williams, the naïve youngsters caught up in the macabre relationship between Hopper’s crazed, oxygen-tank-dependent kidnapper-killer and brave Isabella Rossellini’s bruised Dorothy Vallens, the tormented cabaret singer at his never-tender mercy while he holds her husband and little boy captive. Lumberton is a sunny, dreary American Everytown, with its neat lawns and flowerbeds, its industrial core, and the colorless diner where Jeffrey and Sandy combine forces as amateur sleuths while love blossoms. But everything is off-kilter, from curious college boy Jeffrey’s discovery of a human ear in a field and his anxious, dangerous adventures as a crime-busting voyeur to his stunned arrival on a bizarre death tableau.