Sandy: I can't tell if you're a detective or a pervert.
Jeffrey: Well that's for me to know and you to find out.Blue Velvet
(1986) is a mystery/noir film written and directed by David Lynch
, which essentially served as a comeback film for the director after the critical and box office failure of 1984's Dune
, starring Lynch regulars Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern
, and Isabella Rossellini, and Dennis Hopper
. The film, although barely breaking even commercially, shone in comparison to Dune
and was highly acclaimed by critics, reviving Lynch's career and earning him his second Academy Award
nomination for Best Director. Besides salvaging Lynch's career, the film is notable for launching the careers of Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern, both being previously known for their famous parents more than anything.
The film tells the story of college student Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan), who has returned to his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina after his father had a crippling stroke to help run the family business. A couple of days after arriving back into town, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear in a grass field behind a neighborhood, which leads to Jeffrey deciding to play amateur detective
with help from Sandy Williams, a high school student and daughter of Lieutenant John Williams, a detective in the town.
The investigation leads Jeffrey towards his town's dark, seedy underbelly as he discovers that the ear belongs to the husband of a roadhouse singer named Dorothy, a Broken Bird
whose child has been kidnapped by the local crime boss (and complete psychopath) Frank Booth, in order to turn her into his virtual sex slave. Jeffrey finds himself drawn into Dorothy's nightmare as the film explores voyeuristic sex and drug-fueled crime as Jeffrey tries to save Dorothy from her living hell, while grappling with his own desire to possess her. Blue Velvet
remains a leading example of the neo-noir genre, widely regarded as one of Lynch's greatest, most seminal works and has become a cult classic.
This movie contains examples of:
- Adults Are Useless: Played straight for most of the film.
- Amateur Sleuth: Jeffrey.
- Animal Motifs: The film is full of these, but they're mostly about bugs. In the beginning, there is a colony of beetle-like bugs crawling around just under the surface of the lawn that Jeffrey's father was keeping in pristine condition. The bugs are meant to represent the dark secrets lying just under the surface of the town itself. Jeffrey even calls one of the shady characters "Yellow Man" because he wears a yellow jacket. Throughout the film, Sandy references her dream about robins bringing light and love with them to eradicate darkness. Then, at the end of the film, A robin appears on the windowsill, holding one of the bugs from under the lawn in its beak, signifying the aforementioned arrival of light to end the darkness.
- Anything That Moves: Frank Booth, by his own estimation, in so many words.
- Arc Words: "It's a strange world."
- Ask a Stupid Question...: Frank's associate asks about the beer "You want me to pour it?" and Frank yells back, "No, I want you to fuck it!"
- Ax-Crazy: Booth again.
- Badass Boast: When Jeffery gives the page quote, he seems to be trying to make it sound like one.
- Betty and Veronica: There's a sharp contrast between the sweet, wholesome and mentally sound Sandy and the mysterious, sexy, and mentally unhinged Dorothy, who represent the small town idyll and its hidden dark underbelly, respectively.
- Also subverted, in that both Sandy and Dorothy each exhibit in a small degree the other's chief trait. Sandy's fascination with Jeffrey's investigation is a sign of how attracted she to the dark stuff going on in town. Dorothy, for her part, is not totally unhinged; she calmly tells Jeffrey that she knows right from wrong, and all she really wants is her son and husband back. When, in the end, she gets her son back, she looks as close to happy as she ever gets in the whole film. Pity about her husband.
- Berserk Button: Doing just about any minor thing that Frank deems out-of-turn, most notably fucking looking at him and not fucking looking at him.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Frank could have saved himself a lot of trouble by killing Jeffrey instead of leaving off at a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
- Broken Bird: Jeffrey gets his fair share of this. Poor Dorothy is already very broken when we first meet her and gets worse.
- Call Back: Jeffery first spies on Dorothy by watching her from the slitted door of her living room coat closet. Later this is where he hides from and ultimately surprises Frank just before shooting him.
- Also, the shot of the white picket fence and the fireman on the fire truck which opens the film is repeated at the end.
- Camp Gay: Ben the pimp is played this way by Dean Stockwell.
- The Chanteuse: Dorothy
- Chewing the Scenery: Dennis Hopper. Nom nom nom.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Frank Booth, full stop.
- And Jeffrey Beaumont, who's practically a teenaged Dale Cooper.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Frank Booth uses the word 'Fuck' in nearly every line. People he doesn't like are referred to as 'Fucks' or 'Fuckers'. He seems to value the word in a very profound and unconventional matter, since he's always expressing a desire to 'Fuck' before going off and doing destructive violent acts that are more aggressive than sexual.
I'll send you a love letter, straight from my heart, fucker! You know what a love letter is? It's a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker! You receive a love letter from me, you're fucked forever! You understand, fuck? I'll send you straight to hell, fucker!
- Crapsaccharine World: white picket fences and all.
- Depraved Bisexual: Frank puts on lipstick and kisses Jeffrey, before beating him half to death. The original script also strongly implies that he raped Jeffrey after beating him.
- "Let's fuck! I'll fuck anything that moves!"
- Dirty Cop: T.R. Gordon, who's working with Frank and Ben.
- Drives Like Crazy: ...Frank!
- The Dulcinea Effect
- Earn Your Happy Ending: Jeffrey certainly suffers. More of a B Ittersweet Ending for Dorothy, since she is freed and reunited with her child, but her husband is dead.
- Emerging from the Shadows: Dorothy does this, in the background of a medium shot where Jeffrey is arguing with a minor character about something else - and then they start to realize that there's a bruised, bloody, naked woman staggering towards them, and even then it takes them a moment to realize that something terrible is happening. Perhaps the most low-key emergence from the shadows in the history of cinema.
- Sandy's first appearance is also an emergence from the shadow of a tree.
- Establishing Character Moment: If you think Booth is a nice guy after his first scene, you need to share whatever it is you're smoking.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Maybe a little too much, as Frank's amyl nitrite-induced foreplay suggests. The movie has a weird Oedipal subtext going on all over the place, really.
- Europeans Are Kinky: Dorothy is a very dark and unhappy variant.
- Evil Is Hammy: In an absolute nightmarish way.
- Fan Disservice: Dorothy's cruel treatment at the hands of Frank qualifies as this. An iconic scene has her nude amid the shrubbery after Frank beat her half to death, stripped her nude, and threw her out of a moving vehicle.
- Faux Affably Evil: Ben, who while being one suave fucker, watches Frank punch Jeffrey in the face and force him to make a toast. Ben politely thanks Jeffrey for the toast, expresses concern for Jeffrey's face, and then punches him in the stomach and asks him if that's better.
- G-Rated Drug: The drug Booth inhales is never explicitly identified (though Word of God says it's amyl nitrite), nor is the substance he traffics with Ben.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Guess who.
- Hit Me, Dammit!: A dark and disturbing instance of this trope as Dorothy demands Jeffrey hit her as they are making love.
- Ho Yay: Booth - purveyor of depraved, squicky ho yay.
- Hormone-Addled Teenager: There are a few of them.
- I Have Your Husband and Son: How Frank gets Dorothy as his Sex Slave.
- Large Ham: "GET READY TO FUCK YOU FUCKER'S FUCKER!"
- Light Feminine Dark Feminine: Blonde Girl Next Door Sandy vs. brunette Femme Fatale Dorothy.
- Mind Screw: Notably absent for the most part, given the director's other works. There are still bits and pieces that you'd be forgiven for missing on first view, however. And, of course, this was before Lynch was really known for his love of this trope.
- Monster Clown: Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" or "CANDY COLORED CLOWN!!!" is a Monster Clown in the form of a song. Interestingly enough, Dean Stockwell, who lip-synchs the song while wearing white make up and exotic clothing, comes across as a Monster Clown Pimp.
- The second time the song plays, Frank is wearing sloppily-applied lipstick that gives him a clown-like appearance.
- Nightmare Sequence: Jeffrey dreaming Frank's nice face. Wow.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Booth beats Jeffrey nearly to death in one scene.
- No Indoor Voice: Guess who.
- Not So Different: "You're like me…"
- Oedipus Complex: Frank seems to have a very weird one.
- Oh, Crap: Jeffrey; first when he sees "the well-dressed man" coming up the stairs to Dorothy's apartment, and then again when he realizes it's Booth wearing a mask. Booth himself gets a rather subtle one when he flings open the closet door only to find Jeffrey pointing a revolver right at his forehead.
- Precision F-Strike: "Here's to your
health fuck, Frank."
- Product Placement:
Frank: So what kind of beer do you like?
Frank: Heineken?! Fuck that shit! Pabst! Blue! Ribbon!
- Psychopathic Manchild: ...anyone? Anyone?
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: "Pabst! Blue! Ribbon!"
- Rear Window Investigation
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Lt. Williams, Sandy's father.
- Running Gag: Jeffery just can't find anyone who shares his taste in beer. He first asks Sandy if she likes Heineken, and she answers that her and her father drink Bud. Later, Frank asks him what beer he likes, prompting the famous line.
- Sex Slave: Frank has forced Dorothy to be his.
- Sir Swears-a-Lot: Frank is one of the most disturbing examples of this trope imaginable. "Don't you fucking look at me! DON'T YOU FUCKING LOOK AT ME!!!"
- Soundtrack Dissonance: In addition to the titular "Blue Velvet", the film also features very disturbing usage of "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison. Orbison refused to let Lynch use the song, but Lynch was able to find a loophole to get around his lack of permission. Orbison later changed his mind anyway.
- "Love Letters" by Ketty Lester, the song playing when the cops shoot up Frank's base of operations. It's ... dreamy.
- Titled After the Song: The title is taken from the 1963 Bobby Vinton song of the same name.
- Unusual Euphemism: "He put his disease in me."
- Villainy Discretion Shot: Frank hitting Dorothy after raping her. While Lynch wanted the audience to see the hit, the MPAA asked him to cut away, to align with their violence guidelines. Lynch said the cut made the shot more disturbing.