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Film / Blue Velvet

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Sandy Williams: I don't know if you're a detective or a pervert.
Jeffrey Beaumont: Well, that's for me to know and you to find out.

Blue Velvet is a 1986 American neo-noir mystery film written and directed by David Lynch and starring Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, Hope Lange, Dean Stockwell, Priscilla Pointer and Brad Dourif.

The film tells the story of college student Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan), who has returned to his hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina to help run the family business after his father suffered a crippling stroke. A couple days after his arrival, Jeffrey comes upon a severed human ear in a vacant lot behind a neighborhood, which leads to him deciding to play amateur detective with the help of Sandy Williams (Dern), a high school student and the daughter of local police detective John Williams (George Dickerson).

Signs begin to point towards troubled roadhouse singer Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini) being involved somehow, at which point the mystery devolves into a surreal, erotic, disturbing, and truly unpredictable living hell, and Jeffrey is launched headfirst into the dark, seedy underbelly of a seemingly idyllic town.

The film essentially served as a comeback for Lynch after the critical and box office failure of Dune (1984), and while it barely broke even commercially, its glowing critical response shone in comparison to Dune, 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). In times since, it has been deemed not only a Cult Classic but an exemplary work of the neo-noir genre and one of Lynch's greatest films.

This movie contains examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: Played straight for most of the film.
  • Amateur Sleuth: Jeffrey adopts this persona as he investigates the case.
  • Animal Motifs: The film is full of these.
    • 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, not dissimilar to the dark secrets lying just under the surface of the picturesque town.
      • Jeffrey pretends to be an insect exterminator to get into Dorothy's apartment.
      • Jeffrey even calls one of the shady characters "Yellow Man" because he wears a yellow jacket.
    • Robins.
      • 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.
  • Arc Words:
    • "It's a strange world."
    • "Now it's dark."
  • 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: To call Frank psychotic would be putting it lightly.
  • Badass Boast: When Jeffrey gives the page quote, he seems to be trying to make it sound like one.
  • Bad Boss: Frank generally treats his Mooks quite poorly, verbally abusing them and ordering them around and later uses them as Cannon Fodder during the shootout with the cops. He even lobotomizes the Dirty Cop Gordon on his payroll for an unknown reason.
  • 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 is 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.
    • Jeffrey is also Sandy's Veronica and Mike is her Betty. Mike is Sandy's boyfriend, but Jeffrey, who has a strange behaviour, attracts her attention and finally charms her.
      • Jeffrey is also Dorothy's Betty and Frank her Veronica. While she clearly feels safer with Jeffrey and her relationship with Frank is completely nonconsensual, she seems to prefer the sadomasochistic aspects of intimacy that Frank has introduced to her and tries to get Jeffrey to indulge in them, too.
  • 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.
  • Bookends: The shot of the white picket fence and the fireman on the fire truck which opens the film is repeated at the end.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Jeffrey delivers one to Frank which blows off the back of Frank's head.
  • 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: Jeffrey 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.
  • Camp Gay: Ben the pimp is played this way by Dean Stockwell.
  • The Chanteuse: Dorothy.
  • Chewing the Scenery: Dennis Hopper's Frank Booth is as gloriously hammy as they come.
  • 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. It also stands out as a quirk of his because he's almost the only character in the movie that uses the word at all - Ben is the only other person to say it, and he's merely repeating Frank's toast of "here's to your fuck!"
    Frank: 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: Lumberton to a T; it's a picturesque town hiding deep conspiracies of murder, abuse, drug dealing, and sex slavery. The opening sequence essentially serves a microcosm of this theme, down to the white picket fences.
  • Damsel in Distress: Dorothy is reduced to sex slavery by Frank. She is totally helpless. The film is about Jeffrey's attempt to help her.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Frank frequently rapes Dorothy and 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. There's also that line:
    Frank: Let's fuck! I'll fuck Anything That Moves!
    • In addition, we can't forget the way Frank looks at Ben with sheer reverence during his rendition of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams". In an earlier draft of the script he outright calls Ben beautiful, and that it's too much for him.
  • Dirty Cop: T.R. Gordon aka "The Yellow Man", who's working with Frank and Ben.
  • Drives Like Crazy: ...Frank!
  • Don't Ask: When Jeffery sits down for breakfast after coming home from getting a severe beating at the hands of Frank and his gang, his mother and his aunt stares at his bruised and scraped face in horror. Jeffery immediately tries to pre-emptively shut down their questions with a quick "I don't want to talk about it."
  • The Dulcinea Effect: The entire reason Jeffrey gets involved in the plot's events is because he wants to help out Dorothy.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Jeffrey certainly suffers a lot before he's able to live Happily Ever After with Sandy. More of a Bittersweet Ending for Dorothy, since she has been freed from the psychopathic Frank 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.
    • 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.
  • Europeans Are Kinky: Dorothy is a very dark and unhappy variant.
  • 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.
  • Evil Gloating: Frank likes to do this, either when he finishes abusing Dorothy or when he gets the upper hand on Jeffrey.
    Frank (after raping Dorothy and cutting off her husband's ear): Stay alive, baby. Do it for Van Gogh.
    Frank (about to unleash a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on Jeffrey): You're fucking lucky to be alive.
    Frank' (falsely believing that he has tricked Jeffrey into thinking he was Detective Williams): You've got about one fucking second to live buddy!
  • Evil Is Hammy: Frank, in an absolute nightmarish way.
  • Evil Is Petty: If threatening to kill him and viciously beating him wasn't enough, Frank decides to profanely criticize Jeffrey's taste in beer.
  • Evil Laugh: Frank has one after his "Let's fuck" line.
  • Fan Disservice: Dorothy is in some state of undress quite a bit, but considering it's in the immediate context of being abused by Frank, it's wholly unerotic.
  • 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.
  • Fetishes Are Weird: Frank is a sadistic mob boss with a mommy roleplay fetish, and the title of the film is a reference to his fetish for blue velvet (both the fabric and the song). He's also one of the most terrifying villains in film history, but this has more to do with his acts of physical and sexual violence than his fetishes. The fetishes just add more creepiness to his character.
  • Finger in the Mail: Frank cuts Dorothy's husband's ear to let her know he has kidnapped him and her son.
  • Genre Mashup: While on the whole a neo-noir mystery, the film also adds Psychological Thriller elements to the mix.
  • Genre Refugee: The film sets itself up as a Genre Throwback to the badbutt crime and mystery fiction of the 1950s and earlier: movies like Daddy-O or the Hardy Boys novels, and most of the characters in the movie are appropriately clean-cut and wholesome. The big exception is the villain, Frank Booth, who is the sort of foul-mouthed and genuinely psychotic character that would only appear in later crime fiction. He's so (deliberately) out-of-place that the hero, Jeffrey, has a complete emotional breakdown over Frank's existence.
  • Girl Next Door: Sandy is literally one for Jeffrey. She is the "Betty" in the love triangle.
  • 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. Jeffrey initially refrains, making Dorothy distraught enough to try throwing him out, at which point he finds the energy to oblige, and the two begin having violent sex.
  • I Have Your Wife: Frank gets Dorothy as his Sex Slave by kidnapping her husband and son to coerce her
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: In order to get access to Dorothy's apartment, Jeffrey pretends to be an insect exterminator.
  • Jerkass: Unlike Ben, Frank doesn't bother to conceal his depraved and repulsive nature and simply behaves unpleasantly and irritated all the time. He also gloats about his crimes whenever the opportunity presents itself or when he's sober enough.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Mike drives to Jeffrey's house to fight him over Sandy, but quickly desists when he realizes Jeffrey is involved in something far more sinister.
  • Laughing Mad: Frank breaks into a fit of giggles near the end while shooting at what he believes is Jeffrey. The laughs are quickly replaced by screams when he learns that Jeffrey isn't there.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Blonde Girl Next Door Sandy vs. brunette Femme Fatale Dorothy.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Jeffrey is attracted by both Sandy and Dorothy. Sandy has a boyfriend, Mike, but is attracted by Jeffrey. Dorothy has a husband, is forced into a relationship with Frank and is attracted by Jeffrey. Frank, in addition to being attracted by Dorothy, is also heavily implied to be attracted by Jeffrey and Ben.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Jeffrey, in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it-moment.
  • Mind Screw: While it's quite lax in comparison to some of Lynch's other work, the more surreal elements of the film (namely the multiple dream sequences) are quite bizarre.
  • Monster Clown: Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" (or "CANDY COLORED CLOWN!!!", as Frank refers to it) 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.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The morning after having violent sex with Dorothy, hitting her on several occasions, Jeffrey weeps, horrified by his actions.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Jeffrey dreaming Frank's nice face.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Booth beats Jeffrey nearly to death in one scene.
  • No Indoor Voice: Guess who.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: While Jeffrey is horrified by Frank's sexual and emotional abuse of Dorothy, she throws him into a similar position at one later point when she forces him to beat her. The implications of him going down a similar path deeply disturb Jeffrey.
    "You're like me…"
  • 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?
    Jeff: Heineken.
    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: Jeffrey 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.
  • Suburban Gothic: This suburban town is home to drug dealing/human trafficking operation.
  • Titled After the Song: The title is taken from the 1963 Bobby Vinton song of the same name.
  • Unusual Euphemism: How Dorothy describes Jeffrey having sex with her: "He put his disease in me."
  • Vader Breath: Frank breathes deeply and inhales a drug through a gas mask when he is about to do something evil.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Frank loses it and starts firing his gun at random when he realizes that Jeffrey has tricked him. Not that he was all that stable to begin with.
  • Villainous Friendship: By a loose definition of "friend", anyway, Ben is the closest Frank has to a positive relationship with anyone in the whole movie by a LONG shot. Frank clearly has a lot of respect for Ben, positively calling him "one suave fucker" and demanding his lackeys and Jeffrey give him a toast. Even when playing "In Dreams" triggers... something in Frank, he doesn't lash out at Ben. He just turns it off and changes the subject. Ben, for his part, shows no outward fear towards him and at least tolerates his presence.
  • 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.
  • Visual Innuendo: The film is rife with phallic symbolism.
    • The intro sequence includes a film being watched In-Universe; all we see of it is a close-up of a gun.
    • After Jeffrey's dad has a stroke, his dog begins aggressively licking at the stream of water shooting out of his hose.
    • Overlap with Phallic Weapon; Dorothy forces Jeffrey to undress and fellates him, all while threatening him with a knife.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Ben's fate is unknown by the end of the movie, though considering that Don Jr. is safely returned to his mother, it's likely he was either arrested, killed, or ran off.
  • WPUN: Lumberton's radio callsign is WOOD; as the town's name implies, their culture revolves around lumber.

And I still can see blue velvet through my tears...