Blue Velvet is a 1986 American mystery film written and directed by David Lynch. The movie exhibits elements of both film noir and surrealism. The film features Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Laura Dern. The title is taken from the 1963 Bobby Vinton song of the same name. Although initially detested by some mainstream critics, the film is now widely acclaimed, and earned Lynch his second Academy Award nomination for Best Director. As an example of a director casting against the norm, Blue Velvet is also noted for re-launching Hopper’s career and for providing Rossellini with a dramatic outlet beyond the work as a fashion model and a cosmetics spokeswoman for which she had until then been known.
After the commercial and critical failure of Lynch’s Dune (1984), he made attempts at developing a more “personal story”, somewhat characteristic of his surreal style he displayed in his debut Eraserhead (1977). The screenplay of Blue Velvet had been passed around multiple times in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with many major studios declining it because of its strong sexual and violent content. The independent studio De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, which was owned at the time by Italian film producer Dino De Laurentiis, agreed to finance and produce the film. Since its initial theatrical release, Blue Velvet has achieved cult status, significant academic attention and is widely regarded as one of Lynch’s finest works, alongside Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive (2001). It is also seen by many critics as representing a modern-day version of film-noir, “neo-noir”, present in many thrillers from the early 1980s to the mid 1990s. Blue Velvet is frequently considered to be David Lynch’s best work and was ranked as one of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time by Entertainment Weekly in 1999.
The film centers on college student Jeffrey Beaumont (MacLachlan), who, returning from visiting his ill father in the hospital, comes across a human ear in a field in his hometown of Lumberton. He proceeds to investigate the ear with help from a high school student, Sandy Williams (Dern), who provides him with information and leads from her father, a local police detective. Jeffrey’s investigation draws him deeper into his hometown’s seedy underworld, and sees him forming a sexual relationship with the alluring torch singer Dorothy Vallens (Rossellini), and uncovering psychotic criminal Frank Booth (Hopper), who engages in drug abuse, kidnapping, and sexual violence.
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns to his logging home town of Lumberton from Oak Lake College after his father (Jack Harvey) suffers a near fatal stroke. While walking home from the hospital, he cuts through a vacant lot and discovers a severed ear. Jeffrey takes the ear to Police Detective John Williams (George Dickerson), through whom he meets the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). She tells him details about the ear case and a suspicious woman, Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) who may be connected to the case. Increasingly curious, Jeffrey enters Dorothy’s apartment by posing as an exterminator, and while Dorothy is distracted by a man (Fred Pickler) dressed in a yellow suit at her door (whom Jeffrey later refers to as the Yellow Man), Jeffrey steals her spare key.
Jeffrey and Sandy attend Dorothy’s nightclub act at the Slow Club, in which Dorothy sings “Blue Velvet,” and leaves early so Jeffrey can sneak into her apartment to snoop. He hurriedly hides in a closet when she returns home. However, Dorothy, wielding a knife, finds him and threatens to hurt him. Thinking his curiosity is merely sexual and aroused by his voyeurism, Dorothy makes Jeffrey undress at knifepoint and begins to fellate him before their encounter is interrupted by a knock at the door, and Dorothy hides Jeffrey in the closet. From there, he witnesses the visitor, Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), inflict his bizarre sexual proclivities — which include inhaling an unidentified gas, dry humping, and sadomasochism — upon Dorothy. Frank is an extremely foul-mouthed, violent sociopath whose orgasmic climax is a fit of both pleasure and rage. Frank has kidnapped Dorothy’s husband and son to force her to perform sexual favors. When Frank leaves, a sad and desperate Dorothy tries to seduce Jeffrey again and demands that he hit her, but when he refuses, she loses sexual interest and asks to be left alone. When Jeffrey moves to leave, she asks him to stay, though he leaves anyway.
Jeffrey relays his experience to an eagerly listening Sandy, who in turn tells him of a wonderful dream she had about robins that she interprets as a hopeful sign of some upcoming improvement for humanity. It is clear that Jeffrey and Sandy are attracted to each other, though Sandy has a boyfriend.
Jeffrey again visits Dorothy’s apartment and she tells him that though she knows nothing about him she has been yearning for him. The scene changes to one of Jeffrey’s attending another of Dorothy’s performances at the Slow Club, where she sings the same song. At the club, Jeffrey spots Frank in the audience fondling a piece of blue-velvet fabric he cut from Dorothy’s robe. Jeffrey follows Frank and spends the next few days spying on him. Shortly afterwards, two men that Jeffrey calls the Well-Dressed Man and the Yellow Man exit an industrial building that Frank frequently goes to. Jeffrey concludes the men are criminal associates of Frank. Jeffrey tells his new findings to Sandy and the two briefly kiss, though she feels uncomfortable about going any further. Jeffrey immediately visits Dorothy again and the two have sex. When he refuses to hit her, though, she pressures him, becoming more emotional. In a blind rage he knocks her backwards and is instantly horrified, but Dorothy derives pleasure from it.
Afterwards, Frank catches Dorothy and Jeffrey together and forces them both to accompany him to the apartment of Ben (Dean Stockwell), a suave dandy, partner in crime (Ben is holding Dorothy’s son) and drug dealer. In a bizarre but now iconic scene, Ben lip-syncs a performance of Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams”, sending Frank into maudlin sadness, then rage. Frank takes Jeffrey to a lumber yard and when he molests Dorothy, Jeffrey punches him. Frank’s cronies drag Jeffrey out of the car and Frank kisses Jeffrey’s face, psychologically intimidates Jeffrey, and then savagely beats him to the overture of “In Dreams”. Jeffrey wakes the next day at the same place and walks home, where he is overcome with conflicting emotions, chief among them, guilt and despair. He goes to the police station, where he shockingly notices that Sandy’s father’s police partner is the Yellow Man — an officer named Lieutenant Detective Gordon. Later at Sandy’s home, her father is amazed by Jeffrey’s story, but warns Jeffrey to stop his amateur sleuthing lest he endanger himself and the investigation. After attending a dance party where they kiss and profess their love for each other, Jeffrey and Sandy are tailed on their way home. Fearing the follower is Frank, Jeffrey is relieved to discover that it is only Sandy’s jealous ex-boyfriend. A confrontation is averted when the group finds a naked and distressed Dorothy on Jeffrey’s front lawn. Barely conscious, Dorothy calls Jeffrey “My lover” and through this reveals her intimacy with Jeffrey, causing an upset Sandy to slap Jeffrey, although she later forgives him.
Jeffrey insists on returning to Dorothy’s apartment and tells Sandy to send the police there, including her father, immediately. At Dorothy’s apartment, Jeffrey finds Dorothy’s husband who is dead from a gunshot to the head and identifiable by his missing ear, as well as a bloodied Yellow Man. The Yellow Man is standing rather still and seems to be in a catatonic state, having been apparently lobotomized by a bullet. When Jeffrey tries to leave, he sees the Well-Dressed Man coming up the stairs and recognizes him as Frank in disguise. Jeffrey talks to Detective Williams, Sandy’s father, over the Yellow Man’s police radio, but lies about his location inside the apartment. Frank enters the apartment and brags about hearing Jeffrey’s location over his own police radio. While Frank searches for him in the wrong room, Jeffrey retrieves the Yellow Man’s gun and hides in the same closet he hid during his first visit to the apartment. Frank fires sporadically, killing the Yellow Man, and when he opens the closet door, Jeffrey shoots him through the head. Detective Williams, gun drawn, enters with Sandy a moment later. Jeffrey and Sandy now go ahead with their relationship and note the unusual appearance of robins in their town. A montage sequence ends the film, which shows Dorothy and her son reunited.
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First Published: Feb 1, 2012 – Last Updated: Apr 13, 2013