The Beauty and Horror of Suburban America in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet



Senior Matthew Trezza watched Blue Velvet in awe and horror.

Cole Manetta-DeHaven, Staff Writer

By the year of 1986, David Lynch had established himself as one of the brightest and most creative filmmakers working in the industry.

The indie and groundbreaking hit Eraserhead, the award-nominated and critically acclaimed The Elephant Man rocked the film industry. Even even though Lynch considers his adaption of Frank Herbert’s Dune to be a personal failure of his, little did he know it would later become a cult classic among his fans. At one point George Lucas was eyeing Lynch to direct Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. 

Lynch’s artistry and craftsmanship made film audiences eager to see what he was going to do next, but nobody expected a film like Blue Velvet.

Blue Velvet would be the film that solidifies Lynch as being not only the best director working today but one of the best of his generation.

In the opening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, we are presented with pure Americana old-fashioned suburban neighborhood imagery. The passing fireman waving at the audience, little school children crossing the road as they go to school, pure green lawns, white picket fences, and beautiful flowers exude the American dream.

In the midst of all of this beauty, an elderly man watering the grass, who we later find out to be the protagonist’s father, has a seizure.

All of a sudden, Bobby Vinton’s hit song Blue Velvet playing in the background starts to fade away being replaced with a droning ambiance. 

The camera work and sound editing become distorted, and the sound of insects buzzing and nestling in the grass starts to overcome the ambiance. 

After this captivating and enchanting opening, we are finally introduced to the film’s protagonist, Jeffrey, played by Kyle MacLachlan.

Jeffrey is visiting home from college to visit his father who is currently being treated at the town’s hospital. While on a walk in a field, Jeffrey makes a shocking and bizarre discovery. Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear.

We have now entered the dark underbelly of this town.

Little do Jeffrey and the audience know where this ear will take the story.

Like anyone else, Jeffrey decides to take the ear to the police station and show it to one of the town’s detectives. Jeffrey becomes fascinated and obsessed with this case. 

Jeffrey’s obsession leads him to befriend the detective’s daughter (Sandy) played by Laura Dern. Through this new friendship, Jeffrey can acquire some information on the case.

Even though Sandy doesn’t have a lot of enough information to give to Jeffrey, she tells him something that throws him into dangerous territory.

Sandy tells Jeffrey that one of the leads on the case traces to this local singer (Dorothy Vallens) played by Isabella Rossellini.

With the help of Sandy, Jeffrey decides to enter the mysterious life of local singer Dorothy Vallens. 

Jeffrey sees that Dorothy Vallens’s life is one that is filled with emptiness, hopelessness, foreboding, and completely desolate in nature.

Dorothy is being held against her will by this gang leader named Frank Booth (played terrifying by the late and great Dennis Hopper). 

Frank currently has Vallens’s son and husband captive. We later find out that the severed ear belonged to Vallens’s husband as a warning to Dorothy to keep pleasing Franks’s needs and desires or people that she cares about will get hurt.

By entering Vallens’s life, Jeffrey now realizes the magnitude of what the severed ear contains.

When Dorothy and Frank enter the story, the style of the film completely shifts.

What starts off as a somewhat offbeat and quirky film quickly changes to the physical incarnate of the uncanny and the unearthly.

Frank and Dorothy represent the town’s abominable undersurface. For every friendly hand-waving fireman, to every white picket fence, to every group of school children crossing the road on their way to school, there’s always going to be a trail of blood and transgression that follows behind it.

As the film plays out Jeffrey starts to develop something of a relationship with Dorothy Vallens. This is one of the highlights of the film. If someone is asked to name a scene from the film off the top of their head they would most definitely mention the chemistry-filled scenes between Dorothy and Jeffrey, and how every scene that involves them is so alluring with each other.

Yes, the chemistry between Kyle MacLachlan and Isabella Rossellini isn’t romantic.

Their chemistry stands out because they can act off of each other so greatly but not romantically.

When a love scene happens between them it doesn’t really feel organic but more stiff and cold. This is one of the examples of Lynch communicating to the audience how darkness and animalistic urges can be passed down.

Vallens hasn’t felt something organic, genuine – something natural. Her whole world centers around pleasure, visceral rapture at her expense. Jeffrey doesn’t realize it but Dorothy is using him as an exit from this world.

Jeffrey has engulfed himself in the world of savagery, sadism, carnal pleasures, and total bleakness.

Sandy is the one that pulls Jeffrey out of that pit of despair. The scenes with Jeffrey and Sandy are examples of how Jeffrey can escape the darkness if he wants to. 

Dorothy and Frank are the endless pit of all the lies and cruelty that something that looks normal can contain. Whether it’s your next-door neighbor, a politician, a teacher, a salesman, or even a family member or a loved one, there is always something lurking on the inside.

Frank and his gang, Dorothy, and Sandy aren’t real characters in the sense that they have arcs.

They are the arcs. They are the beauty and horror of the world that Jeffrey lives in. Walking allegories for Jeffrey’s morals.

Something that’s urging you to go to the left instead of the right, something to put you over the edge of your morals. Lynch communicates this with Jeffrey’s odd obsession with being an investigator of some kind and throwing himself into this life of danger and excessive morals presented by Dorothy and Frank. 

Sandy is the breath of fresh air from the endless anxiety-filled escapade. How you can live in the beauty of life. 

When Blue Velvet hit theaters it gained mixed reactions from audiences.

One side of the audience thought it was just a grotesque freak show made by a sick individual while the other side thought it was an otherworldly masterpiece that showcased the purity and barbarism of suburban Americana.

Throughout the years Blue Velvet has faced more acclaim from movie watchers around the world and it’s considered to be one of David Lynch’s best.

A retelling of a classic tale of good versus evil, right and wrong, embrace a life of decency or one of unrestrained indecency.

To escape and exit the era and come out on the other side as a pure hospitable person.