Curiousity Killed the College Kid
A 1950's logging town, a man in the hospital, his son who finds an ear, the detective he brings the ear to, his daughter whose curiosity almost matches the kid's, the singer somehow connected to the mystery, the bar where she sings, and Dennis Hopper sniffing something from an unexplained gas mask. What else do you need to know about a movie like that?
Okay, sure you could know a lot more. This is Lynch's recurring theme of dark things happening under the surface of clean cut Americana. In particular, we have Kyle MacLachlan discovering Isabella Rossellini trapped as the sexual slave of Dennis Hopper - and he discovers this from hiding in her closet. Rossellini's character is kept in an agonizing position the whole time. She fears for her kidnapped husband and child, and has found Hopper's masochism not entirely unappealing. This is without a doubt a perfect setup for some difficult emotional exploration - but this is MacLachlan's story, not hers. He is discovered by Rossellini and she acts out her conflicted feelings on him.
The film is imaginatively shot, with sequences that have certainly inspired the most recent generation of filmmakers. We also have many of the trademark Lynchisms - unexplained shots of candles going out, slow motion sequences, odd oldies music, uncomfortable close ups. Regardless of what you might think of the content, this is an interesting film to watch.
Roger Ebert comes down hard on this film. I think maybe his eagerness for the film he thought was unfolding got the best of him. Ebert criticizes Lynch for returning to the innocent small town theme too often. I don't really have a problem with that. It's a fair theme, and one that relates to this being MacLachlan's story. But Ebert has a point in saying the film doesn't follow through with the Rossellini character - there are questions raised by her existence that simply are never answered, or barely even addressed for that matter - serious questions. You can argue you have questions about Dennis Hopper's character too - but he is obviously a caricature, not to be taken too seriously. But she... well, there ought to be something there to at least acknowledge the depths she's gone through. The ending for her doesn't give us any real information - the equivalent of "living happily ever after" when that seems like the most unlikely possibility.
Rossellini deserves a special award for her performance. I don't really know what the Oscar competition was like that year, but regardless of pure acting ability, hers is one of the gutsiest performances ever. There is something raw and desperate there that is undeniably palpable on screen.
There are good reasons to see this film, and good reasons to have a hard time watching it. The violence is very personal and in your face. Many movies make violence as real as possible by implying the possibility of death. In Blue Velvet, death would be a welcome relief at times. It's too bad that we don't quite get what we deserve for sitting through it all.
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