In the early moments of "Blue Velvet" we see idealized small town images - blooming red roses and immaculate white picket fences - accompanied by the sounds of the gentle Bobby Vinton pop tune that gives the film its title. If you sense something unsettling about this perfection, that's only appropriate. "Blue Velvet" is a David Lynch film, you see, and it won't be long at all before a clean-cut college student comes across a rotting ear in an open field.
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) is the boy who finds the ear, and Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) is the blonde policeman's daughter who assists Jeffrey when he decides to investigate the truth about his disturbing discovery. Sandy and Jeffrey link the ear to night club singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) and later, a deranged man named Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).
"I don't know if you're a detective or a pervert," Sandy tells Jeffrey when he decides to sneak into Dorothy's apartment. As Jeffrey becomes sexually entangled with Dorothy, we can only cast similar doubt.
It's true that "Blue Velvet"'s dark mysteries have the power to repulse. Voyeurism, rape, torture, and murder are all key to the plot. Yet the film is also spellbinding in its beauty. Vibrant colors and ominous shadows offer gorgeous contrast - call it Technicolor noir - and the film is rife with unforgettable imagery. Moments big and small, from MacLachlan playing with a child's birthday hat to Dean Stockwell's show-stopping lip-synch of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams", are as haunting as anything you will see at the movies anywhere.
The acting is top-notch. MacLachlan is just right as the lost innocent Jeffrey, and Hopper shreds the screen as his depraved counterpoint Frank. Rossellini's performance as Dorothy is devastating and extremely courageous: this is her defining moment as an actress.
"Blue Velvet" is perhaps the quintesstential David Lynch film. His strange humor and painterly gift for creating stunning images are prominently on display, and the film illustrates Lynch's contradictory impulses toward unbridled nastiness and aw-shucks sweetness like no other has. After all these years, "Blue Velvet" is still a shocker, and deciding how one feels about it is still a challenge. It is a film to be considered and then reconsidered, visited and revisited, the kind of film that will never fade away. For serious cinephiles, then, "Blue Velvet" is a film to be cherished.