Blue Velvet ★★★★★

"Why are there people like Frank?". This is the question Jeffery Beaumont asks half way into the film, but maybe the more pertinent question is HOW are there people like Frank? That's the question the film explores, and the answer is a big fat finger pointing right back at us. Since Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, there have been an eye-rolling number of inferior "Middle America isn't as picture-perfect as it seems!" imitators, but none explore this concept with as much precision and power as Lynch. Yes, this film is quick to show us that underneath the roses and picket fences there is a darker underbelly, but what is most challenging about this idea is that it asks us directly how much we can justify the "good life" when there is so much violence around us. How much are we willing to bury our head in the sand because...why? Because things like that don't happen in places like this? And because if we acknowledge violence perhaps we will have to acknowledge that we are complicit?

When this violence happens to a woman like Dorothy Valens, how do people react? "That's not my business"? "It's tragic, but it happens"? "Thank god we don't know anyone like that"? "She was asking for it"? It's much easier to write it off as an anomaly, but a lot harder to admit that women like Dorothy really do exist - and are failed by everyone around them. Jeffery Beaumont, the should-be hero of the film, is really anything but. And he fails Dorothy deeply, sleeping with her readily and refusing to step in when she is assaulted by Frank. Sandy has him pegged: "I'm not sure if you're a detective or a pervert". He's actually a little of both. He might say he wants to help, and he might even believe it, but he admits that what he loves is the mystery. Don't we all? Don't we all love scandal and intrigue, just like the women watching noir films on the television? This is what Jeffery is looking for. Scandal and excitement. He's fuelled by a misplaced desire to be a detective and a hero, but his weaknesses poke holes in his facade. He might gun down the bad guy and try to rescue Dorothy, but by then the damage has been done. His mask his slipped; he has hit Dorothy. He has looked into the darkness of the night and seen himself looking back. As Frank tells him, they are the same.

At the core of the story is the tragic complexity of Dorothy, the face of the abused that we must acknowledge. She is a person without agency, the only thing she feels she has to give is her body. She is broken to the point that she believes she deserves it. She begs Jeffery to hit her because, as she's been told repeatedly, through words and through action, that is all she's good for. We see more of her than this. We see sadness, longing and anger, we see her desire for some distant dream, be it a dream of freedom, of her son, or of just being released from her nightmare. We long to see who she was before this happened to her, and we long to see her free of Frank. Sandy, her mother, and her boyfriend in their short moments with her, all treat Dorothy with immediate apprehension. She's not from their world. They don't want to associate with somebody like that. They fear her, or, in the case of Jeffery, fetishise her. She deserves better than what everyone in the film is giving her, and that includes Jeffery. It is heartbreaking, and troubling to watch, but it is key to the commentary that runs throughout the film: How do we keep failing Women like Dorothy?

So troubling is it, that no ending can possibly feel sweet. As a result, the reward at the end of blue skies, of Jeffery sitting in a garden and watching the Robins, feels so utterly hollow and false. It feels neither earned nor genuine, and that is purposeful. When Sandy speaks of her dream of Robins coming to rescue the world from darkness, you can almost see it. It feels close, and real, and the intent and goodness of the speech is overwhelming. But like the final scenes of the film, it is a dream. It's all a dream, and now that we've seen the nightmares lurking in the dark summer nights, the dream won't ever feel quite as sweet.