In 1943’s Shadow of a Doubt, Alfred Hitchcock scratched the surface of the banality of evil underneath the surfaces of the then-relatively-new suburbia. Set in a small town designed to look like every small town suburb, an innocent family entertains a big-city relative, Uncle Charlie, who is using the suburban house as a hideout from the cops. His namesake niece plays detective to discover the true nature of Charlie, preparing for a battle of wits while the rest of the family merrily rolls right along with the game. The suburban family is so innocent they make up macabre games to entertain themselves with the banality of evil even as they’re unknowingly harboring a murdering thief.
43 years later, David Lynch would revisit the banality of suburban evil with the landmark cult film, Blue Velvet. Where Hitchcock had evil penetrate the suburbs from the big city, Lynch observes a multi-layered universe that settled upon small town landscapes, creating class divisions that slip and slide against each other to mask cruelty and criminality at all costs. Set in Lumberton, North Carolina (Wiki informs me it counts mostly as a town of its own, and not as a suburb of Fayettesville), the peaceful bliss of suburban life is disturbed by the discovery of a severed ear. As a pair of college-aged kids play Nancy Drew over the ear, they peel back the masks of wholesome living to discover a festering underbelly that lies just across the tracks.
In its way, Blue Velvet marked a new era of David Lynch, cashing in on the soul-damaging promise of Eraserhead. Lynch’s gorgeously destructive new phase set to dissect American society as found through the middle class public, where good people discovered that corruption lay in every corner of their world. Perhaps what makes Blue Velvet so potent is the constant realization that there are millions of stories happening at any given moment, and we only have access to a handful at any given time. A few blocks away, behind his own closed door, somebody went crazy and had a standoff with the police. In another direction, somebody was slaughtered with an axe. Even in my small home town, I discovered a suburban residents with full on dungeons in their houses prone to kinky sexual behavior as displayed in Blue Velvet. These stories are not unusual, but they constantly break us out of our shell into the messy real world of humanity. The story of suburbia is a story of safety and tranquility that wipes clean any of the deviations its residents have. It’s the story of wanting to belong and fit in, at the cost of individuality. Blue Velvet aimed to destroy the sanitized image of humanity sold by suburbia.
Blue Velvet streams free on Amazon with a Starz subscription