Sep 25 2004

Sublime Dissatisfaction: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure and David Lynch's Blue Velvet

With popularity comes banality, or perhaps the reverse is true. Film, since its inception (commencing basically as soon as Edison lost his patent stranglehold over it) has been a burgeoning art form, beginning with Griffiths, Lang, Milestone, up through the likes of Fellini and Hitchcock, and into recent times. While there is no shortage of truly fascinating films, there are overwhelmingly more "formula films." The requirement here is not to relate something interesting, not provoke thought, but instead to set up a climax, then deliver. As long as the audience has its lowest-order brain cells working, the job is done.

I encourage the reader to seek out what are categorically counterexamples to this ongoing trend: Blue Velvet and Cure. I'll try to make a case for them without dispelling the joy of discovery should the reader decide to view them.

Blue Velvet is David Lynch's masterful treatise on the familiar, the unknown, and the unknowable. His characters exist simultaneously in two worlds: the traditional picket-fence American small town and an unfathomable dark underbelly. Kyle Maclaughlin stars as Jeffrey, a man who returns to his all-American small town to visit his father in the hospital. He soon becomes involved with a mystery involving a lounge singer (Isabella Rosellini) and a police detective's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). The film's characters are archetypes: the inquisitive and industrious hero, the concerned love interest, the family from television (think Leave it to Beaver or My Three Sons).

What begins as a combination of a wholesome 50s sitcom and formulaic mystery-thriller from the serials soon becomes a truly perplexing trip into villainy. As with most of Lynch's work, we are frequently confounded by what goes on, and in this case the confusion is part of the point. At the end, instead of wrapping up nicely, we get instead a climax which we only partly understand. The deliberately contrived happy ending does not, as Paul Coughlin says "dispel the knowledge that the far more powerful images have evoked: evil does hide in the human soul; depravity is a condition of life in this world; and the irrational lurks within the ordinary."

Little known in America, Cure came to my attention only because of this review on Henry Sheehan's infrequently updated website. He does a wonderful job relating this film's fascinating attributes, and I would not presume to outdo him.