Is Blue Velvet David Lynch’s ode to Sigmund Freud? It seems so, but what I feel after watching Blue Velvet for the umpteenth time, not by any shape literally, is that it’s an ode to filmmaking. We’ve heard a lot about the Lynchien Style immortalized by David Lynch. Surfacing as a simple story, with a dense theme hovering beneath the ocean of the mind, Blue Velvet might be Lynch’s most accomplished work and that is a mammoth statement because of the pedigree of David Lynch as a storyteller. Today, this style of film may have received the Lynchien title, but back in 1986—when the movie hit the screens after a tug of war, Blue Velvet was far from any staple, signature movie. It was a deep rooted sexual movie with hard tones of violence, misconduct, abuse, dystopia, and the dreaded charms of an underworld that, as the central character validates, a spiraling secret in a calm looking town that may be the ideal summer location, but layers and layers within, it’s the hub of all that is wrong in society.
Blue Velvet is a neo-noir film that borrows much from Alfred Hitchcock as much as it does from the gothic literature of the world. A surrealist drama along the lines of Eraserhead (1977) and Mulholland Dr. (2001)—much after Eraserhead portrayed surrealism and internal tension at its zenith, and much before the ardently dreamy and dreary Mulholland Dr.—Blue Velvet has tinges of Eraserhead and the intoxication of Mulholland Drive. Packaging it as a complete neo-noir, surreal drama that is not only awake in the subconscious state but is fully fathomable from a conscious perspective, this special story asserts the liberties of human psychology and consciousness as its cornerstone comprising of a stratum filled with motifs, symbols, and the simple theme of right vs. wrong. This right vs. wrong chapter is hardly as simple as it sounds though. What you find underneath this right vs. wrong theme is the three stages of Freud’s human mind and the psychic apparatus of the Id, Ego, and Superego. The characters in Blue Velvet all represent the Id, Ego, and Superego at some level, which ideally shapes Blue Velvet as a psychological thesis of human mind and conditions around the trepidations of society.
Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth signifies the Id of the human mind. His raw, violent, instinctual methods that enslave him have the vibrancy of id written all over it. Kyle MacLauchlan’s portrayal of Jeffrey Beaumont represents the superego—the master moralist of our mind exhibiting the concepts of right and wrong in us, whilst the mediator, the ego, could largely fall into the laps of Laura Dern as the realistic and lovable Sandy Williams, the daughter of the small time Detective, Mr. Williams (George Dickerson). The special element in all of this, the whole of mind and consciousness, Femme Fatale Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) completes the mysterious saga with her repressed and painful joie de vivre hovering between her strive to the superego of Jeffrey, yet trapped in the cage of the id of Frank Booth. Essentially, Blue Velvet is the persuasive gang war of mental gangs promising to devastate the world outside the mind, with the various shades of painting leaving a rich impression—lasting and incongruent—in this story of a world within a world, a secretive mare within the alluring forces of sex, beauty, and poison.
Going back to Freud, David Lynch largely explores the Oedipus complex in the movie. Whether it is Booth in search for sexual gratification from his roleplaying “mother,” Dorothy Vallens, or Jeffrey seeking the same end of motherly affection albeit subtle and emotional, what you find in this surreal drama is the heights of Freudian Psychology, under the mask of noir and mystery. Dorothy Vallens epitomizes the allure of the mind and her character is rich, suicidal, and driven by her introspective goals. This makes Blue Velvet an experiment on the object that women like Vallens become under the possession of certain beings. She degrades from the highs of a flying Robin in the sky to the derailment of bugs torturing her psyche transforming her from a real mother to a victimized masochist who pleasures in being tortured, maltreated, and dumped. That is until she stumbles upon one superego that comes to her life as a blessing and corrects her state and condition, whilst restoring her prestige as the flying Robin in the sky free and in union with her inner true self.
The background score (by Angelo Badalamenti) of the movie really touched me. Every score does its job in enhancing the experience for the viewer and emphasizing in authenticating the central theme of each sequence, yet with Blue Velvet, it goes a notch up. The themes resemble the dark arts and gothic fiction. At one point, we even travel adjoining a Catholic Church echoing the liturgical hymns, when Jeffrey and Sandy talk about the repercussions of their findings leading to their much anticipated kiss, which is another facet of the story, the slow and methodical build-up of their romance, that gives a movie a certain repressed flaming identity. Flaming it is, as Lynch cuts back to rapid flames flickering off the candle from time to time to highlight the obscurity of the situation and the rigid mutability of the central characters.
Would it be appropriate to call our central character a voyeur? I think it would. From his voyeuristic suggestions sneaking into Vallens’ apartment to his crunching curiosity to get deeper into this mystical woman and the world surrounding her, the character of Jeffrey has its own doses of voyeurism. Sandy even refers to this by asking if Jeffrey is a detective or a pervert. Certainly neither, as Jeffrey is the grand moral pillar who is shaky and dejected himself, but his superego functions in regular intervals to make him a soothing influence to all those concerned in the movie, except those driven by their perennial brute instincts. Blue Velvet is just polarizing in many ways. There is an enigmatic sex Goddess in Dorothy, the antithesis of Dorothy in Sandy, and the synthesis of both in Jeffrey. Wrapping these together in an intriguing story, whilst telling the story from the intra reality of all these characters, Blue Velvet is hands down the best fusion of neo-noir films and surrealism, which in turn makes it a legendary mystery written and directed by the master storyteller, David Lynch.
Despite being heavily loaded, like a rifle, Blue Velvet is amongst the simplest stories from Lynch. It’s not as arid as Eraserhead or as distrait as Mulholland Dr. Different to the Elephant Man’s realism, and a step above Lost Highway with the surrealism drive present in its own lost highway here, Blue Velvet is a modest story enhanced by the artistry of David Lynch and is the second installment in the unofficial trilogy started with Eraserhead, heightened with Blue Velvet, and climaxed with Mulholland Dr. A blend of the 40s Cinema, the psychoanalytic movement, the paroxysm of reality overriding conscience, and the secrecy that lies not just within society in a paradoxical manner, but also within each human using the mask that would probably be similar to The Mask of Dorian Gray.
Blue Velvet is a brutal burying of the pseudo-intellectual crusade forcing us to accept life in our own exclusive platform shaped by our parents, society, and circumstances. As a movie, it’s a demolishment derby of Lynchien Cinema, and the finest perhaps from the most perplexing filmmaker of his generation. The elements of noir make love with the depths of surrealism to produce an absolutely enigmatic movie that should be the object of adulation for any film enthusiast and the one movie deserving of multiple viewings because it just so happens to be that damn good.