Is Blue Velvet an ode to Sigmund Freud and his theory of psychoanalysis? It seems so, but I feel it’s an ode to cinematic surrealism in its simplest form. We’ve heard a lot about the Le Style du Cinéma Lynchien and Blue Velvet is one fine example.
Surfacing as a simple story, yet carrying heavy themes, Blue Velvet might have a case of being David Lynch’s most accomplished work. It’s a mammoth statement because of Lynch’s pedigree as a storyteller, but we’re really not that far off. There’s of course the sentimental journey of The Elephant Man (1980), schizoid reality of Lost Highway (1997), and the dreamy myriads of sub-consciousness in Mulholland Drive (2001) to contend. Let’s not forget the simple journey in The Straight Story (1999) or the dreary Eraserhead (1977) – all classics – ornamenting Lynch’s plethora of work.
Deep rooted in sexuality, with violence, treachery, abuse, and the dreaded charms of the underworld summing up the movie’s themes, Lynch sets up the mood by showing the dismay of underground insects in one of his most acclaimed shots. A spiraling secret in a calm looking town that appears to be an ideal summer location only serves as an illusion for what’s hidden layers within: something disturbing, yet fascinating. Behind the lulls of such a sweet place though, an underbelly of malicious insects represents all that’s wrong in society. That could be said for any society, but in this case – Lynch sets the milieu in Lumberton.
Blue Velvet is a neo-noir film that borrows as much from Alfred Hitchcock as much as it does from gothic literature. A surrealist drama, 9 years after Eraserhead highlighted latent tendencies within a dystopian city and much before the dreamlike chaos of Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet has tinges of both movies – the mechanics of Eraserhead and the intoxication of Mulholland Drive. Unlike the said movies though, Blue Velvet is awake and aware; it’s fathomable – asserting consciousness in a stratum filled with motifs, symbols, and what could arguably be the simple theme of purity against pollution.
What you find underneath this pure vs. impure theme are the three components of Freud’s psychology. Those would be the psychic apparatus of Id, Ego, and Superego. The characters in Blue Velvet represent Id, Ego, and Superego at some level, and this shapes Blue Velvet as a psychological thesis on the mind, the dilutions of mind as a result of the trepidations within society.
Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth signifies the Id factor. His raw, violent, instinctual personality enslaves him – giving us a vibrant example of the functioning of Id. Kyle McLachlan’s portrayal of Jeffrey Beaumont represents the superego—the morality standards that are present in us—exhibiting concepts of good and bad. The mediator now, the ego, would largely fall into the laps of Laura Dern as the realistic and lovable Sandy Williams.
The vivaciously painful Dorothy Vallens (played by Isabella Rossellini) is the special element in this alchemy of mind. She completes the mysterious saga with her repressed and painful joie de vivre hovering between her strive towards the superego of Jeffrey, yet trapped in the cage of the id symbolized by Booth.
Essentially, Blue Velvet is a gang war between gangs of our mind that promise to devastate the world outside, with various shades like in 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 mostly explores the Oedipus complex through Blue Velvet. Whether it is Booth in search for sexual gratification from his roleplaying mother, Dorothy, or Jeffrey seeking the same end of motherly affection, albeit subtle and emotional, this surreal drama explores psychoanalysis under the masks of crime and mystery.
Dorothy Vallens epitomizes mind’s allures. Her character is rich, suicidal, and driven by introspective goals. This makes Blue Velvet an experiment on objectification that women like Vallens become under the possession of dangerous minds. She degrades from the highs of a flying Robin in the sky to the derailment of bugs torturing her psyche, hence, transforming her from a real mother to a victimized masochist who pleasures in being tortured, maltreated, and dumped. That is, however, only until she stumbles upon a superego (Jeff) who comes to her life as a blessing and corrects her state, whilst restoring her prestige as a flying Robin free and in union with her true self.
The background score (Angelo Badalamenti) is soulful, as in the case of most movies from the director. They harmonize the visuals and narratives, enhance the mood, and emphasize in authenticating the central theme. In Blue Velvet, it might go a notch up—it configures the movie as a beautiful accord of visuals, sound, and story. Beautiful does sound like a strange word to use in the context of the movie. A more accurate term would be infatuation—towards the movie and towards the characters alive in it.
At one point, we travel across a Catholic Church echoing liturgical hymns, as Jeff and Sandy talk about the repercussions of their findings, which leads to the much-anticipated embrace between the ego and the superego, a perfect kiss – another neatly done subplot in the story. The slow and methodical build of their romance gives the movie a repressed flaming feel. Flaming it is, as Lynch cuts back to rapid flames flickering off the candle from time to time to highlight obscurity of situations and mutability of people.
Would it be appropriate to call our central character a voyeur though? I think it would. From his voyeuristic suggestions sneaking into Vallens’ apartment to his crunching curiosity to get deeper into this mystical woman, her world, the character of Jeff has its doses of voyeurism. Sandy even refers to this by asking if Jeff is a detective or a pervert. Certainly neither. Jeff is the moral pillar who is shaky and dejected himself, but his superego functions in regular intervals to make him a soothing influence to all those around him, except those driven by their perennial brute instincts (Id).
Blue Velvet is just a polarizing movie 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-real point of view, Blue Velvet is hands down the best fusion of psychological representation in a crime environment. That in turn makes it a compelling mystery.
Blue Velvet is a blend of cinemas of the 40s and 50s, the psychoanalytic movement, the paroxysm of reality overriding conscience, and the secrecies that lie within societies. Despite being heavily loaded, Blue Velvet is amongst the simplest stories from Lynch. It’s not as arid as Eraserhead or as anomalous as Lost Highway. Neither is it as ambiguous as Inland Empire (2006), or as distant as Mulholland Drive.
Different to the Elephant Man’s realism, and a step above the recklessness present in Wild at Heart (1990), Blue Velvet is a modest story enhanced by its abstractness. It’s the second installment of the surreal series that started with Eraserhead, heightened with Blue Velvet, evolved with Lost Highway, and climaxed with Mulholland Dr. These four movies form a fundamental study of psychology in a complete abstract, ethereal way.
Ultimately, Blue Velvet is a brutal burying of the pseudo-intellectual drumming that forces us to accept life in an exclusive pattern shaped by society, family, and circumstances. As a movie, it’s a demolishment derby, and one of the finest from the most perplexing filmmaker of his generation. The elements of noir make love with the depths of surrealism to produce a psychological horror that frightens, disturbs, and bewitches you. A movie that’s been a constant object of adulation for film enthusiasts and is one of the most captivating mysteries, it deserves multiple viewings to absorb and appreciate it because it just so happens to be that damn good.
That damn good.