David Lynch’s 1986 film ‘Blue Velvet’ is an American neo-noir mystery film, which was both written and directed by him. In his film, Blue Velvet, Lynch uses various Freudian notions of oedipal conflict, dreams and concepts of repression and internal conflict to display the connection between his characters. The characters in the film both subvert and reinforce these archetypes and this essay will demonstrate these psychoanalytic theories to a character analysis in Lynch’s Blue Velvet. The opening scene of Blue velvet the audience is bombarded with imagery of the ‘ideal’ perfect suburban American neighbourhood as the scenery is dominated by a picturesque blue sky, clean white picket fences and children are lead across the road by a uniformed crossing guard. This introductory scene displays somewhat of a benevolent authority and demonstrations of a superego; people in town appear to be responsible, friendly and moral. The camera then pans from this idyllic scene to one that is complete opposite; to a grotesque scene deep into the ground revealing a crowd of black angry insects. They are the evil that lurks beneath the surface of our lives.
In a Freudian analysis it is a signifier of the struggle between the Id and the superego. The insects are also a metaphor for the corrupt characters, so not everything is as perfect as the first minute would suggest. This clip basically sums up the whole film and this contrast seems particularly ironic.
As the protagonist, Jeffery Beaumont gets more involved with the manipulative and haunted Dorothy, the line between good and evil is minimised. After a few sexual encounters between the two where she is predominately in control and exerts violence to gain a fraction of power that was taken away from her by the villain Frank, she asks Jeffery to hurt her. Initially he refuses but that all changes as he hits her in a fit of rage as retaliation for doing the same to him. This scene changes the morality of the fil significantly as Jeffery gives in full to his Id, the animal sounds in the background incorporated show the animalistic side of him being unleashed. The day after he feels remorseful due to his facts towards Dorothy which is contrasted by the darkness of night versus the sunny, there is a clear struggle between his superego and Id: we see short flash backs of Jeffery hitting Dorothy interspersed with image of him crying in the present. However, feminists critiqued it as “postmodernist misogyny”: an exploitative portrait of a terrorised masochist. Layton, 1994.
Frank and Dorothy’s play contains elements of a dysfunctional mother-son Oedipus fantasy. However, the more gripping Oedipus theme is Jeffery himself. One way in which this can be considered in retrospect to Jefferies character is his Oedipal experience begins when his father was incapacitated which draws him back to his hometown to take his father’s role, in both his father’s business and at home. He then later finds a severed human ear, which becomes an unresolved issue for Jeffery and causes him distress. The castrated ear is symbolic of his castration anxiety. There are many interpretations that can be made about the Freud’s Oedipus complex, another construal is when Jeffery’s father has a stroke in the opening scene, he ceases to have any authority or sway in his son’s life as he is out of the picture after that. His mother is not a powerful character. So, when Jeffery leads himself into this criminal surreal world: encountering Dorothy and Frank who are damaged and pure evil respectively, they become his twisted parents, initiating him from innocence to experience in a Blakean way.
One of Freuds most controversial theories is the Oedipus complex which Blue velvet can be conceived through. According to Sigmund Freud, during the phallic stage of the psychosexual stages, a child experiences sexual feelings for the mother and realises that his mother doesn’t belong entirely to him, this makes him want to kill his father as he views him as a rival for the mother’s affection. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Oedipus-complex According to Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, called it the symbolic relation, as this relation does not represent the truth; Jeffery’s symbolic father isn’t an enemy but is a symbol of a rival subject, as of Frank’s sexual indulgencing and possession of Dorothy.
The child does not have an objective way of thinking on his father and his father is a symbol for losing the mother, the true situation is called by Lacan ‘The real relation’. During this stage boy’s experience castration anxiety, which Dorothy threatens Jeffery with in the film. http://csmt.uchicago.
edu/glossary2004/symbolicrealimaginary.htm In the film Dorothy is presented as Jeffery’s mother from a Freudian perspective, we see this when Mike asks Jeffery “is this your mother?”, which makes the sexual relationship between the two hypothetically incestuous. The film ends with Jeffery killing Frank his symbolic father which completes the Oedipus. This symbolic relationship is presented to us when Frank tells Jeffery that he is ‘like’ him, also both Frank and Jeffery’s real father inhale gas (obviously for different reasons). Freud theorised that the Oedipus complex ends when the child identities with the same sex parent and represses its sexual instincts, if the relationship with the parents is loving and traumatic then the child transitions through the stage with no problems. However, in the presence of trauma, an ‘infantile neurosis’ occurs that is a sign of similar reactions during the child’s adult life. https://www.britannica.
com/topic/Oedipus-complex Dorothy and Frank engage in behaviours which Freud describes as sadism and masochism. Sadism is a form of sexual perversion in which sexual arousal is achieved with affliction of pain on others. Masochism is a form of sexual behaviour in which individuals derives satisfaction from the receiving of pain infliction. Freud believed that such aggression was an innate part of male sexuality. According to Freud, the tendency to inflict and receive pain during intercourse is due to an incomplete or abnormal psychological development in early childhood. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201408/the-psychology-sadomasochism In Blue velvet, the character of Frank booth is first introduced when Dorothy speaks to him on the phone, during this phone call the audience can feel the tension between the two.
When he arrives, Dorothy puts on her blue velvet dressing-gown, which we soon learn is apart of a sadistic love-making ritual which has obviously been staged before. http://ncadjarmstrong.com/year-3-postmodern-moving/babara_creed_blue_velvet.pdf When he first arrives at her apartment you instantly get an insight into his menacing, controlling and sadist character. His first monologue to Dorothy was telling her to “shut up!” and to call him “daddy”, the ambiance in the scene was highlighted by lowered lights, a lit candle and a chair placed in front of the sofa. Frank goes on to say, “now it’s dark” and continued by a sigh of relief it seems.
Dorothy then proceeds to sit on the chair and spread open her legs, followed by his orders to for her “show it” to him. After instructing her not to look at him, he takes out his oxygen mask and breaths into it. During an interview with David Letterman, Dennis Hopper (actors who plays Frank Booth) claimed that the drug that his character Frank kept inhaling was amyl nitrite, which is an angina medication used recreationally as an inhalant in the disco/club scene, that which is often used to induce a euphoric state of mind and even enhance sexual experiences. https://www.
youtube.com/watch?v=HYi81hhQ6p0 http://www.talktofrank.com/drug/poppers Franks insistence on Dorothy calling him ‘daddy’ is measure of his superiority over her, which is later on contradicted when he refers to himself as ‘baby’ which suggests his vulnerability and inferiority. This is a clear utilisation of Freud’s concept of the Oedipus complex. The child, in this case Frank, exhibits a sexual desire towards Dorothy (of the opposite sex) who he refers to as ‘mommy’ several times. As children get older and mature the Oedipus complex dissipates as they’re taught that it is shameful and wrong to crave sexual relations with their parents, which according to Freud is replaced with something called “wish fulfilment”.
Wish fulfilment is to be big, powerful, or simply in someone else’s shoes. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/wish-fulfillment Frank has not transcended the psychosexual stages of development, as even in his adult life he still desires his mother and we can only assume that during his childhood he desires his mother. One could presume that, perhaps in early childhood, Frank experienced a form of dissatisfaction where his mother did not meet his childhood needs on some level. As a result, Frank seeks substitution in others: “I’ll fuck anything that moves”, but the “wish-fulfilment” never seems to be attained. The violence that he portrays could suggest that his real mother could have physically or psychologically abused him, as his frustrations towards females and his mother is apparent.
During the sex scene, the camera angle focuses only on Dorothy’s face after Frank shouts at her not to “look” at him. This suggests shame from wanting a sexual relationship with his ‘mother’. The entire scene between the two leaves the audience feeling that Frank is trying to re-enact a scene from the dark corners of his mind, which suggest he might be suffering from psychoneurosis. Freuds postulated existence of the unconscious mind suggest that it holds all our repressed thoughts, memories and feelings which are deemed unacceptable to the conscious part of the mind. These repressed contents are typically sexual or aggressive desires or even painful repressed memories of a childhood emotional trauma.
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sigmund-Freud The film blue velvet, is an exploration of the unconscious as Lynch focuses on manifestations of characters fantasies and fears. During the opening scene the camera goes there is a close of a severed ear, which symbolises the key into the unconscious mind. The camera then goes into the (left) ear in the field and emerges from Jeffery’s ear (right) at the end as he lounges in the sun. This suggests that majority of the movie takes place in his unconscious mind. Additionally, the conscious mind which is our reality is presented as the day and the unconscious is presented as the night.
During the day time, the film follows a normal day in life compared to the evening/night were the strange characters start to emerge and eerie events take place. For example, Frank booth find comfort in the absence of light, as he repeats several times throughout the film “now it’d dark”, as if to communicate his psychological comfort and familiarity with the unconscious. In Blue velvet, Jeffery asks Sandy Williams (daughter of local police detective) if she likes Heineken, she answers no, but tells him that her dad likes Bud. Frank, later adds that the only drink that he will drink is Pabst Blue ribbon. If these three different brands o beer were taken as personality cues, in relation to Freuds theory of personality, then we can get an idea of what each character is liker and how they represented in the film. In this fil, the Pabst represents the Id, the Heineken represents the ego and the Budweiser represents the super ego.
According to Freud, the ego is the psychological executive of personality and tends to act like a trail judge between the Id and the superego. In blue velvet, once Jeffery finds the severed ear, he set out on the path to unsolved the mystery. During his journey he begins to struggle between two forces, he responds to the Id (Frank) by following through with the mystery but also kneels to the demands of the superego (Sandy) as he tries to shield her from the dangers of the underworld. Heineken is a mainstream European beer that is popularly commercialised in North America. So, its not completely foreign but also isn’t too familiar, its lies somewhere in between – like the ego. https://www.
psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201702/psychosexual-stages-freud-s-theory-personality The superego, is the social and moral of personality. Sandys father, detective Williams (George Dickerson) acts out the role of an authority figure in the film. He represents the morality standards that are present in us, such as concepts of good and bad.
Firstly, he is a good father to sandy as he allows her to date Jeffery who is older than her, however he also has a dark side as he knows that his partner is a bad cop but doesn’t do anything about it, he only tells Jeffery that police work can be ‘horrible’. Lie the Id he, also has ways of manipulating the ego to win him over. Frank Booth personifies the unconscious Id, which is the biological basis of personality, which contains the instincts Thanatos (the aggressive/death instinct) and Libido (the sex drive). Frank’s personality is violent and instinctual which as a result enslaves him. Pabst is also seen as a working man’s beer and for misfits such as Frank. http://www.bfi.org.
uk/news-opinion/sight-sound-magazine/comment/through-bottle-darkly-blue-velvets-freudian-beers The psychoanalytic film theory is a is a school of academic thought that evokes of the concepts of psychoanalysts of Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan. Jacques Lacan, a theoretical psychoanalyst. The theory is separated in two waves, the fist occurred in the 1960s/1970s and the second wave occurred in the 1980s/1990s. The psychoanalytic theories believe that like dreams, cinema provides a medium for expressing desire, memory and trauma and functions as a significant cultural vehicle for structuring our individual desires and giving them a (highly visual) language for expressing, thus it has an ideological function.
Dreams can be considered analogues to dreams and qualify as manifestations of the unconscious. The unconscious of the film maker and spectator. Cinema mimes both mind and the world. This theory believes that cinema is the unconscious is structured as a language. In 1986, David lynch both writes and directs his film Blue Velvet. According to the Psychoanalytic film theory, due to this being written by David Lynch himself, this can be interpreted as him expressing his unconscious thoughts through the art of cinema. So, By the end of the film, a resolution is satisfied as the camera tracks out of Jeffery’s ear, signifying the return to ordinary life.
In the final scene there is a close of a robin with a beetle in its beak, it shows that opposite forces will always continue to engage with each together. In this film, Lynch manages to capture the beauty and mystery of the mind and all its counterparts.