Towards the beginning of Blue Velvet, the camera zooms in on a severed ear that protagonist Jeffery Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) found while walking near his house. With this shot, we enter a dark, subconscious world, a world that lives beneath the surface of the suburban white picket fence houses that line the streets of Lumberton. We also see this idea of darkness lurking beneath during the opening of the movie. After Jeffery’s father collapses in his yard, we see insects crawling beneath the beautifully cultivated yard where he is working. David Lynch is not only telling us that there is darkness living on the other side of town, but that there is also darkness in our subconscious.
Analyzing and reviewing Blue Velvet is difficult; the plot is easy to discern, but there are layers of subtext that live within the movie. Blue Velvet, like other David Lynch projects, explores dark, subconscious desires and fears. Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) is a manifestation of this darkness. Frank Booth acts as an interesting foil to Jeffery Beaumont because he represents Jeffery’s dark desires. Frank even says to Jeffery, “You are me.” This dark revelation shakes Jeffery, causing him to weep in his room, lamenting the darkness that he has witnessed in himself.
Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) and Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) contrast each other. Sandy is pure and young; she is untainted by the world, protected from the darkness by her suburban home and detective father. Dorothy Vallens is a tragic figure, and unlike Sandy she is alone forced to face the darkness of the world and her darkness alone. Frank’s dark and violent desires have created a world of darkness for her. She is a victim of sexual violence and Frank’s depravity. When Jeffery enters her world, Dorothy has been broken by Frank. He has kidnapped her husband and son, cutting off her husband’s ear with scissors and regularly torturing her with his insanity and sexual violence. Dorothy, along with Frank, awakens something dark within Jeffrey. She engages him and inspires him to act on his dark impulses, something which haunts him later. On the surface, Jeffery looks innocent, but Dorothy shows him he isn’t truly innocent.
It is interesting how David Lynch blends multiple genres, creating a film that is equal parts horror, noir, and psychological thriller. Angelo Badalamenti’s score even calls back to classic film noir scores. He does this with his imagery too; the opening of the film shows an Americana landscape before he descends deeper into the world, showing urban decay and immorality. Lynch’s work consistently evokes the idea of the industrial and urban world encroaching on the idyllic lifestyle of suburban America. There is also a voyeuristic approach to his filmmaking, and that features heavily in this movie. People witness and recognize ever-growing darkness but turn a blind eye or succumb.
Dream-like and nightmarish David Lynch uses Blue Velvet to examine the dark recess of our subconscious. It is interesting to watch alongside his oeuvre because you can watch how his ideas evolve and adapt over time. Blue Velvet is an excellent and challenging neo-noir that I highly recommend everyone watching.