David Lynch's "Blue Velvet" was one of the most influential films of the 1980's and has been argued by many as the catalyst for independent filmmaking. In Blue Velvet, Lynch uses Freudian notions of oedipal conflict, sadism, masochism, and fetishism to exhibit the connection between characters. In this essay I will apply these psychoanalytic theories to a character analysis in Lynch's Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet "is a head-on collision between two popular genres from the 1940 s: the insipid small-town comedy and the film noir." (Ebert, 1986) In the opening scene of Blue Velvet the audience is bombarded with images of the ideal American neighbourhood. Children are lead across the road safely by a uniformed crossing guard and the scenery is a banquet of clear blue sky, clean white picket fences, blossoming red roses and yellow tulips. The camera then shifts from this idyllic picture perfect neighbourhood and penetrates deep into the ground revealing a crowd of hungry nasty black insects.
These insects act as a metaphor for the corrupt characters that feature in Blue Velvet. They are the evil that lurks beneath the surface of our life. In a Freudian analysis it is a signifier of the struggle between the Id and the Superego. These characters are introduced to us via the discovery of an ear. Close to his residence Jeffery stumbles upon a detached bodily part.
In classic Freudian psychoanalytic theory, severed body parts occurring in dreams or other images are generally symbolic of male castration. Jeffery ushers the ear to the police station and Detective Williams tells him to put the incident aside because something more serious is brewing in town. Jeffrey decides to investigate the matter himself with extra help from his new girlfriend who just happens to be the detective's daughter. The next thing you know, Jeffrey is hip-deep in trouble with his encounter with a nightclub singer and the crazy sadistic male who 'abuses' her. The nightclub singer Dorothy and the crazy male Frank engage in behaviour which Freud would describe as sadism and masochism.
Sadism is a form of sexual pervasion in which sexual arousal is achieved with the infliction of pain on others. Masochism is a form of sexual behaviour in which the individual derives satisfaction from the recieve ment of pain infliction. Freud believed that such aggression was an innate part of male sexuality. He believed it was inbuilt in males to pursue women and have sexual intercourse with them. Freud believed that sadism of the man was met by the complementary masochism of the women. In Blue Velvet Frank screams obscenities at Dorothy, beats her, inhales narcotic gas from a cylinder at his belt, and then rapes her.
Later in the film we discover that Dorothy achieves sexual arousal through Frank's sadistic behaviour. Franks sadism is meet by Dorothy's masochism. While Dorothy and Frank embrace themself in sadistic and masochistic behaviour, oedipal themes arise. In the Oedipus complex a child desires sexual intercourse with the parent of the opposite sex. Frank and Dorothy's interplay contains elements of a dysfunctional mother-son oedipal fantasy, with Frank's reference to himself as 'baby' in the seduction of his 'mother'. However, the more gripping oedipal theme is with Jeffrey himself.
"In the first scene, Jeffrey's father is overcome by what seems to be a sting preceded by the entanglement of his (garden) hose in a bush which perhaps agitates a bee. In a successive scene he is immobilized in a hospital bed, an internment that brings Jeffrey home to help with his domestic and work responsibilities. Jeffrey's oedipal experience begins with the incapacitation of his father. It is the vacancy of his father's presence that draws him into his fathers place, at the hardware store and at home." (Badalamenti, 1999) After, and because of the illness of his father, Jeffrey finds a severed human ear. The severed human ear becomes an unresolved problem for Jeffery and causes him much distress. The castrated ear is symbolic of castration anxiety.
His distress is dismissed by the male authority figures. Although it's dismissed it remains unresolved for Jeffery. The grief that accompanies his need to achieve resolution on the mystery of the detached ear is symbolic of the struggle a male faces in their resolution of the Oedipus complex. Jeffery's journey to achieving resolution on the ambiguity of the decapitated ear is comparative to the journey a young male faces in achieving resolution of their oedipal complex. In the Oedipus complex the young male transfers his love object from the breast to the mother and "designates attraction toward the mother and rivalry and hostility toward the father. It occurs during the phallic stage of the psycho-sexual development of the personality, approximately years three to five.
Resolution of the Oedipus complex is believed to occur by identification with the parent of the same sex and by the renunciation of sexual interest in the parent of the opposite sex." (Encylopedia. com, 2002) This definition of the oedipal complex can be applied to Jeffery and Dorothy's relationship. Jeffery the younger male develops sexual desires for Dorothy the older adult woman. Feelings of rivarily and hostility are directed at Frank due to Frank's sexual indulgencing and possession of Dorothy. Dorothy provokes even further oedipal tension in Jeffery. His tension is caused through his desire for the sexually available but perverse female and socially desirable female (Dorothy vs.
Sandy). In Freudian theory a Childs sexual longing for his mother leads to pain and suffering before the young male can integrate into main stream sexual practices. Jeffery's resolution of the oedipal complex is seen through the dis empowerment of the major rival for Dorothy's sexuality, Frank, and the salvation of his actual father. Frank is killed by a gunshot fired by Jeffery and Jeffery's dad is realised from hospital. Final resolution is taking Sandy as his legitimate partner and this is indicative of the formation of the super ego (i. e.
successful resolution of the Oedipus complex) Sandy signifies the socially rather than sexually desirable woman. Like the Oedipus complex, Freud also founded the idea of Fetishism. As he described it "the fetish is a substitute for the woman's (the mother's) penis that the little boy once believed in and - for reasons familiar to us - does not want to give up." - Sigmund Freud. The fetish stands in for the mothers missing phallus. The young male develops an infantile fear of losing his genital organs when he links his mothers missing phallus to fantasies of castration. The castration anxiety traumatizes the young male to the point where he provides the women with a symbolic phallus, which is typically the first or less phallic shape he sees when he adverts his eyes.
The symbolic phallus assuages his castration anxiety. The symbolic phallus becomes his fetish. "In phallic terms, the first defense, castration anxiety, is a reduction of the female body as an absolute zero; the second defense is a transformation of difference into sameness." (Jackson, 2000). Fetishes are typically articles of clothing, handkerchiefs, long hair, shoes and feet. The fetish is a tangible, visible object that has to be present physically or mentally in order for a man to achieve sexual arousal. "Frank demands that Dorothy provide a setting to accommodate his preferences.
He wants his bourbon poured and the lights turned down low; he doesn't want to be looked at; and, most of all, he wants her to wear blue velvet" (Badalamenti, 1999) Blue velvet is Franks fetish. The Blue Velvet dress included in Dorothy's "The Blue Lady" performance acts as a sexual stimulant for Frank. He achieves sexual arousal through its presence. In concluding, Blue Velvet brings to life Freud's psychoanalytic theories of sadism, masochism, oedipal conflict and fetishism. Through Frank and Dorothy's interplay elements of sadism, masochism and fetishism can be recognised. On Jeffery's path to resolution metaphorical oedipal themes arise..