David Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a tantalizing, yet disturbing analysis of primal human desire, ultimately concluding that all people, in some form or fashion, consciously or subconsciously enjoys afflicting and receiving pain as a method of self-growth through destruction. The protagonist, Jeffrey Beaumont, is first depicted an unwitting participant in this cycle. He’s thrust into the mystery after finding a severed ear in an empty parking lot. He takes the ear to a detective, just as any “normal” person would do.
At this point, the story should end – Jeffrey’s completed his role as a responsible citizen, but his curiosity gets the best of him and he ends up breaking into the home of Dorothy Vallens, a dubious woman implicated in the case of the severed ear. Jeffrey’s just taken his first step into the world of masochism. Despite the fact that curiosity is a deeply ingrained function of the human psyche, Jeffrey knew this situation couldn’t end well. Despite the dangers, Jeffrey willingly engaged in this dangerous behavior, thus inflicting the mental pain of worry upon himself. Outside of the obvious, is there a big difference between Jeffrey’s behavior and the self-mortification of the flesh that some religious priests willingly undergo? At the core, both actions are the same.
Frank Booth, played by the late Dennis Hopper, is a much more overt example. Frank arrives in the midst of Dorothy’s attempt at sexually assaulting Jeffrey. Dorothy hides Jeffrey in the closet and Frank proceeds to brutalize Dorothy, forcing her to engage in multiple sadistic sexual acts. He forces Dorothy to call him “daddy” to establish his dominance over her before striking her genitals with his fists. When he finishes, he leaves and Dorothy attempts to seduce Jeffrey – interesting, considering what she experienced moments earlier – who watched the entire ordeal from the closet. Jeffrey rejects her advances, but only after a moment of hesitation. T
The actions of all three players reveal their curiosity with the macabre. At this point, Jeffrey still takes the high road, almost as if he believes he’s above the others. However, he’s merely repressing what Lynch obviously feels is a primal function – self-exploration through destruction, which almost always takes the form as a sexual act. Is it fair to refer to Frank’s sexual activities with Dorothy as “assault,” given that Dorothy found herself sexually aroused at the end? Or, was Dorothy’s advances a coping mechanism?
Looking at Frank a bit closer, he later refers to himself as “baby,” despite the fact that he forced Dorothy to call him “daddy” earlier. This reversal of roles insinuates that Frank is working out some sort of internal issues, perhaps with his own parents, using Dorothy as a surrogate for them.
Later in the film, Frank finally succumbs to Dorothy’s advances and has sex with her. It’s at this point that Jeffrey loses his “innocence.” By now, both Jeffrey and the audience realizes that Frank is using Dorothy as a non-consensual sex partner, and yet Jeffrey still takes advantage of the situation. She begs him to strike her, perhaps because of the shame she feels because of Frank’s actions, and seeks “punishment” for what she was forced to do. Jeffrey, in a blind rage, strikes her. He’s immediately apologetic for what he’s done, but the deed is done. Again, another example of “rebirth” through pain – Dorothy is pleased at what has just happened to her.
A surface level examination of Blue Velvet could prompt many to claim the movie is misogynistic – even making the claim that victims of sexual assault secretly fantasized about it happening. However, we must consider the fact that Dorothy is forced to sleep with Frank to save the life her husband and son – and that fact immediately constitutes rape. This further shines a grim light on Jeffrey taking advantage of Dorothy, knowing her emotionally compromised state.
Perhaps Blue Velvet’s enduring allure – if that’s the word – arises from the fact that desire is scary, uncomfortable element of humanity. If the movie’s underlying philosophy is true, what will it take for everyone to remove that which suppresses what’s deep within us?
Blue Velvet. Dir. David Lynch. MGM 1986. Amazon. Web. 11 December 2013. < http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Velvet-Kyle-MacLachlan/dp/B003U74NQW/>