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Blue Velvet: A Journey Into Oedipal Unconscious

Updated on July 19, 2015

Isobella Rossellini: Dorothy

An Introduction to the links between Blue Velvet and the Oedipal Unconscious.

The Oedipal Complex suggests that children have a subconscious and repressed desire to possess one of their parents, thus eliminating the other. David Lynches 'Blue Velvet' (1986) deals with the broad areas of the oedipal unconscious as well as the hidden psychoanalytic aspects, as it openly flaunts its Freudian theme and narration.

The Story portrays a young man's Rite of Passage from adolescence to maturity,which are mixed with infantile oedipal desires and conflicts, and are linked by the Heroes (Jeffrey's) curiosity. The Oedipal stage is the transition from infancy, and thus the attachment to the mother, to an understanding of the child's place in the cultural order of the family. This can only be achieved through castration which emanates from the father. Jacques Lacan theorized that the castration complex was a traumatic and necessary rite of passage to the initiation into the symbolic language, through acquistition of language and the understanding that the name of the father was the signifier of law. In the process, the infant abandons his desire and erotic feelings for the mother, and the jealousy towards the father, instead identifying with the promise that the infant will grow to take the fathers place in the symbolic order. For this whole ordeal to occur, a space needs to opened for the child to then occupy it. This is where 'Blue Velvet' begins, as Mr Beaumont falls ill, erasing the paternal figure/authority so that others, namely Jeffrey, can occupy the space.

A figure of Authority: Frank Booth

The Dominant, often Perverse paternal figure.
The Dominant, often Perverse paternal figure.
The Ear!  It all begins when Jeffrey finds a severd ear and begins to investigate it,  parallel to when an infant hears the primal scene and becomes curious.
The Ear! It all begins when Jeffrey finds a severd ear and begins to investigate it, parallel to when an infant hears the primal scene and becomes curious.

It Begins...

Instead of Jeffrey taking his fathers place, two other paternal figures emerge to fill the space: Det. Williams, a representative of the law (of the father) and Frank Booth, the personification of the perversion of the paternal figure.

The Town itself provides the perfect setting for this dilemma. Or more Specifically, the criminal underworld in which the repressed of the law and the unconscious are displayed. It portrays two sides of this unconscious, the logical ideal self and the twisted logic. The 'good' side, represented by Det. Williams, exhibits features of self control and obeying (of the law). Yet while appearing good, it is not real as the norms of behaviour occurs within a sphere of repression and constraint. The 'Bad' side, embodied by Frank Booth, steps into the baser elements of the subconscious where perverse sexuality and violence create another kind of socialism and self absorption.

The ear which Jeffrey finds can be seen as a secondary starting point (or indeed the real starting point for Jeffrey) if the paternal illness signifies the first setp into a journey through the oedipal unconscious as it links to the Freudian theory of hearing the 'Primal Scene' rather than seeing it. Hearing this scene can be highly confusing for infants who mistake what they hear for the father dominating the mother in a violent manner. Jeffrey, upon finding the ear, becomes curious and in looking for the answers, it leads him to Dorothys closet where he witnesses the 'Primal Scene'. Here Jeffrey represents the infant, Dorothy the maternal figure, and Frank, the dominant Paternal figure.

Kyle MacClachlan: Jeffrey Beaumont

Peeking through the closet doors
Peeking through the closet doors

The Scene

Frank Booth Breathing into a machine during the 'Primal Scene'
Frank Booth Breathing into a machine during the 'Primal Scene'
Frank holds a scissors over Dorothy representing the castration by Father
Frank holds a scissors over Dorothy representing the castration by Father

The Wolfman Case:

Lynches Vivid rendition of the 'Primal Scene' explores many of the aspects of the Oedipal Dilemma while also linking to Freud's 'Wolfman' case. This case explained a patients suffering of dreams involving wolves. The wolves would initially stand and stare at the patient before they lunged attacking him. Freud concluded that the dreams were a result of witnessing the 'Primal Scene' and that the wolves were representation of the patient standing and watching, then becoming the monstrous paternal fighting for their place within the symbolic order of the family by threatening castration.

According to Freud, witnessing this is terrifying as the child interperates it as an act of violence and sadism, in which the dominant father brutally attacks the passive/weak mother. As the mother is an object of love for the infant, they then become smething that needs to be rescued.

Lynch very accurately rpresents the childs perception of the act, where Frank personifies the brutal father,and Dorothy, the vulnerable mother in need of saving. The Scene is violent and theatrical as Frank breaths through a machine heavily, forcing himself on Dorothy whom he calls 'Mommy'. He also brandished a knife, linking to Freuds hypothesis that the infant sees the mother as castrated by the father.Lynch also represents the fantasy scenarios from the Oedipal Dilemma caused by witnessing the scene, namely castration and seduction. Jeffrey is initially threatened with castration when Dorothy tlls him to undress while holding a knife. Castration anxity is a common problem associated with the 'Primal Scene' as the child identifies the father as castrator. Lynch portrays this when Frank holds a scissors up to Dorothy.


she always has her place within the symbolic order....
she always has her place within the symbolic order....
...And Dorothy has no clue what that is apparently.
...And Dorothy has no clue what that is apparently.

The Maternal

Themes of seduction and incestuous eroticism are evident when Dorothy then seduces Jeffrey symbolizing the fantasy of desire towards the maternal. The eroticism she initiates is perverse however as she teaches him sadistic sexuality asssociated with Frank, the 'Bad' side of the unconscious. The ear can also be seen as a symbol of castration, in the sense of the feminization of the male, a masculine anxiety of being womanly or failing to bond with the father. The failure of male bonding attacks the capacity to take charge, an act always associated with the phallis. Yet the severing of the earsuggests anything but an assault on this manly domination. It has explicity female characteristics and non-phallic features. Therefore it could be said that it was an attack on a man not fulfilling his male duties in the symbolic order of the father (and since we know it was Dorothy's husband's ear, and she has now been taken by another man, it serves to reason that he was attacked for being too feminine, and not fulfilling his role i.e. protecting his wife and child from Frank).

The typical family, or symbolic order of the family
The typical family, or symbolic order of the family

The Family Unit

There is quite a noticeable family unit represented in 'Blue Velvet' within both the 'Primal scene' itself and following it. Dorothy represents the monstrous maternal (by seducing Jeffrey) while also personifying the the vulnerable mother threatened by the father. She is both submissive and and authoritative.

Frank represents two types of father figure too, portrayed in the scene where he both kisses Jeffrey (the loving father) and beats him (the monstrous paternal).

Jeffrey represents the infant: he is sometimes called Don by Dorothy, which is her own husbands name, thus creating an even more unstable family unit, as she seduces Jeffrey, a surrogate for her own lost child. Jeffreey is there to take the place of her son and by doing so fulfills the family unit Dorothy no longer has because of Frank. This family unit is again shaken up by Frank, who calls Dorothy 'Mommy' and himself both 'Daddy' and 'Baby'.

Two Types of Masculinity in 'Blue Velvet'

The Ideal father, on the good side.
The Ideal father, on the good side.
...and the perverse on the bad side.  He sure knows how to play crazy!
...and the perverse on the bad side. He sure knows how to play crazy!

Perceptions of Masculinity

In an abstract and incoherant scene, Jeffrey see's a sequence of images as he leaves Dorothy's house. These concern the perceptions of masculinity and its place within the symbolic order. He see's images of his own father saying 'Help her', Dorothy saying 'Hit Me' and Frank craching and roaring like a rabid animal. Here Jeffreys subconscious is putting together the confused aspects of the Oedipal Dilemma, where the 'Good' Father implores him to rescue Dorothy, the Maternal, The 'Bad' Father exhibits features of solopsism and the Monstrous paternal, and Dorothy displays masochistic features of the Monstrous Maternal.

In the Oedipal unconscious, the villain has to be defeated in order for the threat of unconscious to be defeated, and so through understanding the symbolic order the story is allowed to rest under a new moral order, however, 'Blue Velvet' implies that this symbolic order (where everything fits neatly in its place) is overlapped with the monstrous Paternal as the oedipal figures of fear and desire have been absorbed by Jeffrey, as the Camera comes out of his ear, (and his head, where it has been showing us everything from) linking to the way the camera came up out f the ground at the beginnning. Where it began all rosey and picturesque with the grime adn dirt under the grass, it has slowly and traumatically made its way into Jeffreys head, where he will continue the symbolic order of the family with the monstrous ideals of masculinity and perverse sexuality within the family that the experience with Dorothy and Frank has left him.


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      5 years ago

      Just one mistake I found. Don isn't her sons name it's her husband's name.


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