David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), in relation to Freudian theories


David Lynch’s cinematography

Apart from being known as controversial, his movies are often very thought-provoking. Some of them give you a trace to follow, others…not so much.  Just as its complex and mysterious characters, Blue Velvet has secrets that you might not be able to identify at first glance. Freudian theories may be of great use in this case.

Watching the film from a more technical point of view allows you to find similarities between the way the characters’ construction and Freudian theories about sexual development and the components of the human mind. They might change your perspective regarding the film, allowing new further interpretations to be made.

What inspired this idea was this Youtube video, regarding a psychoanalytical approach to this movie.

What is Freud’s theory about the components of the human mind?

In order to understand the character’s inner development, we need to consider the Freudian theories about the components of the mind. He presents us with the image of an iceberg. Above the water, where the conscious part is, there are the ego and the superego, and underneath, deep in the unconscious, there is the id.

The id concentrates only on selfish desires and basic, animal instincts. The superego represents the moral values each individual has.

Often, the id and the superego are in contradiction, when a person desires something which their morality doesn’t accept. Such a situation would result in anxiety and even depression if it weren’t for the ego that acts as a buffer zone between the superego and the id.

How does Freud’s theory about the components of the mind help us understand the characters?

The storyline presents Jeffrey transitioning to adulthood and facing new experiences that challenge his conscience and emotional intelligence. Taking Freud’s theory into consideration, we can state that the movie portrays an inner battle between Jeffrey’s id and superego.

At first, when Dorothy repeatedly asks him to hit her during their intercourse, his superego determines him to decline. However, during the same scene, he eventually gives in to his id, which channels the animal-like aggression and desire for dominance.

How is the music in the film linked to Freudian theories?

A relevant scene takes place when Ben plays the song “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison to Frank and he seems completely captivated by it. The lyrics basically describe a man who cannot fulfil his desires in reality. Therefore, he escapes in a world of dreams (“In dreams, you’re mine all of the time”).

As Freud says, that happens when the superego doesn’t allow dark desires to be materialized in the real world. The id keeps them in the unconscious part of the mind and releases them at night when dreams are formed. Moreover, Lynch states that “the music has to marry the picture”. Therefore, we could interpret this song as an way of indicating Frank’s distress. He is incapable of fulfilling his powerful sex drive.

How does Lynch make use of Freudian theories to portray his imagined reality?

The contradiction between the superego and the id has been illustrated since the beginning of the movie. There is a contrast between the beautiful neighbourhood with immaculate white houses and the pile of cockroaches digging into the filthy soil.

This symbolic image may indicate that, beneath the normal humane appearance, lie dark, disgusting habits, which are part of our nature. In fact, this is the main theme in many of Lynch’s films: the dark side of everyday life.

 What does the image of the ear symbolise? 

It is the discovery of a half-rotten human ear on a field that leads the protagonist to uncover disturbing secrets. The symbol of the ear is very relevant to the narrative. Lynch says: “It needed to be an opening of a part of the body, a hole into something else. The ear sits on the head and goes right into the mind, so it felt perfect”.  Due to the insights into the mind, we are able to understand of the protagonist’s development.

What does Freud’s theory of the phallic stage refer to?

According to these Freudian theories, the phallic stage is the third stage of development. That is when children attach feelings to their parents and even experience sexual attraction towards them. When the parents aren’t somehow present in their lives, children can get stuck in that stage of sexual development. As a result, later on, they show signs of, what we call now, daddy/mommy issues. They continue their search for a parental figure to fulfil the need for affection.

How does the phallic stage explain the plot?

When it comes to understanding the plot, sexuality is a factor that has to be taken into consideration. The estranged son is forced to return to his home town to take care of his family and take his father’s place. His connections to his mother are visibly poor, which might be the reason why he spends as little time with her as possible.

The murder investigation provides him with the opportunity to meet Dorothy, an older woman, who is also a mother. During his first encounter with her, Jeffrey is as obedient as a child is to his mother, as he responds to her demands and fulfils her wishes without any questioning. Consequently, he finds the motherly affection he lacked in his relationship with Dorothy.

All in all, whether David Lynch was inspired by Freudian theories or not remains questionable, but one thing is certain: his creative imagery never ceases to amaze. I hope this research has offered you a different perspective on this story of transcendence into adulthood and also contributed to a better understanding of the plot and the characters.

In case you are looking for more recommendations of movies that are worth watching, click here.


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