Behind Lynch’s Blue Velvet Curtain

Ever since Hitchcock invited audiences to engage in people’s most private moments with his 1954 film Rear Window, America’s fascination with the going-ons of other people’s lives has continued. This has led to a sub-genre of sorts in which the protagonist is not necessarily in the right, but through the film’s progression the audience itself becomes complicit. This was illustrated recently with the film Disturbia which applies the illicit gaze technique. However, other films in this genre took lessons from Hitchcock and managed to create something uniquely their own such as film auteur David Lynch and his 1986 film Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet’s voyeuristic tendencies bear a striking resemblance to Hitchock’s classic film, however Lynch manages to draw from his predecessor and manipulate his own story in a way that is just as similar to Hitchcock’s piece as it is his own.
Blue Velvet’s initial premise of a young man’s fascination with the inner workings of a mysterious older woman is one of the most obvious elements. Lynch clings to the idea of voyeurism throughout the film. One of the strongest scenes where Jeffrey is watching Dorothy through her closet door illustrates the “perverse joy” of watching and being watched quite well. Once again, the importance of gender is an element crucial to the film as well. Audiences may note that the voyeur, and arguably the characters who tend to have the upper hand throughout the film, are male characters. This is demonstrated through Jeff’s watching and Frank’s abusive nature and stature, such as his violence against Dorothy, the rape scene, and his positioning of himself above her except when he regresses to his childlike form. Although this film is a product of the 1980s the role of Sandy as love interest and accomplice is almost a caricature of the leading ladies in the old Hollywood films that Lynch seems to be mocking. One scene that demonstrates this is after Jeff calls Sandy who has just helped a naked and crazed Dorothy into an ambulance. Almost immediately after Jeff’s apology, she accepts in an almost laughable manner. However, most of these elements can be forgiven in Lynch’s approach to the material. With this film, Lynch explores alternative elements while paying homage to Hithcock.
One of the most palpable themes of the film is the concept of sensory perception. Throughout the film there are clues that challenge the viewer to experience the movie beyond mere vision. Such an example can be found in one of the film’s inciting incidents, when Jeff finds the severed ear. Even though we are only seeing the movie, it immediately conjures up thoughts of what we hear. Furthermore, the film’s title is not only a song, but it is also a fabric, evoking both the senses of touch and sound. This is illustrated in another way as Jeffrey’s adventures transcend the voyeurs and his story becomes more experiential. For instance, it is upon his second encounter with Dorothy that he is dragged into her depraved world. Very soon there after, Jeff finds himself entangled in Dorothy’s life as well as the misdeeds of Frank with very real bruises from both experiences to prove how hands-on he has become. Another thematic idea that is expressed visually in the film is that not everything is as it seems. This is demonstrated in the film’s opening when Mr. Beaumont collapses and the camera shows the bugs crawling through the turf in the seemingly perfect lawn. However, it is also evidenced in the very setting of the film itself. The town Jeff lives in is the idyllic quiet town that is often associated with the 1950s, but at its heart there is evil, which is personified by Frank. In a way, the setting of the film is one of the most explicit representations of Lynch’s themes of the film.
Although these visuals communicate very basic ideas, Blue Velvet never claims to be complex. While its execution may be atypical, most of its themes seem very rudimentary. They are themes that we have seen in hundreds of films before and will continue to for years to come. Although its resemblance to Hitchock’s Rear Window is uncanny, Lynch manages to make good use of some of the themes of Rear Window in this film, while supplying a new location to drive home some ideas of his own. Regardless, Lynch’s Blue Velvet is a return to the themes of voyeurism and antiquated gender roles while finding a new way to make the film more experiential and forcing the audience to be aware that nothing is as it seems, not even in suburbia.

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