Does “Blue Velvet” contain Freudian elements?


Not only is David Lynch’s (Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive) Blue Velvet (1986) notable for its neo-noir style and heavy use of light and dark symbolism, but it also contains Freudian elements, such as the neurologist’s Oedipus complex and the id, ego and super-ego structural model.

In a Freudian reading, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) serves as “the child,” while Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) and Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) serve as the dark parents, form a metaphorical Oedipal-like family. Blue Velvet’s ensuing violence, particularly Frank’s masochistic aggression towards Dorothy, and Jeffrey’s viewing of it from the shadows, can also be seen as symbolic of domestic violence within the family household.

Although Dorothy acts as Jeffrey’s metaphorical mother, the young voyeur has sexual feelings for the damaged nightclub singer and eventually enters into a somewhat taboo sexual relationship with her. As Sigmund Freud’s theory suggests, the child, regardless of their sex, often has an unconscious desire to have sexual relations with their parent of the opposite sex.

Jeffrey also has a troubled relationship with his real-life mother. However, the theatrical version of the film doesn’t examine their relationship very closely. Only in Blue Velvet’s deleted scenes does the audience see Mrs. Beaumont (Priscilla Pointer) as manipulative when she uses her husband’s recent stroke as an excuse for keeping her son from returning to college.

Meanwhile, Detective John Williams (George Dickerson) offers a light or good version of Jeffery’s father, compared to Frank’s dark, evil version.

Jeffrey, Frank, and Detective Williams also serve as the three essential figures in the Father of Psychoanalysis’ id, ego and super-ego structural model, which arguably helps to create the complex behavior of human beings.

Like the id, Frank acts on the primitive instincts of the personality without any regard for how he appears to the society. He is a blatant criminal who kidnaps the husband and son of the woman he loves and forces her to bend to his every will. Like the ego, Jeffrey acts according to the reality principle, working out realistic ways of satisfying the id’s needs. While clearly not as deviant as Frank, he is still curious about the darker aspects of life and succumbs to Dorothy’s desire to be hit. Finally, like the super-ego, Detective John Williams incorporates the values and morals of society, controls the id’s impulses and persuades the ego to turn to moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones. He warns Jeffrey to abandon his own private investigation, while acknowledging the corruption that is taking place in the town that he polices.

Despite the false equivalency, both Frank and Detective Williams stand in the way of Jeffrey and his two female love interests in one way or another. Frank holds Dorothy against her will, and John is Sandy’s (Laura Dern) father. However, in a true super-ego fashion, Lumberton’s authority figure allows his daughter to go out on dates with the older Jeffrey, while Frank is possessive towards his captive.

David Lynch would later use the id, ego, and super-ego structure in Lost Highway (1997), with Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty) serving as the id, Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) serving as the ego, and the Mystery Man (Robert Blake) serving as the super-ego.