Sunday, May 31, 2015

Blue Velvet

(I’d like to thank Marc Lapadula since I borrowed from his lecture on this film. SPOILER ALERT, and viewer discretion is advised)

If director David Lynch had sent out invitations to view his Blue Velvet, they would probably have read “Welcome to my nightmare.” In this film he shows us an upside down world where the dream state is more alive and vivid, and thus more “real,” than the waking, mundane state of the every day.

The opening scene shows us white picket fences, red roses, and a man on a truck giving us a friendly wave and smile. But the lighting is too bright, the wave is in slow motion. It seems fake, not genuine. We see the father of Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan), Mr. Beaumont, watering his lawn. Think of the actor Hugh Beaumont who played the prototype of the suburban patriarch in the TV show Leave it to Beaver. In the context of this film, “beaver” takes on a sexual subtext contrasting it with the G rated surface world. This film deals with many themes, but human sexuality is at the center. The father’s garden hose, which takes on a phallic symbolism, becomes twisted, and he suffers a stroke, falls down, the hose between his legs, squirting out of control. We see him later, confined in a hospital bed, practically bound down, unable to move or speak. The father figure has become impotent. The town’s industry is producing lumber, and there are references to time passing as trees falling. We see trucks full of chopped tree trunks. Perhaps these are more references to male impotence, the men no longer getting “wood.”

Jeffrey is a youth caught between the innocence of childhood and adult manhood. He starts his initiation into the dangerous underbelly of life when he discovers a severed ant- covered ear (or in the context of this film, “castrated” ear) in an industrial wasteland area of town. He is drawn to the mystery behind this grotesque object, one may say seduced. He brings it to Detective Williams of the police. He visits him in his home at one point, and encounters his daughter, Sandy, and there is an attraction between her and Jeffrey. There is a Freudian undertone to Williams as he gives a warning look to Jeffrey, which basically reads as “Stay away from my daughter.” When we first see the detective at home, he is carrying his handgun. It is disturbing to see him toting it around his house. Is it because his job makes him stay on guard? Or, is it fear of losing his manhood, a sort of penis replacement symbol? If nothing else, it adds a sense of menace to what otherwise would be a normal, safe American home.

Sandy overheard her father mentioning a woman, Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini), a nightclub singer, who may be involved with the criminal element and can be tied to the man who was mutilated. Jeffrey now wants to dive right into this underworld by invading (penetrating?) this woman’s apartment to investigate after he sees her erotically singing at the club. She sings “Blue Velvet” whose wholesome lyrics are undermined, like everything else in this film, by the forces of the id underneath the surface. On the one hand he has the virginal Sandy, urging him not to leave the “safe” world, but his lust has been inflamed by Dorothy (who definitely is not in Kansas anymore. Don’t forget how nightmarish, but exciting, Oz is, with witches and flying monkeys). 

Jeffrey gains access to Dorothy’s apartment, but is surprised by her return and hides in her closet. This is where the voyeurism of a Hitchcock film is evoked. Jeffrey sees Dorothy undressing. He makes a noise in the closet. She confronts him with a knife, another penis substitute, reminiscent of the one in Psycho. She then becomes sexual with him, enticing him, and alternately is rough and threatening. We see where she gets this combining sex with violence when Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) arrives. Jeffrey again hides in the closet. Hopper is great at being bizarre. During his assault of Dorothy, he alternately sees himself as a baby, with Dorothy as the mother. Then the son becomes the “daddy,” the lover. He places a piece of blue velvet in his mouth and hers. It becomes a lurid safety blanket, combining innocence with lust. He is the Oedipus child who sleeps with the mother, after having kidnapped Dorothy’s son and husband, removing them from the equation, but using them as leverage against Dorothy. He keeps telling her not to look at him, maybe out of shame and confusion given the symbolic incestuous situation.

Jeffrey is drawn to Dorothy, and revisits her. He is also the child who is aroused by this mother figure. (In a later scene, Sandy’s jealous boyfriend, after chasing the pair, sees a naked and dazed Dorothy on Jeffrey’s porch and asks Jeffrey “Is that your mother?”) Jeffrey handles the hat with the propeller on top that belongs to the kidnapped son, thus appearing as a substitute for the child. Then, Jeffrey has sex with Dorothy, who asks him to hit her, which he does. She later says she has “his disease in me,” implying that the reproductive cycle is a vicious one. Frank shows up, jealous of “neighbor” Jeffrey, and takes him for “a joy ride” to “Pussy Heaven.” What follows is an initiation into “manhood” for Jeffrey. But at this establishment, run by Ben (A pasty, almost clown make-up wearing Dean Stockwell), no sex occurs, except the implied homosexual connection between Frank and Ben. Frank is the demonic father now who shows Jeffrey what beer to drink. Ben, and later Frank after they leave Ben’s establishment, show the adopted “son” how to take a punch like a man. Before he beats Jeffrey as his minions hold the youth, Frank puts on lipstick and kisses him. Again, violence is associated with sex. In this case, Frank wants Jeffrey to look at him. It’s almost as if the homosexual experience is less intimidating than the heterosexual one. When Jeffrey is back home and wakes up with his mother and aunt, he feels that he has been asked too many questions about his bruises. He says with surface affection but with underlying menace that if the questions persist, someone’s “going to get it.” The brutal entrance into grown up masculinity is taking effect.

And what about Jeffrey’s mother? She figuratively abandons Jeffrey, watching disturbing movies with men creeping up stairs (to bedrooms?) and carrying guns (more phallic symbols). In the subtext of this movie, her husband is rendered impotent, possibly to be replaced by the son, but Jeffrey feels abandoned subconsciously, and is out seeking mother and father replacements in all the wrong places.

Jeffrey hides and takes pictures and implicates Frank and “the yellow man” (who turns out to be a corrupt cop) in drug trafficking. Jeffrey goes back to Dorothy’s apartment (he can’t seem to stop going through the looking glass to the dark side) and sees a lobotomized “yellow man” and Dorothy’s dead husband, who is bound and gagged,  reminding us of how Jeffrey’s father appeared in the hospital. He knows that Frank is on his tail and he hides out in the closet again. This time he has the “yellow man’s” gun. He shoots Frank Booth in the head, sort of the opposite of Booth shooting Lincoln (a Lincoln Street sign is shown in the film).

The end of the film has the camera showing a close up of Jeffrey’s attached, non-vermin infested ear, and then panning out, revisiting the fence, roses and waving man, as if all is well. Jeffrey is with Sandy, and her parents are there at Jeffrey’s house, with his parents, his father recovered from his illness. But, an obviously fake robin shows up at the window with a writhing insect in its mouth. We saw legions of ravenous ants at the beginning underneath the Beaumont lawn. The corrupt police officer, who is supposed to be a symbol of law and order, wears a “yellow jacket,” which is a stinging insect. It appears here that the waking world is just a deceptively safe veneer covering the dark infestation beneath.

Some people admire this film, others hate it. Where do you stand?

Next week’s film is All About Eve.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please share your thoughts about the movies discussed here.