The visceral in “Blue Velvet”

“David’s films are more of a sensation than a story. They are not psychological or anthropological researches into character. They are surreal impressions”
(Isabella Rosellini)

Many film critics have occupied themselves with analyzing the psychoanalytical dimensions of David Lynch’s films. Through this essay I pretend to analyze the visceral in the narrative of one of Lynch’s paramount works; Blue Velvet. I will analyze the text away from the psychoanalytical speculations that presume a cathartic relationship between the auteur and the text and an oedipal complex represented on the plot; instead I will focus on how the syuzhet, the use of space and time, the mise-en-escene, shot composition, and characters create a diegetic world, which beyond attempting to construct a fabula and instead aims to horrify reach the guts and of the audience offering a fully sensual experience.

Blue Velvet cannot be categorized strictly as a horror film. It wouldn’t be fair to obviate the importance of its social analysis on the American culture, or the clear film noir influence in the text, yet the film manages to horrify its audience at a sensual level as effectively or perhaps more than a conventional horror film. The question that bewilders me is, why?

How does the text reach our guts and keep us in a state of unexplainable fear in many of its scenes?

My Thesis: Blue Velvet uses narrative conventions of the horror genre such as stating a clear distinction between good and evil to raise visceral emotions on the viewer. This juxtaposition between good and evil is symbolized by the characters, Frank, the monster who embodies evil, and Jeffrey, the naïve hero who personifies the good; and by stylistic devices like the mise-en-scene, editing and sound. The film also goes beyond these conventions and host moments of purely sensual horror while representing evil.

The effect of fear caused on the audience by Blue Velvet is not due to the oedipal complex or psychological perturbation originated by the viewer’s or Lynch’s  psychological state, but it is an effect caused by the syuzhet and style of the text.

I will analyze in detail a scene that has remained dancing between my subconscious and my guts since I first saw the film on 2001: the sequence where Frank Booth is introduced. In this scene, Jeffrey breaks into Dorothy’s apartment in order to investigate her relationship to an ear he has found laying on the ground. His girlfriend, the stereotypical blond homecoming queen, who was waiting to alert him if Dorothy came, has forgotten to do so. As Jeffrey hears Dorothy coming into her apartment, he decides to hide in a closet. Dorothy receives a call and we learn that someone has her husband and son hostage yet she is subdued to this someone. Moments later Frank Booth arrives, he symbolizes the monster who inebriated by an unexplained sexual psychosis goes into a frenetic state while looking at Dorothy’s vagina.

In this scene we identify the clear distinction between good and evil which positions us on the verge of pure fear.

First of all the mise-en-escene at Dorothy’s apartment, represents a clear obscure world.

The characterization portrays a clear juxtaposition between the evil monster, represented by Frank’s character, and the naïve hero embodied by Jeffrey.

The cross cut editing between Jeffrey hiding in the closet and Frank being possessed while looking at Dorothy’s vagina enhances our fear.  As an audience we are aware of our voyeuristic observation since we are looking at the scene from inside a closet. The editing makes us feel like we are hiding in the closet with Jeffrey, thus we are standing on the naïve hero’s feet fearing to be discovered by the irrational monster, yet taking pleasure of the observational ritual.

The almost inaudible but very effective soundtrack enhances the mood of the oniric horror.

After identifying the motifs of the horror genre used by the film to impact the audience. I will explore how Blue Velvet goes beyond the conventions of the horror genre in order to surprise the viewer at an even more visceral state. There are moments of surreal horror which don’t aid the plot or explain character motivations. We cannot predict Frank Booth’s behavior based on  his motivations in the scene where he inhales the amyl nitrate. He embodies an evil beyond his character of the monster that is not explained by the plot or character motivations, but which represents the  pure evil, and attacks us with intrinsic fear since we cannot understand it yet we recognize the plausibility of its existence in our real world.

When the motivations of the characters remain unclear we as an audience are left with a vacuum for constant surprise and fear since we cannot perfectly understand their behavior yet it still scares us.  The moment when Frank Booth inhales amyl nitrate and is possessed by an inexplicable psychotic violence repeating “daddy is coming home”  while amidst a delirious interaction with Dorothy’s vagina, is not explained later or before in the film,  it does not contribute to advance the plot. It aids Frank Booth’s characterization and establishes the relationship among characters, but even then it hosts an unexplained evil  embodied by Frank Booth which goes beyond the plot and attacks the viewer emotionally.

There is an element of unresolved horror characteristic to Lynch’s Blue Velvet, an element of purely surreal horror constructed by the syuzhet and stylistic choices which are based on conventions of the horror genre but which also go beyond them by violating us at a corporal level since they don’t aid the construction of the fabula.


Atkinson, Michael. Blue Velvet. London: British Film Institute, 1997.

Carrol, Noël. The philosophy of Horror. New York: Routlede, 1990.

Davisson, Annette. The Cinema of David Lynch. Great Britain: Wallflower Press,, 2004.

Laccino, James. Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror.  London: Praeger, 1994.

Mcgowan, Todd. The impossible David Lynch. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Powell, Anna. Deluxe and Horror Films. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

Rodley, Chris. Lynch on Lynch. London: Faber and Faber, 1997.

Spadoni, Robert. Uncanny Bodies. Los Angeles: University California Press,2007.

Ursini, James. Horror Film Reader. New York: Limelight Editions, 2000.

Wells, Paul. The Horor Genre. Great Britain: Wallflower Publishing Limited, 2000.

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