'Blue Velvet': Frank Booth's Strange Mind
Analyzing One of Cinema's Classic Weirdos
David Lynch's Blue Velvet is a largely acclaimed film, and deservedly so. It's one of those films that's not so easy to characterize — perhaps even more so than Lynch's other films. It's definitely on the weird side, but not so overpoweringly weird that it's ultra-artsy. It may not be an outright horror movie yet it definitely has creepy moments throughout. Plus, who would say Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) wouldn't fit in somewhere in horror's mad villain pantheon? He definitely is not a good guy, and says and does some things that are downright freaky. So, even though Wikipedia brands this a "neo-noir mystery film," there's enough disturbing stuff going on which make Blue Velvet disturbing.
Being Frank About Frank
Frank is enigmatic. Throughout Blue Velvet, he is often presented as the darker, more buried and hideous side of man. He definitely fits the bill. Our descent into knowing Frank begins with Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) randomly finding a severed ear in the grass. When Jeffrey brings it to Detective Williams (George Dickerson), his own curiosity about its origins grows.
He learns that, somehow, the ear is linked to a singer named Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). It turns out she's being victimized by Frank in a big way. Her husband (Dick Green) and son have been kidnapped in order to manipulate her sexually. Jeff witnesses Frank's bizarre and dark impulses, which includes a fetish for the fabric of blue velvet (which he further enjoys while she performs the song "Blue Velvet" in a night club).
If that's not weird enough, Frank ends up interacting with Jeffrey Beaumont, saying some very weird threats. Frank's criminal entourage is hardly more normal than he is. Ben (Dean Stockwell), for example, seems to have a special connection to Frank when it comes to lip-syncing to a Roy Orbison song. The whole thing gets really weird, which is why it's so oddly believable. Such is the power of creativity such as David Lynch's. There are so many quirky layers to it that just about every one of them seems profound, especially in relation to the others.
What unique experiences in Frank's past made him the way he is? Could he have ended up any other way, or is the universe really so bleak and mysterious that our quirky, violent impulses basically MUST happen? The craziest thing of all, of course, is that Frank Booth is far outshone by some of the real world's miscreants. In fact, compared to some people who have held actual official positions of power in the world, Frank is almost like a saint (sad but actually true!). Frank is also seething with a disturbed sexuality, which lends itself easily to abuse. We don't know his past, but he wears abuse like a well-dressed man wears a suit.
Corrupting Jeffrey Beaumont
Another layer of Blue Velvet involves Frank Booth's influence on Jeffrey Beaumont himself. Plus, there's a clear sense that, by seeking the truth, Jeffrey risks finding darkness rather than enlightenment. His character starts off innocently enough, interested in the world of detective work. In fact, he initially treats it almost like a fun little project.
However, soon enough, Frank Booth makes a fun little side project out of him, taunting and menacing him, trying to prove that he's the more dominant of the two. Rather than being a fun mystery to solve, Jeffrey learns the start reality of animal brutality. It's something no one can ever properly train for, and no viewer of Blue Velvet will likely envy the character of Jeffrey for his resulting closeness to danger.
So, in a way, Blue Velvet is also about demystifying crime, while paradoxically layering on elements of deep psychological mystery. It is not a movie which seeks to solve itself like a puzzle for you. You the viewer must detect and examine all of its deeply embedded layers. In that respect, David Lynch expects and respects the audience's intelligence. He trusts that some of them can and will work to understand what he's putting on the screen.
Unfortunately, most of life's mysteries do have that certain (and uncertain) darkness to them. In fact, as so many scenes in the film suggest, life itself is very dirty behind its sometimes pristine appearances. The question is, how much of the truth can be kept hidden and why?