Blue Velvet and the Poetry of William Blake
David Lynch’s neo-noir film Blue Velvet focuses on Jeffrey Beaumont’s fall from innocence. Jeffrey experiences this fall when he gets caught up in a twisted mystery in his deceptively quaint small town. This harkens back to William Blake’s poems in the Songs of Innocence and Experience collection. Blake explores the aspects of childlike wonder and the harsh bitter reality upon reaching maturity, in the same way that Lynch uses Jeffrey to explore these “before and after” stages of experience.
In the beginning of the film, Jeffrey is innocent. He is a college kid who is close to his family and he discusses simple and serene topics with Sandy. In his early conversations, he reminisces on childhood friends and shows Sandy “the chicken walk.” This fascination with a “strange world” that is totally without cynicism is similar to Blake’s Songs of Innocence. In Songs of Innocence, poems like “The Lamb” display a childlike wonder with the trivial, cute things in life. In “The Lamb,” the speaker also shows an unflinching belief in God. Similarly, Jeffrey, while intrigued with the idea of solving a mystery, is very much a part of his innocent world. He merely comments that “It’s a strange world” without questioning why things are the way they are.
Jeffrey’s fall from innocence occurs when he hides in Dorothy’s closet and observes Frank Booth’s attack on Dorothy. Later on, he wonders, “Why are there people like Frank? Why is there so much trouble in this world?” Jeffrey is now aware of the problem of evil and is beginning to live an examined life. This is reminiscent of William Blake’s “The Tyger,” in which the speaker wonders, “Did he who made the lamb make thee” (Blake 197)? No longer is there blind faith in a supreme being. The speaker is questioning the justice (or lack thereof) of the universe.
Jeffrey’s foil appears to be the psychotic Frank Booth, although Frank and Jeffrey are more similar than Jeffrey wants to admit. Jeffrey is indeed curious in his investigations, in the same way that Frank is eager to explore his insane interests and act on his impulses. Lynch is illustrating the fact that there is not much distance between good and evil. The harsh truth of Blue Velvet is that everyone has evil curiosity and potential within them, even innocent, somewhat naïve characters like Jeffrey.
In Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, the surprisingly deep connection between naivety and angry maturity is also very prevalent. For example, Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience both contain poems called “The Chimney Sweeper.” Both are about an abandoned child who must make a living in the titular unsafe line of work. One poetic speaker is optimistic and the other is angry about his fate. This shows that very little needs to change to make the transition from the innocent view to the experienced view.
Another example of contrasting poems with similar subject matter lies in “The Blossom” and “The Sick Rose.” Both are poems about a flower, but “The Sick Rose” focuses on a flower that has been “destroy(ed)” by a man’s “dark secret love” (Blake 194). First of all, the consumption and destruction of living things can be seen in Blue Velvet’s opening sequence of angry beetles beneath the Beaumont family’s front lawn. This shot contrasts with the film’s iconic first shot of the red roses. But, “The Sick Rose” is also about trauma. As with Blake’s image of the figuratively murdered flower, Dorothy is ruined by Frank and his actions.
This dynamic of innocence and experience is present in the works of both Blake and Lynch. These works show that childhood and maturity are often linked by some sort of traumatic event. Furthermore, Blake and Lynch show that the mature perspective, once established, does not go away. Jeffrey, as with all people who experience a fall, will never be the same.
Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and Experience. The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch. Vol. 2A. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.
Lynch, David. Blue Velvet. MGM, 1986. Film.
(Image courtesy of http://filmmakermagazine.com/41249-the-blue-velvet-project-83-part-2/)