Identity construction in David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive

It'll be just like in the movies - we'll pretend we were someone else

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

16 Pages, Grade: 1,2


Flowers blossom in front of brightly white garden fances, the fireman driving past waves cheerfully – the US-american small town Lumberton, in which the movie Blue Velvet directed by David Lynch who has also written the screenplay was made in 1986, presents itself like in a picture-book. The idyll gets disturbed when the protagonist Jeffrey Beaumont, a well-educated college student, finds a human ear that he hands over to the local police. Out of curiosity he decides to investigate on his own. Sandy, the daughter of the policeman whom Jeffrey has given his find, makes him pick up the trail of Dorothy Valleys, a night club singer who is involved into this affair. Jeffrey gets into her world and an ambivalent sexual relationship between them comes into being, which turns out to be masochistic as on the one hand Dorothy craves for Jeffrey, but on the other hand turns him back brutally. At the same time Jeffrey takes up a love story with the innocent Sandy. Jeffrey is confronted with two universes: pure sex and desire versus the declaration of true love.

“An ambiguos film”, the Lexikon des internationalen Films says, “that during the crass penetration into dark human abysses also deals with the questionableness of traditional world views.”[1]

With a car crash on the winding Mulholland Drive above Los Angeles the movie Mulholland Drive written and directed 2001 by Lynch starts. The only survivor is a young dark-haired woman who has been threaten by two men directly before. Having lost her memory due to a head injury she seeks refuge in a vacant house. At the same time the naive Betty, a young blond woman dreaming of making a film career in Hollywood, arrives in Los Angeles. Full of optimism she moves into her aunt’s house in which the brunette has taken refuge. The two women become friends. In search of the identity of the amnesiac who calls herself Rita they fall in love with each other. The story of the two is thwarted by different sub-plots that gradually fall in place into a main-plot which then is appreciably tangled up again. Abruptly a break: Betty turns to Diane, a crossed in love and therefore depressed woman who has failed in Hollywood. Rita impersonates Camilla, a successful actress and Diane’s former lover who is now engaged to a famous movie director. Driven by jealousy Diane instructs a killer to dispatch Camilla. After the offense is accomplished Diane gets insane because of having a murder on her conscience and commits suicide.

As the different levels of reality are in juxtaposition to each other it is the spectacor himself who has to unlock the identity of Betty and Diane respectively. There is no only solution: “Viewers will feel as though they’ve just finished a great meal but aren’t sure what they’ve been served. Behind them, the chef smiles wickedly.”[2]

In the two selected David Lynch movies a shared motif becomes apparent: the question of identity. Therefore I define border crossing as the crossing of a psychological border within a person making possible to live out different (part-) identities. Jeffrey in Blue Velvet as well as Betty/Diane in Mulholland Drive have two different identities, i.e. they are presented to us in two different roles, a psychological border crossing takes place. In either case the concepts of identity and identity construction which were current at the date of the movies’ origin are represented. Framing these concepts in relation to the time they were made it becomes clear that we are dealing with innovative groundbreaking ideas. Thus I want to compare the films relating to how they express identity construction and the therewith combined border crossing. Hereupon I will relate this analysis to the history of identity to make clear in which sense the dealing with the identity discourse is innovative in both of the films.

Finally I will discuss the question if the presented border crossings are still border crossings today or if they have already become habits. To find an answer I will classify the movies within the film history and explain how the film socialization determines the spectators’ readings. I suggest that both films despite all their differences actually tell the same story, only that there are sixteen years of (film-) history between them causing the different ways of narrating. A second border crossing becomes apparent, a border crossing between the two films.

Before analyzing the films with regard to the protagonist’s identity let me begin by answering the question what identity is in general and giving a survey of the current identity discourse. Conceptions of identity depend on social developments. Therefore they can only be explained considering their historical background. Thus I want to give a summary of Stuart Hall’s studies regarding the conception of identity in the changing times.

Identity stands for “a relatively constant unity in the regard of oneself or of others based on a comparative stability of attitudes and intentions of behavior”[3], characterizes consequently the self-awareness of a person, the picture someone draws of himself on condition that there is a difference to another thing: “Without the other or the outside identity cannot exist.”[4] The border between identity and difference is not determinated, but depends on context and perspective. Accordingly identity itself is not definite, but a process of becoming. To plagiarize Hall, identity has to be figured “as a ‘production’ which is never accomplished, which is always in process”[5].


[1] Koll, Messias: Lexikon des internationalen Films: Lexikon des Internationalen Films. Filmjahr 2001.

[2] Online:

[3] Bierhals: Identitätskonflikt im Film „Memento“, p. 4.

[4] Supik: Dezentrierte Positionierung. Stuart Halls Konzept der Identitätspolitiken, p. 51.

[5] Supik: Dezentrierte Positionierung. Stuart Halls Konzept der Identitätspolitiken, p. 69.

Excerpt out of 16 pages


Identity construction in David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive
It'll be just like in the movies - we'll pretend we were someone else
University of Modena e Reggio Emilia  (Università degli studi di Modena e Reggio Emilia - Facoltà di Lettere e Filosofia)
Border Crossings: Constructing Personal and Social Identity in Film
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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455 KB
Identity, David, Lynch, Blue, Velvet, Mulholland, Drive, Border, Crossings, Constructing, Personal, Social, Identity, Film
Quote paper
Ina Brauckhoff (Author), 2008, Identity construction in David Lynch's Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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