Blue Residue: Painterly Melancholia and Chromatic Dingnity in the Films of David Lynch


  • Ed Cameron University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, USA


David Lynch, Melancholia, das Ding, Cyptonym, Anamorphosis


David Lynch’s cinematic masterpieces circulate around his twin obsessions: the color blue and melancholia. Lynch simply makes visually literal the colorful allusion to the “blues” to signify a melancholic mood in his films. From Dorothy’s infamously fetishistic velvet dress in Blue Velvet and the enigmatic blue rose in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me to the mystifying blue box and key in Mulholland Drive, Lynch has always linked the color blue, this essay argues, to melancholia. In her examination of color in the Padua and Assisi frescoes of the 13th-century Florentine painter Giotto, Julia Kristeva argues that color is the primary method whereby instinctual drives get translated into painting and the means whereby imagery decenters narrative convention. Drive, she argues, emerges most forcefully and disturbingly in the color blue. Since blue is perceived only in the retina’s periphery, it operates as a means to decenter the object’s form, and, since short wavelengths prevail in dim light, blue is the first color seen before sunrise, figuring the interval before the advent of the symbolic exchange. In these ways, blue indicates that which is in excess of the signifier and that which is situated at the heart of melancholia: the Thing.

Coincidentally, in psychoanalytic parlance, the Thing is that enigmatic pre-symbolic leftover to which the melancholic clings and which sustains the depressed state at the edge of significance. Therefore, through a psychoanalytic lens, this essay argues that Lynch’s use of blue in his films that specifically deal with depression demarcate that point in the field of representation that remains, much like the melancholic herself, detached from the field of the Other and, therefore, the field of significance. Because color is fundamentally disruptive to symbolic stability, I argue that the color blue in Lynch’s cinematic universe functions in the manner of what Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok would call a cyptonym. Like the objet a of psychoanalysis, the color blue in Lynch stands for nothing, for the Thing at the limit of the circuit of significance. Being an accomplished painter himself, Lynch fetishizes the color blue in several of his features to demarcate his aesthetic liberation through and against the narrative norms of cinematic convention. Ultimately, this essay shows that Lynch’s strategic use of the color blue to represent the lacking lack—the over-presence of the Thing—minimizes his film’s meaningful reception while simultaneously and paradoxically providing poetic insight into the melancholic condition.




How to Cite

Cameron, E. (2018). Blue Residue: Painterly Melancholia and Chromatic Dingnity in the Films of David Lynch. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (10), 129–149. Retrieved from