May 26, 2011

Movie Review: Blue Valentine (2010): Lessons from the Film

Blue Valentine takes two common movies and merges them into one film. We have all seen both of these prototypes. On the one hand, we have the love story. Two people meet and fall in love. Yes, they share an initial attraction, but it isn't until a series of events and shared understandings occur that their lives become intrinsically linked into one. On the other hand, we have a movie about the dissolution of a marriage and about two people who can't stand to be in the same room anymore. They argue, manipulate, scream, threaten, and berate. This isn't a relationship; it's a power struggle. What makes this story unique is that director Derek Cianfrance shows us the same couple doing these things simultaneously. While we are falling in love with this couple, we are also cringing and wishing they would separate indefinitely.

Blue Valentine is the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). We watch them meet, lay eyes on each other, lose each other, find each other again, fall in love, and get married. This story is intercut with the story of Dean and Cindy about a decade later. At this point, Dean and Cindy are married and are still together. They have a daughter, Frankie, and a dog. But things are not so good. Dean likes to drink, go to work, and come home to his family. He has no other aspirations than to be a good husband and father. This wasn't the life he chose (we find out later), but he has fallen in love with it and is content. Cindy, on the other hand, feels trapped in this life. She is a nurse right now, but in the past she dreamed of being a doctor. She wants more.

When we watch Dean and Cindy in the present day, the scenes are filled with tension. Both of them are unhappy. Dean is mostly unhappy because Cindy is unhappy with him, and she's stopped sleeping with him. But, still unhappiness shines brightly in this film. This movie hurts to watch. It's no fun watching a couple fight and argue all the time. We can't understand how they got together, but the director then answers this question by showing us how Dean and Cindy fell in love. Why they needed each other. How maybe they still do.


Gosling and Williams do a remarkable job with these roles. The couple has to do scenes where they cling to one another and scenes where they say the most awful things. Ryan Gosling is a crazy good actor. He first came to the public's eye in the love story, The Notebook, but he has played many amazing roles, most notably Lars, in Lars and the Real Girl. Michelle Williams has graduated from her days on Dawson's Creek and has made a name for herself in films such as Brokeback Mountain and Synecdoche, New York. Gosling and Williams have already worked together in The United States of Leland (2003). In any case, they share an amazing chemistry. While their partnership is great, the show belongs to Gosling, who breaks your heart. He is truly unhappy but doesn't seem to have any clue how to make things better. He is, therefore, doomed to lose the woman he loves by clinging so tightly to her.

This is again one of these films I can't say I exactly enjoyed because it's so sad. But the film is amazing and tells its story well. Your emotions will be played like a trumpet.

  ***** Review over; discussion below, spoilers ensue******
The best movies to me make me think of things and come to understandings about them. Blue Valentine   definitely did that. I had a lot of thoughts as I was watching this movie. It seems very true to life.
Dean and Cindy fall into the classic pattern of a codependent relationship. How they got there is by using a relationship to resolve childhood issues. When we have unresolved childhood issues, we try to resolve them with other relationships in our life until we heal of that hurt.

Cindy grew up in a house where the father yelled at her mother all the time. The mother let herself by verbally abused while she would try to placate the father. Cindy wants no part of this lifestyle, yet who does she choose? A passionate man like Dean. Dean is full of passion for her. When she tells him early on that she is pregnant with another guy's baby, he beats his fist against a fence over and over again. He sits in the waiting room at the abortion clinic, and when she tells him she couldn't go through with it, he holds her close and offers to marry her. He wants to be her hero. He believes if he can rescue her, he will be good enough. But for him, now that he has done this for Cindy and married her, he demands nothing less than complete loyalty. Cindy ends up recreating her childhood parent relationship. Dean yells and yells to try and get what he wants. And she placates him by giving in to him. Maybe he'll just be happy if she does what he wants. But the one thing he really wants, her heart, she won't give him. It's a form of punishment. She can punish her father by withholding her heart from Dean.

Dean grew up and had his mother abandon him. He doesn't know where she is. She left him when she was a small boy. That is one of the most painful things a child can experience. Most children always assume in the back of their mind that it's because they were unlovable or not worth it. Dean believes he has at last found a woman who loves him, and Cindy does, but he demands everything from her. She tells him she's too tired to go to the fantasy hotel, but he still insists. He won't take no for an answer. He wants a love that is all consuming. But in smothering her and demanding her love, he recreates a situation where he will be abandoned by his loved one all over again. In this way, both of them can keep believing what they believe without having to go through the painful work of changing themselves.

It's a sick twisted way to live, but most people end up in these kinds of relationships unless they can come to an understanding about why they believe the things they do about love. When you understand what you have been through and how you processed it, you can begin to heal from tragedy or pain. But until then, you are blindly just living out your worst fears.

I also thought about how it is a big mistake to ever marry someone because you have a hero complex. Dean falls in love with Cindy because he needs to be needed. When she was in turmoil about the fact that she was pregnant, he was able to come in and rescue her. In his mind and heart, he wants that feeling again. He wants to be Cindy's hero, but he isn't who she thought he was. On the early dates, he showed her creativity, humor, and music. Thing she was missing in her life. But she didn't know he was going to be a drinker and become unmotivated. In Dean, Cindy thought she had found someone different from her dad. Dean showed sensitivity and caring, but he's also a man and has a man's needs. It's a very sad thing. We do weave a tangled web with the inner workings of our hearts.

In the end, when we are watching Dean and Cindy get married AND watch the probable end of their marriage, we know they wish it could be different, but since neither one seems to know how to change things between them, it seems easier to separate.


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