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.