Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance (2010).
Score: my heart. It hurts!
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a married couple with a small child. He paints houses and she’s a nurse. Things have been better between them, a long time ago. One night their daughter stays over at her grandpa’s, Dean decides to take Cindy to an erotic motel to try to reignite the spark. Through flashbacks, we’re told how their love story started and unfolded.
Based on Derek Cianfrance’s experiences with his parents’ divorce, Blue Valentine is bold, it is honest and it is also heartbreaking. It’s a love story that starts from a place so flawed that it is only doomed, but that doesn’t make it hurt any the less. We tell ourselves that love conquers all; where there’s love, everything sorts itself out. But what precisely is love? How do we know what true love is if we grow up and live surrounded by warped and unhealthy examples of it?
Like every other piece of true art, Blue Valentine touches you, shakes you and shares with you a piece of the life of its creator. It’s not going to tell you what you want to hear, but a deep and disturbing truth. Definitely worth the time.
Apparently, after shooting the flashback section, it was considered to edit it, call it Valentine and sell it as a romance. It would have been a huge mistake, because this relationship is broken from the start and hiding its ending would have been a lie.
Dean is abusive right from the beginning. While seducing Cindy, he tells her that all pretty girls are crazy, because everyone pays attention to them. Cindy is pretty, so she must be crazy too. I don’t think this is a deliberate technique to undermine her security, but it shows his disdain for women. Earlier, he discussed with his coworkers how women marry for convenience while men marry for love. He tells Cindy girls like her don’t become doctors, they become supermodels. Supposedly, he’s wooing her, but it’s actually discrediting her ambitions. Later on, he threatens to jump off a bridge if Cindy doesn’t tell him what’s wrong, which is actually emotional blackmail and a line that should never be crossed.
Still, he’s not a bad guy. He loves her. He loves her in this love-at-first-sight, projecting-what-I-want-into-you way. Despite being against his initial plans, he decides to stay with her and have a baby that’s not biologically his. He takes a beating for this. Though unambitious, he’s a loving father to his daughter, completely honest and selfless. But he feels love-starved. Their marriage isn’t working and he wants to feel loved and wanted by Cindy, but it’s just not happening. What was cute before isn’t anymore. Cindy drifts from being his ideal sweetheart to being a person he doesn’t know anymore, because they never really knew each other.
Cindy grew up in a home where her parents hate each other and don’t hide it. The only thing she wants is love, and it looks like Dean is giving it to her, especially after the way Bobby used her for sex. Her unwanted pregnancy makes everything much more difficult. It could have not been a problem, but financial and social constraints can really hurt a relationship. Romanticism has taught us that none of that is important if love is true, but we, its postmodern children, know damn well even true love can get butchered by a tough situation. He feels she works too much and doesn’t pay him the attention he deserves. After all, he loves her with all her heart, is it too much to ask to be loved back? She’s got other things to worry about, such as raising their daughter, which he seems to take as a joke. He’s drunk and smoking all the time and she doesn’t want him, but since they are a couple she feels he owes him sex, which makes it all the worse. He’s unambitious, which maybe wouldn’t be such a bad thing if he hadn’t convinced her to be unambitious as well.
After Dean chases her around all night, begging her for sex, he says he wants another baby. To save them. To make them go back to where it all started, where everything was still beautiful. He’s so intoxicated, both literally and metaphorically, he almost fails to realize he’s forcing himself on his wife. He keeps calling her his wife. Not Cindy, his wife. This thing he has that gives meaning to his life but he doesn’t intimately know. And to whom he can’t get closer anymore because now it hurts too much.