“You always hurt the one you love” sing’s Ryan Gosling’s Dean. He croons (in his self-called “silly voice” to Michelle Williams’ Cindy) their relationship’s inevitable outcome in the heart breaker Blue Valentine. I went to this film last night with a friend who is potentially on the verge of getting married who then left the film utterly terrified of marriage. Being recently married myself, I think hubs and I have a little bit of an advantage over the films couple (for say, getting married because we wanted to rather than an unexpected pregnancy) but I can see why it might scare the pants off of anyone in a relationship. More on that in a bit.
Firstly I thought this film was really lovely.Visually, I loved the various use of color in distinct periods. The bold reds during their courtship of the past and the mellow blues in their present dysfunction. The use of red and blue permeated the two time periods as if foreshadowing the future and reminding of the past: Frankie switching from her blue dress to a bright red one, or Dean’s blue wedding suit splashed with clashing red tie. It was a lovely visual scheme.
One slight critique about the costuming, however was Dean’s “present” wardrobe. I get that he was a total Brooklyn hipster in the past segments, but I’m not sure what they were going with in the present storyline. His 1980s inspired round, tinted glasses and cheesy Salvation Army bald eagle sweatshirt could either say A) I’m still a hipster at heart or B) five years in Pennsylvania turned me into white trash, as if that’s possible. I’m trying to side with A, because B is really a stylization cop-out.
As for the characters, well now here’s where it gets really difficult. First let me mention that the performances were absolutely outstanding. Michelle Williams Oscar Nomination was well deserved, and Ryan Gosling was most definitely slighted (though I found his characterizations and choices a bit grading after a while, perhaps that was cost him a nom). A lot of reviewers (and I mean like 90% here) have taken the stance that Cindy is a heartless bitch who ultimately disrespected the man who stepped in to take care of another man’s baby. Cindy’s getting the beating here, with reviewers calling her a selfish, slutty bitch. I say hold on there a second gang, I think Cindy’s getting a really bad rap here. Both characters are equally flawed in my opinion, though Dean is getting praises for being more sympathetic. While she may be cold and shut off, I have to agree with this IMDB theorist who started a thread titled, “Cindy: A Child Of Abuse“. In it the writer reiterates that Cindy essentially came from an abusive household without affection. Her actions are the result of having extreme parental issues and low self esteem, and while her actions may be selfish and cold,they don’t take away from the fact that Dean is basically a directionless drunk who boarders on emotional abuse. I don’t think either of them are in the right or the wrong, but there’s a slight emotional twinge inside me that sides a bit with Cindy. But gang, film students are going to write papers about this one, I assure you. Some examples: Dean’s emasculation despite having very masculine jobs, Cindy’s desire for a more Alpha male, or the varying sex positions and how they relate to the growth or decay of their relationships. Go to it film kids.
Also, the film itself, like it’s characters, had some big flaws. The biggest being the vague nature of the “present” sections of the film. My friend and I enjoyed the “past” sections of the film much better, though not for the obvious reasons. Yes those sections were happier and yes we smiled at Cindy and Dean’s unique hipster courtship. Essentially the reason we liked them more was because those sections told a much better story and it’s incarnations of Cindy and Dean were much more fleshed out that those of the Cindy and Dean of 6 years later. We were both sort of unclear in the end as to why they were so unhappy. Cindy was closed off and cold. Dean was a directionless drunk. How did they get there? I have to agree with a fellow IMDB board poster when they said:
“Perhaps Cindy has been cold and noncommunicating throughout the entire marriage…this would make me understand why Dean became so testy and an alcoholic. Or perhaps Dean was the one who soon became a heavy drinker and chastised her day to day, such as he did when she left the dog gate open…then I can understand why Cindy became so cold and unresponsive. But rather than being shown all of this we are merely given a small insight at them X number of years into their marriage and we have to ask ourselves…what the hell happened?”
Indeed. What the hell happened? I think it’s this element that makes one so fearful and hesitant over marriage or relationships in general. We don’t want to feel trapped in a loveless marriage six years down the road, nor do we want to fall out of love. I think it’s the vagueness that director Derek Cianfrance was going for. If we knew what Cindy and Dean had been through over those six years, if we knew the details of their problems, we could potentially anticipate how we ourselves could deal with them were they to become our reality. Instead, Cianfrance leaves with beautiful heartbreak. It is, no doubt intended to be commentary on the universality and nature of relationships, as this was one of the most realistic stories of falling in and out of love I’ve seen in a while. The omission of any details is what bars us from saying to ourselves, “Well that’s Cindy and Dean’s situation, not mine.” This vague storyline is what leads the fearful in us to imagine everything that could go wrong in the future of relationships. We forget that it doesn’t have to be that way; that our story will be our own, not a replication of the film you just saw or your friends recent divorce. I’m not saying one shouldn’t be afraid of marriage or that it is for everyone (dear god I know people who should never, ever be married), but I do think that Cianfrance knew exactly what he was doing, even if he claimed not to. In Roger Ebert’s review (which I think is truly great) he closes with, “I’ve read reviews saying Cianfrance isn’t clear about what went wrong as they got from there to here. Is anybody?” Perhaps not, though that uncertainty is exactly why this film moves us so.