For my project, I’ll be writing reviews on films with the broad theme of love. I’ll focus more on the analysis of characters and storylines instead of the technicality of filmmaking since it’s not my area of expertise.
In light of Valentine’s Day, I watched Blue Valentine by Dereck Cianfrance this week, and here’s my complete review on the movie.
Toying with two different timelines, the film, Blue Valentine closely examines the birth and death of the relationship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). Marriage at its ugliest juxtaposed with the beauty of young love paints a brutally honest picture of just how thin the line between love and hate can be. Derek Cianfrance, who spent over ten years in the making of this film, delivered a truth that Titanic and The Notebook refused to tell.
In the present day, Dean and Cindy are married with a daughter, Frankie. He is a house painter who drinks a little too much. She is a nurse who is only noticed by her boss for her looks. He is a family man, content with life as it is. She is beaten, sick of the life that she sworn she would never live. Following the death of their dog, the couple go to a grubby sex motel as an attempt to escape and to rekindle their romance.
Their upbringings play a critical role in their views on relationships. Cindy’s parents were stuck in a loveless marriage. Her father’s temper tantrum and her mother’s obedience were her first and only look into what a marriage looked like. Her fear of turning into her parents made her a cynic when it comes to relationships. She bounced from one man to another until she met Dean. Yet throughout the years, the burden of making a living and raising a child abraded their love and before she realizes it, her fear turns into reality. Her first instinct is to run. She could not stand putting herself in her mother’s position or putting Frankie in hers.
Dean’s parents divorced when he was ten and he hasn’t seen his mother since. Unlike Cindy, he refuses to see his parents’ example as the only possibility of what love looks like. He is a romantic. He believes in the kind of love that people make movies and write songs about. He fell in love with Cindy when he first laid eyes on her across the hallway of a nursing home through a crack opened door.
They saw their difference and they loved each for it. Dean loved the Cindy who wanted to be a doctor, but the person he loved more than her was the Cindy who awkwardly tap danced on an empty street to his awful rendition of Everybody Hurts. Cindy loved the Dean who earned minimum wage and who her parents thought was not good enough for her, but she married the Dean who gave her a promise that not single one of her twenty five ex-boyfriends could.
There is hardly ever just one moment that puts an end to an entire relationship. The disappointment and resentment come in stages. They sneak up on you. They build up and finally explode when you wake up one morning and realize that the person lying next to you is no longer the person you promised “for better or for worse” to.
The Dean and Cindy from five years ago are still there. They have just become unrecognizable to each other. The Dean Cindy fell in love with is the exact same Dean who she hates now. His spontaneity, his goofiness, his grand romantic gestures that were once so appealing to her have in her mind turned into immaturity, a lack of drive, and a sign of weakness. He loved and still loves her in the only way he knows how. While that love was more than enough for the Cindy five years ago, the Cindy in the present moment, the Cindy who has had a taste of reality, the Cindy who had to give up on her dream of being a doctor doesn’t need that love. Dean couldn’t see that. He keeps telling Cindy that he loves her, yet little does he realize that those three words mean nothing to her when it isn’t translated into the action that she needs.
Love doesn’t conquer all. Dean loves Cindy so much that it almost becomes painful to watch. Yet none of it matters when the love he gives is actually drowning them both, because in the end, there is a difference between loving someone like you did five years ago, and loving someone as much as you did five years ago.
Blue Valentine. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, The Weinstein Company, 2010.