Thursday, June 23, 2011

Blue Valentine

Blue Valentine is an achingly sad affair. It chronicles the final days of a marriage between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), seemingly held together only by a young daughter (hers, not his) and desperation (his, not hers). Don’t let this scare you away though. Sadness is an emotion of many colors and this movie does a magnificent job of showing them all. It’s my favorite American movie in years.

The movie is structured as if from Dean’s point of view as he sorts through the events of their relationship, trying to discover what went wrong. It tells of their final two days separated by a night together in an all blue, futuristic honeymoon suite. This is all aching. It’s punishing. It’s angry and filled with denial that stops just short of acceptance.

These scenes are punctuated by flashbacks to their meeting, dating, her revealing her pregnancy to him, and their quickie wedding. These scenes display the other colors. There’s a scene of his serenading her late at night in front of a closed storefront that’s magical. There’s palpable affection between them. His reaction to her being pregnant is fear laced with determination. Her reaction to his proposal, immediately following a scene in an abortion clinic that sets a new standard for such scenes, is to tell him, “You don’t have to do this,” as she clings to him.

What went wrong? The answer he finds is: pretty much everything. But it’s a very understandable sort of everything, or at least it was for me. In my twenties, I fell in love at first sight and ignored all the signals the pretty young woman was flashing before my eyes until we found ourselves sitting before a roaring fire enacting “the marriage proposal scene.” The woman, hand trembling, gave back the ring, stood up, and walked out of my life.

I was lucky. I was spared what I now know would have been years of sadness. And, if I hadn’t already known this, Dean and Cindy would’ve taught me once and for all. Watching the course of their relationship – meeting, falling into something like love, passionately never quite connecting, and not enough caring – hit me in some very sensitive places. Oh, only a few of the specifics were the same, but the emotions were all familiar.

I wonder what others think of this movie. I’ve heard many people young and old express how deeply it affected them, more than I’ve heard for any other movie. People in their sixties were shattered by it. My 19-year-old niece has proclaimed it her favorite recent movie. Would all of them have a story to tell similar to mine? I read that writer/director Derek Cianfrance spent 12 years developing the script and that his two brilliant stars contributed a great deal of personal pain as well. It really shows.

I came across something very interesting while discussing the movie in between my first and second viewings. I very strongly empathized with Dean. He seemed the White Knight to me and Cindy was the messed up, troubled one. And I found most men felt the same while most women felt just the opposite. I couldn’t understand. I chalked it up to some sort of gender thing.

But, while watching it a second time, I found myself agreeing with my wife and my niece. All of Dean’s jealousies and over-willingness to pass blame rather than share it became painfully apparent. I think I finally saw things from the point of view of that pretty young woman I wanted to marry 25 year ago.

1 comment:

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