Was really it love? The couple in “Blue Valentine” probably asks that question many times to themselves while struggling to deal with the problem between them. Yes, it was love indeed, but the reality requires a lot more than love when you decide to live with someone you adore. Love may be necessary for the relationship, but it is not sufficient to support and maintain it, and they learn that harsh life lesson in a bitter way.
How they meet each other for the first time is a typical case of Meet Cute. Dean(Ryan Gosling) is a high school dropout who has started to work in a moving company. Though he has few options in his future, but he is optimistic and romantic; he thinks there must be someone he can spend the lifetime with, and he believes that he will meet such a girl someday.
On one day, he really happens to meet his dream girl. When he and other workers move an old man and his belongings to the asylum, he coincidentally comes across Cindy(Michelle Williams), who has just come to the asylum for taking her grandmother to her home for the family dinner. When their eyes are met, it is love at first sight, and Dean actively pursues her, and the mutual feelings between them gradually grow after their second meeting.
We are vaguely aware of what happens next, because the movie goes back and forth between the development of their relationship in the beginning and the deterioration of their marriage several years after. Right from the opening scene, it is apparent that Dean and Cindy have been stuck in the dysfunctional married life for a long time. They have a nice home and there is also a cute little daughter both care about, but they are not happy at all. Dean thinks they can fix the problem by rekindling the passion between them, but Cindy, tired and exasperated by not only the strained relationship but also her hard work, has doubts about that, though she follows her husband’s suggestion.
The director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance dexterously moves his story between two time points along with his two lead performers. Shuffling between the past and the present can easily disrupt the narrative flow, but the transitions in the plot are mostly exact and effective, and the strong contrast between the lively optimism in the past and the drab melancholy in the present is palpable on the screen. We see how they are quickly drawn to each other through in one intimate scene, and then we see how desperately they search for that feeling in the following scene. In the past, they can spontaneously create a warm, romantic moment between them even only with a simple tune played Dean. In the present, they have their private moment in some motel for lovers, but the cold, futuristic interior and lightings of their room clearly suggests that there is not much left between them. Even with music and alcohol, they do not regain the happiness they had once before, and the reality they have to deal with soon returns.
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are captivating both as the couple fallen in love with each other and as the couple estranged from each other. Williams’ emotionally wrenching work here is as impressive as her charming performance in “My Week with Marilyn”(2011), and you can see the broad range of her talent from these two strikingly different performances. Like Williams, Gosling also has given impressive performances recently in several movies, and he ably supports his co-performer as the emotional counterpart in this film.
While Williams presents a bitter, hardened woman who was once a vulnerable girl hopeful about her future, Gosling shows us a man who has not grown up much despite receding hairline and other changes in his appearance. Watching how Cindy and Dean interact differently in the past and the present, we begin to see the cause of their problem. They love and care about each other, but their marital relationship does not work because there is little understanding or communication between them. Dean says he wants to solve their problem, but he does not listen to his frustrated wife. He is a nice dad to their daughter, but he never considers how hard his wife works as a nurse in the hospital to support them, and he should not have been that inconsiderate to her when she is hurt by the loss of their dog. Cindy does not want an unhappy married life she have seen from her parents, but she eventually finds herself stuck in the life probably not far from her parents’, and she does not know what to do about that. Considering her equally unhappy relationship with the previous boyfriend, I wonder whether she is inclined to be associated with the guys unworthy of her.
Persuaded by her husband, Cindy decides to give a chance to their crumbling relationship, but she painfully realizes there is nearly nothing left in her heart to give. When you see Williams’ agonized face in the close-up shot during the one memorable scene in which Dean and Cindy attempt to behave like the passionate lovers they were once, you can see how that makes her feel more wretched even though she does not say much.
After watching the movie early in 2011, I came across a very insightful blog post written by my Internet friend Greg Salvatore on Valentine’s Day. I still remember this paragraph: “People mistake love, or heart palpitations, as the foundation for relationships. It is not. It is what is added to already strong relationships to make them stronger. Relationships founded on love alone will fail, because the love has nothing to support itself with and, when tested, will crumble. That’s not to say that an attraction can’t lead to a strong relationship, but only if the couple focuses on understanding and respecting each other, rather than ogling each other’s beauty, or worshiping certain features of each other’s character, or rating how good the other one is in bed. Those aspects merely add to the whole, and it is the whole person that we must have the relationship with, not the parts.”
The couple in “Blue Valentine” did not know that simple truth about the basis of relationship, and both of them eventually come to bitterly recognize their failure in the end. The movie is surely melancholic and depressing, and it is hard to watch, but, thanks to good storytelling and wonderful performances, this is a vivid story of love found and lost, and you may learn one or two important things about the nature of the human relationship.
And that makes me recall what I observed from one couple. I watched them arguing toughly with each other while she was driving and he was sitting next to her. He was pissed about not being able to take me to some screening, and she kept saying why it was not possible. I was becoming nervous about their interaction while sitting behind their seats, but I can see that they were not mean to each other as the couple who had spent a long time together with love and understanding. They were frank about what they thought or felt to each other, and they understood each other well, so, as soon as their small quarrel was over, the mood in the car became as comfortable as it was before. And they are still one of the loveliest couples I have ever met.