“Let’s do this. Let’s be a family.” They exchanged their vows with more than just their eyes when they promised themselves a life filled with love. Neither could have been more earnest and sincere than the other, nor could they be more emotionally bonded together at that moment than what they had shared until then. And this tender moment being a result of an abortion they decided to cancel abruptly, deciding to have the child, would make you touch your heart and say ‘how sweet’. Thus they declared that their mutual love had a lot more meaning to it than just sex and simple-minded affection: a future, and a very promising one both for themselves and their unborn child.
Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) present to you a contemporary modern-day couple from two significant points of their lives, set six years apart, with such a drastic contrast in their character arcs, you can’t help but wonder (and wait for an explanation as to) what could’ve happened in between. In one, we see them nearly middle-aged, with a beautiful little daughter, a quiet home in Pennsylvania, employed and settled well as a ‘perfect family’. In another, we see them six years younger, madly in love, playing with their newfound-bliss with the eagerness and happiness a child could show in a new toy. As the older couple, we slowly discover an alarming distance between the two, a gap that rapidly dawns into light, showing a vapid void that yawns right at the heart of the family, sucking them in, pulling all their efforts into making their family, just that: a family. They dote on their daughter and vent out pent-up emotions that are more about their insecurities, than reasons apparent, even at the slightest chance, like when they get at the opening of the film, as their family dog is found dead. Cutting back across the years, they’ve just met in an old-age home. He’s a laborer in a packing company, and she’s still a student. They fall in love as quickly and as casually as the aged people in the old-age home wither and die. And very soon, we see that they’re quite perfect for each other. She loves his goofy ways, his romantic witticism, and his grand gestures of love. He is in love, simply struck by her beauty, and a staunch romantic, swearing by his love-at-first-sight theory. The two disproportionate parallels are somehow brought into greater clarity when we realize that there really could be no defining point when a relationship could turn for the worse. Little things that make you find a balance within a family might never really be what your partner would have wanted in a marriage at all. They might be as trivial as say.. not putting on a seat-belt when your partner insists, or when talking about a former boyfriend that you met in a liquor store after years, your goofy attitude continuing Into the realms of your parenthood, why even the way you asses your self-worth could make you appear different in the eyes of the person you had loved. In effect, you as a viewer end up filling in the details of the marriage that isn’t apparent, with reminisces of your own life. There’s a difference between considering marriage as the purpose of your life, and viewing it as a passing phase. You can sketch the perfect circle only with a compass-hole in the middle. Dean expected his marriage to be the circle, an end. Cindy on the other hand believed more in the hole that enables the drawing, a means to the end.
They say marriage is not exactly easy, while at the same time bringing in the one factor that would complete your life: companionship. Judging by what the younger Dean and Cindy thought of each other, you could lay down their thoughts, in poetry on a Valentine’s Day I Love You card, except that as an audience for this film, you’d be surprised to see them lost in each other, blinded by puppy-love, before you inter-cut to the future, or from a different perspective, the “future” inter-cutting to the present. Rather than view the two extremes of a relationship from a conjugal point-of-view, trying to link the two, I’d like to see them both as hypotheses of one another. Everything that we see, transpiring between the older couple, in beautiful detail, has an inverse effect on what they share, while they are six years younger. If either one of the timelines could be construed as a ‘what could happen’, or a ‘what could’ve happened’ scenario, then Blue Valentine could probably be an easier film to watch, than what the director wants it to be. I’m not demeaning what he had in mind, but from what I can infer, Derek Cianfrance himself is uncertain about what could’ve transpired between his two brilliantly crafted characters.
With a soundtrack that tugs at your tear-glands, and subliminally beautiful cinematography (even the kinky-“future” honeymoon suite looks fascinatingly imposing and real), Cianfrance brings out the best acting talents that 2010 had to offer. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are both adoringly quirky, while at the same time, puzzlingly detached in beautifully edited time-spans, interwoven tightly, yet not confusingly. It’s easy to make your actors swap between ages 24 and 84, while it’s not that simple when you need to show the difference between 24 and 34. Both these leads portray such stark contrasts in mental maturity, which is impossible to create with special effects and makeup. And to think that half the dialogues in this film were a result of spontaneous improvisation by the actors themselves could not be a surprise, considering the amount of work put in by the director, in preparing his carefully chosen actors for their roles in the script, passing through five dozen drafts and well over twelve years.
To think that this film would make you more wary of relationships is an understatement, yet still an exaggeration. It’s your point-of-view that matters in the end, giving you a biased outlook if you’re a generally sexist person, making you sympathize and take sides with the characters; knowingly acknowledge emotional conflicts and validate them with empathy if you’re in a committed relationship; as someone ‘in search of love’, make you a more wiser human being who has witnessed the worst part of a doomed marriage, or as it affected me, have your heart ripped out and broken into pieces.
By Fazil, for Passionforcinema.com
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