February 5, 2011

The Ones You Shouldn't Hurt At All

With time, comes decay. It's the way of the world. Houses will eventually crumble. Food goes bad. Bonds break. Try as we might to convince ourselves that things will remain as special and brilliant as they were in the past, eventually we have to step up and face the music, that everything changes, and, often, it is not the change we saw coming or the change we wanted. This mindset is the centerpiece of Blue Valentine, a deconstruction of a love that focuses on only two moments in the relationship, the beginning and the end. It's an incredibly difficult movie to muster, but it's that reason exactly that makes it so good.

Dean is a carefree, 20 something, ukelele toting, mover who has a very old fashioned view on love. Cindy is a med student looking to break out of a loveless relationship with a wrestling hunk. They meet one day, randomly, and get to talking. One impromptu song and dance number later and they are madly in love. Fast forward six years, and it is instantly clear that something foul has found it's way between them, though the bond they share with their six year old daughter is still strong. As they escape for a disastrous weekend abroad, we are given insight into how they met, and are left wondering how something so beautiful could turn so ugly.

Right off the bat, you know you're in for something emotionally draining. When we first see Dean, we are in six years later land, and he looks like an empty shell of a man. The first thing we see him do is go out looking for his beloved dog, and later finds her on the side of road, having been hit by a car. That's only the first in a long line of sucker punches to the gut! As the film progresses, it just more and more difficult to watch as you see Cindy and Dean just dig deeper and deeper holes for themselves, and it's sad. It's sad because it's obvious that these two still love each other, but time has eroded the bond, and they can't seem to find whatever it was that they saw in each other before.

All this is shown in conjunction with how they first met and fell in love, and those scenes, by complete contrast, are bright and lovely and beautiful! When they are in love, they are full of exuberance and joy! Nothing can touch these two, not unplanned pregnancies, or jealous exes, or feuding parents. When you are in love as these two are, you are invincible. Again, it's sad; sad to see it all come crashing down as they grow older and start to get tired.

Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams turn in searing performances here! Gosling stands out more, in my mind, if only because his physical change from "falling in love land" to "falling out of love land" is remarkable. In "falling in love land" he's the same Ryan Gosling we all know, handsome and charming in that boyish sort of way. In "falling out of love land" he could not be further from that, rocking an ugly mustache, going bald, and knocking back alcohol and cigarettes like nobody's business. It's the first thing that hits you, and it only deepens his work here. Gosling has always been a very honest actor, and that honest comes bursting forth here. He's not Gosling playing Dean; he is Dean. So clearly and carefully does he embody this man, so realistic is his portrayal of him, that you have to constantly remind yourself that that's Ryan Gosling on the screen.

Ditto for Michelle Williams. Her's is the angrier role, and the movie paints her as something of a villain. Where Dean is trying to find, albeit ill-advised, ways to mend their relationship, Cindy doesn't seem to really care, focusing more on her work and their daughter. But, Cindy isn't a villain. She just has different priorities; she's the more serious one of this coupling. Williams doesn't antagonize the role at all, equally matching Gosling in terms of sincerity. She earned that Oscar nom, no question about it. There's no physical change in her character between time periods, because Cindy didn't let herself go. She kept her eyes on the prize, and while Dean wallowed in worthless job after worthless job and started to show it, she stayed vigilant and kept working hard. That's almost certainly one of the reasons she starts to fall out of love with him.

Director/Writer Derek Cianfrance doesn't hold back in the slightest. At times, Blue Valentine seems almost like a documentary, so realistic is its portrayal of a slowly imploding marriage. You really feel everything that Dean and Cindy are feeling. You feel nothing but elation and joy when Dean serenades her with "You Always Hurt the One You Love" (a perfect foreshadow of things to come). You feel nothing but anguish and pain when you seem them struggle to reignite their passion. At times the movie is almost unbearable to watch.

I have a task for you. I want you to think of that one person you love the most. I want you to picture them in your mind. Then I want you to go to them, take them in your arms, and promise to love them forever, because if Blue Valentine accomplishes anything, it makes you realize who is the most important person in you life. This movie is incredibly brutal, painfully honest, and at, times excruciating, in it's depiction of a slowly dying star. Gosling and Williams are perfect. The soundtrack by Grizzly Bear is aces. Everything is just on point!

The film ends with Dean walking away from Cindy. It's against his every will, but he knows that if there is ever a chance of reigniting what they had six years previously, space is the best thing for both of them. When you are willing to walk away from the person you love because you know it will benefit them, you have tasted real love. Blue Valentine is a terrible movie to sit through, and I mean that in the best possible way.

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Sebastian! Indeed a painful and heartbreaking movie but oh so wonderfully acted.