Blue Valentine's Day: You Always Hurt The One You Love

Revisiting a review from the past, I will definitely proclaim that both actors in this masterpiece, should've won awards for this film instead of the two films they're nominated for in 2017. There’s a moment in BLUE VALENTINE where we go back to the initial moment where the two lead characters first had ignited a spark together.  The spark comes courtesy of a ukulele and a song sung by Dean (Ryan Gosling) called “You Always Hurt The One You Love."  In that instance, Cindy (Michelle Williams) falls for him and she wears this warm, comforting attraction like a favorite sweater.  It’s not necessarily the best rendition of a timeless classic, but like the scene itself, it’s played with the kind of sincerity you might’ve experienced upon discovering love for the first time within yourself.  It’s not even about the discovery of true love.  It might even harken back to the moment in childhood where the brain itself formed its first chemical spark that a child interpreted as "love."  It was more than likely a wholly different kind of love, like the love from a parent, but the first instance that the brain records a version of what love can be, it seems to search out various and evolved versions of this throughout the course of a lifetime.  Love doesn’t know logic, it only recognizes a euphoric connection that seems to make sense out of the life we lead and the world we surround ourselves with.  For Dean and Cindy, the moment they first felt something more than just random attraction, is the moment that everyone aspires for.  The euphoria never lasts, but one would hope that unconditional love will takes it place.  Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling embody these two characters that demand unconditional love so well, that I would easily have no reservations putting them among some of my all-time favorite acting performances of the past few years.  

BLUE VALENTINE is a movie about the discovery and disintegration of love - which can be the healthiest or the most destructive thing to ever grace someone’s life.  We glimpse both the creation and un-creation of their relationship back to back within scenes of each other.  It reminded me of ETERNAL SUNSHINE without the memory deletion component, and that’s strong praise since ETERNAL SUNSHINE is among my top 20 favorite films.  There are definitely moments where the stylistic approach feels too real, that could be misconstrued as ordinary or dull.  But watching those documentary-like moments in this movie, never seem to fill me with a sense of wasted time. It complements the story of two fractured people who seem too lost inside themselves, to really find time to acknowledge the other person.  And when they do, they get things misconstrued to where they’re even worse than before. Unconditional love is a subjective, difficult experience for Dean and Cindy.  For Dean, he’s content at just being a blue collar Joe that can provide for his family which consists of Cindy and his daughter.  At one point he even tells his wife, in the present time, that he feels no remorse for just wanting to be ordinary, even if it meant making sacrifices. Cindy clearly feels differently.  She aspires to be more than a nurse, and feels held back by her obligations.  She almost has to babysit Dean, who doesn’t necessarily exhibit a sense of arrested development, he’s just not out to be anything more than average.  He doesn’t need to make oodles of income or take the world by storm creatively, he just wants to be a dad and a husband.  It gives him something to look forward to after work.  One of the more interesting scenes plays out over dinner in a sci-fi themed hotel room.  They exchange words that only seem to exhibit their vast differences as individuals.  Cindy is driven but also rather dumbfounded by Dean’s lack of willingness to compromise.  Their disconnection has grown over time, so they have to resort to alcohol to fill the void.  Dean might be too reliant on the bottle, and Cindy might be too caught up in her job and forwarding her career to really pay much attention to the downward spiral they’re experiencing.

A much better dinner scene of relationship disintegration than the one in LA LA LAND!

A much better dinner scene of relationship disintegration than the one in LA LA LAND!

In the past, they shared a deep intimacy that may’ve resulted mainly from intense, primal attraction.  It seemed impulsive, but it felt right. Cindy hadn’t completely discarded her overpossessive beefcake boyfriend, so his presence lingered to the point of uncomfortable confrontation.  Despite all that, they were physically enamoured with each other.  You could tell, from the words shared on a bus ride, that something was manifesting itself.  Neither of them seemed completely secure in their own skin, but Dean had some kind of uncanny confidence in his approach that made him endearing.  When they share a song together, the scene is never about the song necessarily, but once again, the emotion that rises from their presence in a room, on a bed together.  Much like the outdoor ukulele scene, these two moments truly resonate with me as being the perfect examples of what it feels like to be in complete awe of the person you’re next to.  The songs accentuate the closeness they share, but the fact that there’s a profound need for closeness between the two of them, is what makes their intimacy seem real.  Even more harsh moments from the past, including a scene where Dean goes to extreme lengths to get Cindy to reveal her secret, play out in realistic fashion.  A lot of that credit goes to the director’s methodology, which required a lot of organic approaches.  There were a lot of words on the page, but the actors were free to create their own reactions to the scene in ways that must’ve felt freeing.

The acting in BLUE VALENTINE is so strong, that it could be the main reason why I fell in love with this movie.  I found moments to be familiar (such as the argument in the car or the epiphany between the two of them towards the end), but I was mainly astonished by how effortless these performances felt, while clearly requiring a lot of pathos.  I imagine the director as demanding a lot from these two actors, but his intentions were probably made to service the story.  I don’t necessarily want to read too deeply into the context behind their choices as actors because all acting requires going into "dark places” that may or may not have stemmed from personal experience.  I sense immediately that both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams might have dealt with breakups/loss frequently, and they brought so much of themselves into the characters that it’s hard to see actors acting.  It’s not unlike what Director John Cassevetes would ask of their actors, or more recently, someone like Mike Leigh who wanted to make the actors a major part of the collaborative process.  They wouldn’t do things by the book (or the script) in other words.  They would demand realism to the point of creating scenarios that were not script-based, which requires improvisation to some degree but most importantly, it asks the actors to forget they are acting and experience the moment while the camera is rolling.  A lot of BLUE VALENTINE feels observational, which is exactly what I love most about movies as of late.  It’s not about constructing plot elements that drive the story to some grand character transformation.  It’s about witnessing characters exhibiting imperfections and embracing their flawed nature.  BLUE VALENTINE manages to really fall in love with pain and affection almost seamlessly.  It takes the wonderful facets of a relationship that we remember, along with the horrendous acts of selfishness that we’d rather forget, intercuts back & forth between them, to create a painfully realistic portrayal of what it’s like to fall in and out of love over the course of time.  Not a lot of things are clearly defined because director Derek Cianfrance would prefer the audience to play a role, to fill in the gaps themselves or to allow their own personal life experience to be reflected in some way.  

The film never provides easy answers, or even easily digestible scenes that would be right at home in the world of a romantic comedy.  Clearly, this is a film about how love itself devolves into loss.  The actors are acutely aware of this, and present it on screen in an emotionally naked fashion (both figuratively and literally) that I found myself incredibly moved by their audacity alone.  With all that in mind, I’d put BLUE VALENTINE up there with a film like ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND as being a clear depiction of what true love feels like to me:  bruised and beautiful at the same time.  Flawed and perfect, sexy and ugly, and both the best thing that’s ever happened to me, as well as the worst.  I can’t entirely relate to their actions, but I completely emphatize with their plight.  They can’t seem to admit that they’re not meant to be together, and even when they finally do, they still don’t want to disregard the unconditonal love they always believed would carry them through their long life together.  BLUE VALENTINE is as vibrantly realistic as a movie gets in that it made me desperately crave closeness with someone, as well as coming to terms with the harsh reality that true love may also lead to lonliness if I’m not careful.  It takes a level of self-awareness as well as selflessness, that not everyone can find or choose to discover to save their marriage.  I can’t say I identify with Dean and Cindy, in how they deal with their uncertainties, but once they come to terms with their incompatibilty, a strange sigh of relief and unrelenting sadness washed over me.  A movie like this reminds me of how powerful love can be, and how exhausting that the process of losing it really is.  It remains my 2nd favorite movie of 2010, and it’s a great way to celebrate passionate love or recognizing personal heartbreak by watching this on Valentine’s Day -  Jim Laczkowski, 2/14/2011

James Laczkowski