Blue Valentine: You Always Hurt the One You Love

Derek Cianfrance is an indie filmmaker who becries the label. He directed his first film Brother Tied in 1998, then took the next twelve years to develop the follow-up film: 2010’s Blue Valentine. During the process, his conversations with the film’s actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were instrumental to the creation of an authentic story of love and how it fades without our notice until it self-destructs and turns into hate and anger at time and life lost and what could have been. Cianfrance dislikes the term independent filmmaker because of how much he depends on everyone else working their hardest and collaborating both in the pre-planning scripting faze of the film and in the spontaneity of the moment in front of the camera.

Blue Valentine recounts the aimless youths of Dean and Cindy, two young people living life without a real goal or endgame. Dean comes from a broken home and works dead-end jobs even though he is a talented musician, singer, and artist and could have succeeded in most any artistic endeavor if he gave them the time and effort and focus. Cindy comes from a stable home where her father is a real sob and a tyrannical figure within the household. Her family wasn’t broken, merely dysfunctional. She’s in college studying to become a doctor and has a thug-jock (we all know they’re the same thing) boyfriend who knocks her up and then screws around on her. Somehow Dean and Cindy find one another and the course of both of their lives take different directions.

They end up married with a young child who is not Dean’s biological offspring, but is his jewel nonetheless. Dean works another dead-end job painting houses, which gives him the freedom and time to drink throughout the day. Cindy never made it to become a doctor and is instead a nurse within a hospital wherein her only promotion seems to hinge upon whether or not she will sleep with her head doctor. The marriage goes into a spiral after Cindy forgets to lock the dog kennel one morning, the dog gets loose, and eventually gets hit by a car. Tensions that have growing and bubbling up from below the surface for years begin to rise and the two eventually find their circumstances impossible, though Dean is reluctant to break up the family and create another broken home for his daughter like the one he himself experienced as a child. Cindy doesn’t want to live a life like her mother had wherein she was a constant victim to the unruly angry spells that her father often had. She believes that life might be better for her daughter if Dean and herself were separated.

The process of fighting and ignoring one another and reminiscing about an idyllic past when everything was more simple is shot in a straightforward manner that is stylish without making its style apparent. The acting is some of the best ever committed to celluloid as Gosling and Williams had years to grow into the characters which they eventually found hard to part with after the film’s production. The whole thing comes across as a huge experiment in in-depth character acting when you read up on the specs of the film, but whilst watching the narrative unfold, the hopes and reams and harsh realities of the characters are laid bare as in a piece of cinematic neorealism whose dramatic effect approaches the viewer more and more strongly through the invisibility of its intent and total lack of artifice. I knew that de Sica’s characters in The Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. were acting (even though they’re realism is commendable and way above average), but I could register no such thing in Blue Valentine.

The film was made on a $1 million USD budget, but ended up pulling $16.6 million in box office receipts. Plus, a ton of awards, nominations, and showings at film festivals worldwide from the Academy Awards and Golden Globes to the Toronto International Film Festival, Sundance, and under Un Certain Regard at the world’s most prestigious film festival at Cannes. From here on out Cianfrance’s career took off as well. Although he ended up making no money on the film (he deferred his pay to complete the film), his next film ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ tripled it’s budget of $15 million USD with a box office of $47 million. He has completed two films since, the first of which made a modest return at the box office and the third, which is set for release sometime this year.

I look forward to watching his other films in the future, and especially The Place Beyond the Pines, but find it inconceivable how Cianfrance could one up Blue Valentine. A testament to its power, for me, is the fact that I liked the film so much. Most love stories seem false and idiotic and formulaic, and especially those produced and created for the cinematic medium. But Blue Valentine pulls no punches and shows us love in all its forms, how it degrades, how you always hurt the ones you love, the one you shouldn’t hurt at all. How we all take the sweetest rose and crush it until the petals fall, but how that one instant before destruction is worth the pains and sorrow and melancholy that inevitably follows.

 

Cody Ward

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