Blue Valentine (2010)

Rated R. Our Ratings: V-4; L-7; S/N -9 Running time: 1 hour 52 min

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in
humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but
to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Cor. 13:4-7

Howie and Cindi during their happier courting days.

The Weinstein Company

Director Derek Cianfrance, co-writers, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, have named their film well. This story of married couple Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) catches them when the oxygen of their initial passion of love has dropped so low that blue is the appropriate color. I am not sure when I last saw such a realistic, and depressing, picture of the disintegration of a marriage. This film takes into Edward Albee land. No wonder there is so much Oscar talk about the two stars. They do not seem to act the parts; they embody the characters. Watching them claw and tear at each other revived dormant memories of my own parents’ break-up when I was ten years old.

Both are from working class families, but whereas high school dropout Dean seems content in his job as member of a moving crew, Cindy has higher asperations. She had wanted to become a doctor, but has settled for a career as a medical assistant. They meet in a convalescent home where Cindy is visiting her grandmother and Dean is looking in on a resident whom he had recently moved in. Indeed, in the prior moving sequence we see how compassionate Dean is by the care he gives in setting up the old man’s furniture and pictures so that when he arrives, the small room will seem less institutional and more like home—and he keeps his promise to come back to the hitherto stranger and visit him.

The film cuts back and forth a great deal, contrasting their tender moments when they were younger with their strained present relationship. The sequence when Dean talks Cindy into getting a babysitter for their young daughter and go to a tacky love-themed motel to rekindle their romance is especially poignant, his attempt at lovemaking such a contrast to their earlier passionate coupling. (And this, dear friends, is the scene which earned the film an NC-17 rating until the Board reversed itself and gave it an R, so beware if a sex scene makes you uncomfortable. Believe me, the scene is short and not gratuitous.)

In a charming sequence early in their courtship Dean strums his ukulele while singing the old Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher song “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” well chosen in that the film could be seen as a visualization of the song. The words of the second verse are prophetic, “You always break the kindest heart, With a hasty word you can’t recall.” This movie is so real that it might seem like your own heart is breaking.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you see is the significance of the title? How is blue the appropriate color for Cindy and Dean’s relationship?

2. How is each of them complicit in the disintegration of their marriage? In what ways do we see Dean’s compassion, and yet how is he also immature? Do you think either of them understands the view or feelings of the other?

3. How do we see the song acted out in the film? In such a relationship how do the attempts to communicate sometimes have the opposite of their intended affect?

4. Do you think that the two were really compatible when they first met? What are their educational backgrounds? Who is the ambitious one?

5.What break-ups does the film make you recall?

6. Do you see any sign that either of them has any religious faith? Might this have helped, or—? Were you counseling either of them, what might you say or do? Compare this film to the Christian-backed Fireproof, also about a couple on the verge of breaking up.