First, the facts: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are the two halves of a dying relationship. The latter is nominated for Best Actress. The film vacillates between love’s adorable beginning and its alienating end, which might remind some of (500) Days of Summer. Yes, you may have heard about the sex (it was previously rated NC-17), but it’s the passionless, robotic kind that makes you want to question the idea of sex in the first place. It has a run-time of one hour and fifty-four minutes. Blue Valentine is not a happy movie.
I find this a difficult review to write, so bear with me. Those of you who plowed through Freedom (or: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom) will find a lot of similarities. (In fact, if you’ve read Freedom, you need to see this movie.) I had a stomachache during the entirety of both, because their end results seem to be something like, “you can’t escape.” A certain kind of freedom, the kind America guarantees, almost ensures self-destruction. Blue Valentine pulses with the stress of the destructive modern relationship. In that way, it’s the most American thing I think I’ve seen this year.
This is a sad story of the death of a relationship, but the kicker is that Gosling’s character is actually in love, a liberating love of the ‘at first sight’ variety; the ‘through sickness and health’ kind of love that we don’t hear much about anymore. Formerly trapped in a deadbeat job, the love he found with his wife-to-be initially set him free. But ultimately, it enslaved and destroyed him. This may seem to be an odd comparison, but consider the ending of The Dark Knight. The city’s only public hope has turned into the villain. He died guilty. But rather than destroy the city’s hopes for a generation by revealing the news, Batman allows himself to become the villain. “I’m whatever Gotham needs me to be,” he says.
When we fall in love, we like to imagine that we ‘will do anything’ for the other person. So what if what the other person needs is for you to walk away? What if your love demands you take on the mantle of villain so that the family can survive? Female viewers may disagree with my assessment of the husband in this film as a hero. In fact, they almost certainly will, as my assessment is clouded by my almost total identification with Gosling’s character. But he interprets love to be whatever Williams’ character needs, and he gets used. Like dogs, we allow them to love us unconditionally while we just use them as fuzzy, breathing stress balls. And inescapably, it’s the human that puts the dog to sleep.
I know I frequently ask for comments, but if you’ve seen this movie, I would love to talk about it.