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Blue Valentine

Sunday 6 February 2011, by Judy Harris

There are moments in Blue Valentine that could have been horrific. I walked into the cinema hoping to see a film that would trace the mutation of the sublime into the mundane. The same cinema, in fact, where I saw Moon last year. Moon, however, brilliantly exemplified the terrifying confinements and repetitions of the present juxtaposed with all of the possibilities lost to the past. But here, unfortunately, the contrast between what was and what is just isn’t devastating enough.

Blue Valentine was sold to me as an encounter with that unknowable and most terrifying mystery of why love and companionship disintegrate. Yet really this is the story of a woman who married a man because she was pregnant who then, years later, finds herself deeply unhappy and misunderstood. In the last gasp of their relationship Dean and Cindy live a hateful and soulless life together with their lively five year old daughter. Cindy is frustrated and angry, Dean is consumed with what can only be termed ‘domestic nihilism’- everything is meaningless to him apart from his wife and daughter. He resents being daily accosted by Cindy’s frustration and her need for him to fulfil some imagined potential.

However, going back in time several years beforehand we see that the height of their relationship was a whimsical rapport and not much else. Dean didn’t listen to Cindy then, either and while for him,their relationship superseded all his aspirations, it’s not so obvious that she was quite as impressed. The tragedy of their loveless and stifling relationship is diluted when it’s revealed that they got married because Cindy was pregnant with someone else’s child and didn’t go through with the abortion. At the clinic, under local anaesthetic and about to have the abortion she decided to keep the baby.
While it’s a distressing scene it’s clear that had she had a general anaesthetic and therefore not been able to change her mind she wouldn’t have stayed with Dean, let alone married him. They have no interests (either alone or together), no friends, no sense of humour and no concerns that they discuss or share with each other. The failure of a circumstantial commitment is hardly heartbreaking .

You can watch Allen’s Annie Hall or Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage again and again, but you will never find an explanation as to why either of the relationships fall apart. It’s true these are examples of over-educated bourgeois romances in a way that Blue Valentine isn’t. However Roseanne portrayed the dynamics of companionship without husband and wife having to browse book stalls and discuss Marshall McLuhan. Dan and Roseanne struggled together, embarrassed each other, understood each other and regularly laughed at each other. It’s impossible to imagine Dean and Cindy having anything like that kind of dynamic. Similarly to the Connor household, Cindy does all the housework while holding down a full time job and, even so, on leaving the cinema I heard the woman in front of me exclaim to her boyfriend “She was such a bitch!”. Perhaps she was trying to reassure him.

In the end Blue Valentine gets the blue but not the valentine. However, it’s one of the most effective pro-abortion movies I’ve ever seen.

Dir: Derek Cianfrance, 2010

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