What do we look for in a partner? Someone attractive? Sure. Someone smart, funny, who we enjoy spending time with? Of course. But more than that, I think we look for someone who we believe will complete us, in a sense. Someone who will erase that notion we have of always feeling less than and help us feel like we are capable of great feats. Isn’t that the way those special relationships start out? You’re going along through life, blissfully unaware of how miserable you truly are, when you meet someone who makes you realize how mundane your existence is, and every second spent away from that person is a painful reminder that you’ll never be as good as you are with them; as complete. If only we had the sense to slap that earlier version of ourselves in the face whenever those thoughts entered our minds. If only we could have travelled through time a number of years to show ourselves that this type of thinking will only lead to resentment, anger, and possibly betrayal. Why? The reason should be obvious to anyone who’s found themselves in this situation… No one else will ever be good enough for you if you aren’t good enough for yourself. True, this person might temporarily mask the flaws you believe yourself to have. But, like all addicts realize too late, it’s only a quick fix, destined to wear off more abruptly the longer you’re on the drug. By then it’s only a matter of time before the thing you once believed to bring you happiness turns into your greatest source of discontentment.
Such is the case in Blue Valentine, a painfully honest portrayal of a relationship. Dean, played by Ryan Gosling, is a talented, if un-driven young man. Cindy, played by Michelle Williams, is a bright young woman who dreams of becoming a doctor. They meet at a retirement home where Dean is part of a moving company and Cindy is visiting her grandmother. The short encounter registers at such a deep level that Dean inquires about a co-worker’s beliefs concerning love at first sight. After which, he explains that he feels like he knows Cindy. Of course he doesn’t, and the co-worker, so often the purveyor of bad advice in movies, serves as the voice of reason when he tells Dean, “It’s just a feeling, because you really don’t know her.” However, this does nothing to deter Dean as he believes Cindy is the missing ingredient that will make him whole. And she does, for a while.
Years later, child in tow, Cindy and Dean are not the enchanted couple they once were. Cindy has given up her dreams of becoming a doctor and has settled into a career as a nurse, while Dean has given up trying to be anything other than a father and husband. These things alone would not be the cause for much concern, but remember what each person is looking for in the other, completion. Dean’s diffidence serves as a constant reminder to Cindy that she is not the doctor she once dreamed of being, while Cindy’s detachment reminds Dean of his failure at the one job he takes pride in, being a good husband. The qualities that once endeared them to each other are no longer apparent, for when they look at each other now, all they see are reflections of what they could have been but are not. If you spend a long enough amount of time with someone, the lines of where you end and they begin are blurred. At this point it is no wonder we choose to place our own misgivings on each other. To own up to that responsibility would require that we make some kind of fundamental change, which necessitates much more effort than placing blame.
The movie is split between two time periods, the honeymoon phase and the dissolution of a relationship. That the writer/director, Derek Cianfrance, chooses to intercut between these two time periods juxtaposing the light with the dark makes the movie all the more poignant, and cringe-worthy, as we are able to see in Cindy and Dean the behaviors we all exhibit that make sharing our lives with another human being so difficult. Blue Valentine is unrelenting in it’s willingness to take us to places we are afraid to go. And that is precisely why this movie is so special; because it’s through these places, not another person, that fulfillment is found.