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The Raw Power of 'Blue Valentine'

An Intimate Look at a Broken Marriage

There is an increasing trend within film and television in displaying a broken relationship in cold distant camera shots showing the separation between the leads form before us. 

However, Blue Valentine’s powerful emotion comes from its intimate camerawork chosen specifically by director Derek Cianfrance to map out the beginning and ending of Cindy and Dean’s relationship. Yet the use of extreme close-ups and emotional non-diegetic score do not sink the film into contrived melodrama. Each flashback to the beginning of their relationship is juxtaposed against their current harsh reality as any trace of sentiment is washed away with the fiercely heated arguments the two now fall into, one of which is shot in the backseat of a car whilst the pair bitterly argue in the front. So much of the film hangs on the shoulders of leads Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in their recreation of marital strife and romantic beginnings so that we believe every narrative element of the film. As Williams goes from being distrustful and anxious about true commitment when feelings when vanish so quickly to being wholly emotionally dependent on her other half. Gosling’s character mostly remains the same throughout the film as the immature, fun-loving partner yet he still gets the opportunity to show his impressive range as much of the conflict stems from his character’s frustration at his wife’s disillusionment from everything she promised him she wanted wholeheartedly.

The film is never so obvious as to list blatant reasons for their separation and remains mostly as an antidote to cheap derivative romance films that build a premise around some unbelievable tragedy. The emphasis instead is rather on the mood surrounding a disintegrating marriage and displaying the reality of staying in a toxic relationship and the emotional weight that bears down as you exit one. 

There are many sacrifices that Cindy and Dean both make together and although they’re dramatised on-screen for an honest and cathartic film, they may be no more than what any other couple compromises for in their own relationships. Dean and Cindy may scream obscenities at each other in public places yet they are still reluctant to leave their insufferably cold environment. Cindy is even presented with a way out right before us in the film from one of her co-workers, yet is wary due to the proposal showing a true lack of her being truly valued by him and this is where the tragedy of her relationship comes from the deepest. Both of them were wholly reliant on the other and were enthralled by each other as shown repeatedly in the flashback sequences that would work in any romantic-comedy.

It is these initial glory days that heighten the emotional impact of the film’s most brutal scenes as the loss of love is deepened continuously until the climatic confrontation that brings together all the emotional weight these two are holding back and pours it out in a scene that shows just how wounded these people are as they finally admit to themselves and each other that it is not possible to carry on any further. Both are trapped with memories that are now tainted—Gosling’s busking of “you always hurt the ones you love” is a painful reminder of this—and their continual spiraling in the midst of parenting a child force them to take action. To add to this catharsis the flashback sequence builds to the climax of the onset of their relationship and the film bounces back and forth between their wedding day and their separation as we see the massive contrast between their eagerness and simple want to be with one and other and them cracking in the suffocating surroundings they’ve built around them. This is brought further into light by the film’s soundtrack filled with songs by melancholic band Grizzly Bear and their song "Alligator" that plays in the credits perfectly encapsulates the trapping bitterness that weakened both of them even at their most spiteful.

Every mood present in the film resonates with us as we feel their unease in both their silences and their arguments as the film is so powerful in delivering the emotions it aims to make us feel that it can mar the most romantic settings with its realist depiction of a marriage faltering in every aspect.

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