Blue Valentine

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This week State Library of Queensland’s cinephile, Lance Sinclair, reviews Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance and staring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

Image from the film Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance, produced by Hunting Lane Films and Silverwood Films, streamed on Kanopy database.


True heartbreak is the rare, blighted gift that can only come as a companion to true love. The two aren’t necessarily intertwined – the possibility of a lifetime filled with the comforting presence of people, surroundings and circumstances that bring us daily joy is certainly achievable through a combination of choice, bravery and mostly wild luck. For many though, love is a hard road, and one must learn to also love the bitterness of failure, compromise and the slow erosion of pure ideals. If we don’t reach an understanding of this, if we avoid looking at our shortcomings, then in the end our emotional palette is going to be a barren one.  It’s just that richness hurts, a lot.

Blue Valentine is an almost perfect encapsulation and study of these peaks and lows, how it’s a river we’re all swimming in, and how some of us are going to find it harder to come up for air. Michelle Williams plays Cindy, and Ryan Gosling is Dean – a couple who we are going to witness at both the peak and valley of their relationship over the course of Blue Valentine, as we follow them through both the beginning and the end of their five-year relationship. In semi-rural Pennsylvania, Cindy and Dean are struggling with the daily demands of their jobs, their young daughter, and the inescapable feeling that their lives may not be turning out the way they had envisioned them. As the fractures between Cindy’s pragmatic hopes for a future and Dean’s reluctance to adapt in any way to the passage of time widen, we begin to re-visit a time, almost impossibly long ago it seems, when the two lovers first came into each other’s life.  As we journey with our two lovers, we see that good intentions are not always enough. Derek Cianfrance’s keen eye explains with dreadful, patient clarity how a kind of carefree, aimless romanticism can curdle into something stunted, limited and almost selfish in its rejection of the daily realities of this world.

Cianfrance is a movie maker that understands people, and their often, frustrating complexities. What could have been a dispassionate, clinical observation of how we can bounce off one another is, in his hands a piece of almost uncomfortable intimacy here. The best of his films deal with the ruthlessness of time. We grow close to his people, and their departure always stings. In both The Place Beyond The Pines and his recent astonishing television mini-series I Know This Much Is True, we’re thrust into the experiences of characters that may push the boundaries of patience and tolerance, but whose absence, when it arrives, still leaves a yawning hole in the viewer. With Blue Valentine, we’re presented with an equal serving of wonder and disappointment, and if they have to be intertwined, the feeling is that in the end it was worth it.

It shows that prior to filming, Williams and Gosling spent a month immersing themselves in fractured domesticity by living together in the financial and physical conditions imposed on their characters in the movie. The naturalism they bring to the screen is the lynchpin that the entire movie revolves around. Without their absolute truth and dedication, we would have a movie that would amount to basically nothing. As it is, the soul they fill the piece with makes it feel like there is nothing more important than our time spent with the film while it’s on.  It’s a beautiful movie, all the more because it’s a beauty that is hard earned.

There’s drama, yearning and passion behind every face that passes us on the street, and the heartfelt lessons in a project like Blue Valentine can be a small part of helping us realise the depths on not only our experiences, but the unseen lives of others.

Further reading

  • Failure to Communicate. Davies, Luke; 2010. The Monthly, (December 2010), p.94, 96 (article)
  • Blue Valentine : Relationships, Realism, Red. Silberg, Jon; 2011. Videography; Vol. 36(1), p.18 (article)
  • Taking the scenic route to Cannes; Blue Valentine ends its 12-year journey to the screen, with writer/director Derek Cianfrance deciding 'it was now or never'. Knight, Chris; 2010. The Gazette; 20 May 2010: C.4 (article
  • Derek Cianfrance. Monk, Katherine; 2011. Postmedia News; 12 Jan 2011 (article)
  • The Berlin School and Its Global Contexts : A Transnational Art Cinema. Fisher, Jaimey and Abel, Marco (eds) et al., Wayne State University Press, 2018 (ebook)

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