Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blue Valentine

MPAA Rating (R) CNS/USCCB Rating (O) Robert Ebert (3 1/2 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
USCCB Review -
Roger Ebert's Review -
Onion/AV Club Review -,49502/

Blue Valentine first caught my attention when the college oriented Onion/AV Club gave the movie a very rare “A” rating. It is an independent / art-house movie, that will nevertheless be certainly nominated in a number of categories (both main actors, screenplay, possibly direction). There is no particular cinematographic reason to _have to see_ this movie on a big screen. So in that sense one _could_ wait until the movie comes out on DVD/BlueRay. On the other hand, the movie does certainly invite discussion. As such, I would recommend young adults or married couples to go out and see this movie _in a group_ to talk about it afterwards.

Like a surprising number of R-rated movies that I’ve seen this year, it definitely deserves its “R,” though NOT only for the obvious, often stupid reasons. Yes, there is sex portrayed in the movie. Indeed, the realism of several of these scenes initially earned the movie a NC-17 rating, which if an NC-17 rating was not a virtual death sentence for a movie, the movie probably would have deserved it. However, the movie's sex scenes are beside the point and if that’s what is going to drive one to see this movie, then one’s going to be rather embarrassed and unhappy through most of it. This is because Blue Valentine is a well-written, well-acted, well-directed movie about a 20 something couple, married five years with a child (which was _a_ but _not the only_ proximate reason for their getting married before a judge to begin with) now at the point break-up. So the sex, even when it was good near the beginning of the couple’s relationship, looked back upon in the context of the unfolding tragedy / train wreck of the present comes across as sad.

The movie is written in a manner which invites the audience to have sympathy for both the characters, Dean (played by Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (played by Michelle Williams).

Dean was a _nice_ guy with some flaws. Notable are two: his lack of education (which may not have been his fault but simply the result of the broken, largely absent family he was dealt when he was young) and his apparent utter lack of ambition (which appeared to be a personal though tragic choice, perhaps driven ironically by the fact that Dean was able to get without all that much effort a wife that he loved along with a daughter then that he adored).

Cindy was a mess when the two first met. She was also from a dysfunctional home with an abusive father, but going to college (studying nursing at a city college with dreams of perhaps making it to med school), hanging by a thread. Her dumb-ass jock, on the wrestling team, boyfriend got her pregnant and then had neither the means nor a clue of how to take responsibility.

Dean in this context actually comes across as pretty good. A high school drop-out, he first met Cindy while working as a hauler for a moving company. The two met while Cindy was visiting grandmother at an assisted living facility. Dean was there helping to move an elderly veteran from the veteran’s decrepit home to a room near that of Cindy’s grandmother. It was a chance encounter, but Dean fell in love. Talking her up when Dean ran into her by her grandmother’s room, he left Cindy an unsolicited card with his number at the moving company where he worked. Cindy, with many balls in the air -- an angry/abusive father at home, beloved grandmother in an assisted-living facility, and now worried that her dumb-assed boyfriend (did I call him dumb-assed again?) might have gotten her pregnant -- “didn’t call back.” So after some weeks, Dean decided to go back to the assisted living facility, ostensibly to “check-up” on the vet that he helped move. (There was a sincerity there however, because Dean did, in fact, try really hard to make the vet’s new room as “homey” as possible when the movers moved him there. Dean _did_ seem to have a “big heart” in this way). Anyway, Dean talked up Cindy’s grandmother and asked her if she could put-in a good word for him. She did and Dean/Cindy also ran into each other at the assisted living facility again.

Dean was funny and kind at a time when Cindy was _really, really vulnerable_. In the course of the weeks that followed, she confirmed that she was pregnant. She confessed this to Dean, telling him that Dean almost certainly was not the father (in those mixed up weeks in between, she let herself be “swept away” by him as well...). DEAN DID NOT CARE. He loved her anyway. Deans kindness/dumb love allowed her to keep the baby, leave her home with some dignity and get married. She was able then to finish her degree.

But in the movie it's five years later now. She’s now a nurse, a good one, seeing a future. He loves simply painting walls for his job and coming home to his wife and kid. She sees and wants so much more. He’s happy exactly where he is and simply can’t understand why/how things could have changed.

I can’t help it, but I love / feel sorry for them both ... Did he take advantage of her? Yes. Did she take advantage of him? Yes. Did either do so maliciously? I don’t think so. Are there things that can be learned, discussed and reflected upon as a result of this movie? OMG, yes.

Three separate BIBLICAL passages come to my mind here:

“O Lord, if you should mark our guilt, who could survive?” – Psalm 130:3

Cindy came to resent Dean for his lack of ambition, but honestly, if we just focused on each other’s shortcomings and flaws, we’d all destroy each other. And Dean frankly saved her when she was in need.

“My heart is not proud, O LORD, nor haughty my eyes; I do not concern myself with great matters or things beyond my grasp.” – Ps 131:1

It seems to me that Dean’s perhaps biggest transgression was simply that he “aimed too high.” Yes, he was lucky. He found a damsel in distress, who if she wasn’t in distress would have probably never paid him mind. He saved her. But now she was no longer in distress, and no longer needed him.

“[Replying to the Saducees’ cynical / trick question about a woman who had been married to each of seven brothers who each died leaving her with a child] Jesus replied: ‘You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection [people] neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven.’” (Matt 23:29-30)

This passage really did strike me as I watched this movie. Yes, I get it, he wanted her to remain _his_ wife, and she _didn’t_ want to remain his wife. But honestly, why couldn’t they just remain friends? He did a lot for her. But also, if he truly loved her, why wouldn’t he just let her go? They lived through a lot together. Yes, there was (obviously) their past sexual relationship, yes at least initially, she would probably leave him in the dust economically and probably "replace him" sexually (should she choose to pursue that) rather easily. But they did share a lot together and he _did help her_. After the "haha-ing" of "I made it without you" and the initial resentment of "being left/dumped," is it really impossible that they could reconcile (come to good terms) with each other as "angels" to each other or in our speak as "friends" at least not hating / resenting / looking down on each other anymore? Afterall, there is all that history (beyond the possessiveness of the sex).

Maybe the divorce crisis that we've seen over these last several decades across the Christian world is the result of us coming actually closer the image described by Jesus in the passage above where everybody would come to be, above all, equal and respected and where everyone's primary relationship would come to be with the God who created and loved them all as a loving parent (perhaps like Cindy's grandmother or that old vet who Dean helped move) and simply wished them well.

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