The film starts by just kind of dropping the audience into the lives of a troubled young family. There's plenty of bickering and blaming going around - she blames him for adding to her stress by behaving like a child (they have one kid - a daughter - she "doesn't need two") and he blames her for their lost dog - eventually found on the side of the road (not in a happy reunion kind of way). It's pretty obvious this is just a regular day of bickering, arguments and blaming - just so happens this is the day we enter their lives. The relationship takes a nose dive from there, but the audience is given a glimpse into how the couple met, fell in love, and ended up at this apex.
I have to say that I definitely felt the movie possessed a very male perspective - not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it's kind of interesting. REVOLUTIONARY ROAD was written and directed by men but had a very feminine feel to it, in my opinion. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK was also written and directed by a male - but it's a much different kind of movie even though BLUE VALENTINE has been likened to it.
I've been thinking about the film and trying to come away with a major underlying theme - which I think would have to be Growth. At one point, early in the movie, Cindy (Michelle Willams) asks Dean (Ryan Gosling) about his hopes, dreams and aspirations. He admits to her that there was a time in his life when being a father and a husband was the furthest thing from his mind - and probably never wanted it - but now that's basically all he wants. He wants to put every thing he has into being a husband and a father. Cindy seems unsatisfied by his answer and questions him further but he doesn't budge. Dean is satisfied with his job and has no interest in changing it or striving for "more." It becomes quite obvious that Cindy has outgrown Dean.
The film is sprinkled with clips of the couples' past - when they met and fell in love. We're introduced to Dean during his struggle to get a job as a mover and fall in love with him when he carefully and thoughtfully sets up an elderly man's possessions as he's moved into a nursing home. We watch Dean study the man's photographs, war medals, and sentiments from his marriage of years past. We see how much Dean wants this man to maintain his sense of comfort, dignity and intact memories. The viewers observe Dean's sentimental side - his sweetness, empathy and compassion for others.
Similarly, we learn a little about Cindy. In college, we see her in a wheelchair, trying to "experience" the daily life of a paraplegic. She reads to her ailing and elderly grandmother in the nursing home (where she and Dean meet). We're also introduced to her boyfriend - a wrestler, who's bullheaded, domineering and controlling (not unlike her father). So, Dean, being soft, sweet and a romantic is able to sweep Cindy off her feet pretty easily. But one thing of note was how innately compassionate Dean was versus Cindy. It seemed compassion was more experiential with Cindy, she kinda had to work for it. I think this is the area in which I felt Cindy's character was lacking. Maybe it was intentional - maybe not.
I'm not going to delve deeper into the movie's details because I don't want to ruin anything if you plan on seeing it, but also because I'm pretty sure you get the idea of where the film is heading. I'd rather focus on the concept of growth. I really liked how we got to fall in love with Cindy and Dean falling in love but were also able to want more for each of them - individually and collectively.
When the couple met, Cindy had aspirations of being a doctor. Whether or not that would've happened if circumstances were different makes no difference. I think what matters is that we learn she is goal orientated - trying to better what she currently is/has. She's interested in evolving as a person. The whole idea of change is innate in her, whereas the idea of stability and sameness is innate to Dean. Dean was very happy to be living in the present and wanted to savor it - daily. So, how are these two personalities supposed to get along - Cindy wanting change and Dean wanting things to stay the same?
I once read one of those silly chain emails that got sent around with some funny sayings in it. One adage in particular struck my fancy: "Women marry men hoping that they'll change; men marry women hoping that they'll stay the same." I think this concept is one that many people are probably familiar with. A couple gets married, makes plans and then starts some daily routine that eventually turns into monthly routines and yearly routines. Because life itself can be generally stressful (bills, house/car maintenance, job woes, etc) a couple can easily grow apart - each trying to focus on surviving in his/her individual life, much less the couple life/marriage.
I've been sitting on this blog for about five days now. Since I don't feel like I have written anything of real substance, I thought about not posting it. But, I decided to post it anyway. I wish I could write something wise and revelatory about how to not grow apart in a relationship but I can't. People do grow apart, they do fall out of love, they change. Falling in love is amazing - it's wonderful and exciting and full of hope and promise. But then life happens and it's easy to lose sight of mutual hopes and dreams - sometimes they become less and less, or more individualized - as in the case with Cindy and Dean.
I know I've said it in a blog or two before, but I honestly don't think people are meant to mate for life, nor be monogamous - it's a social construct or norm that's been established and we conform with the social contracts. Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning promiscuity or dangerous behaviors, I just think that sometimes social expectations are exaggerated and we set ourselves up to fail. For example, getting married because of pregnancy - does this really make sense? In my opinion, no. If the parents aren't truly committed to each other and serious about working on their relationship/family as much as their jobs, then it will fail and the child will have to suffer. I would much prefer to see a child visit both parents and have a calm and stable home life than have to live in a house with fighting. The kid just wants his/her parents to be happy - when they're happy, the kid is happy.
Regarding the monogamy part - I think we're human - we're animals and we possess instinctual behaviors. I do think it is possible to have a monogamous relationship. And, I think if you've reached an agreement with your partner to be monogamous, you should do everything in your power to try and live up to your end of the agreement. I also think some people are better at it than others - I don't know if this is biological or not, studies vary. But I do think it's somewhat unrealistic to think your partner will only want to have sex with you for the rest of his/her entire life. Opportunities will avail themselves - what you do with them is up to you. I can tell you right now that if Johnny Depp is willing, so am I - relationship or not! ;-)
Go see BLUE VALENTINE.