Blue Valentine is a contemporary take on a romance that explores the deterioration of a marriage by jumping through time to examine moments throughout the relationship.
The inevitable failure of the marriage is undoubtedly pinned on Cindy (Michelle Williams), whilst Dean (Ryan Gosling) collects the empathy of the audience. The film opens with Dean displaying a sincere, everyman charm before befriending colleagues and then displaying his lovable treatment of old people. This is juxtaposed with a stone faced Cindy who is shown annoyed at the prospect of fun, before killing the family dog. I hope that my own inherent gender is not the reason for siding with Dean at this point. However, there is a recognised tiredness to Cindy, so following the non-sequential structure of the narrative, there is an expectation of explanation – for a moment which explains or contextualizes her behavior.
The following scenes reveal the moment in which they first meet – Dean exercises his charm and sense of humor, whilst Cindy deals with her current, disagreeable boyfriend. It is once Dean has been established as the point of empathy, and the character who holds onto his sense-of-humor, that he exercises a subtle conservative, albeit loose, ideology. When they first talk at length on the bus: Cindy tells a dark joke about a child molester. Dean smiles playfully but confesses he does not find it funny – although he is playful, his comment on his taste appears sincere.
Gosling displaying his screen-permeating loveliness
When looking into their future – in an aptly named ‘future room’ of a sex motel, Dean lays bare his want for another child. The audience are aligned with the male position, almost pit against the female. He explains his discovery of fatherhood and his ever delightful concept of family, whilst she appears to act as a mother out of necessity. The sentiment of Dean is not forgotten shortly after when they proceed to have sex. Cindy insists on a rough form of intercourse, in which she is dominated. This is cut short when Dean states that he cannot do it, “I don’t want that. I want you. I don’t want you like this…I’m not gunna’ hit you, I love you”. Left to ponder these words, he seems to be condemning non-heteronormative sex.
Back in time again, twice lovely Dean is told that Cindy is pregnant, and that it isn’t his baby: resultantly she signs for an abortion. In the hospital we witness a vulnerable Cindy answering invasive questions that seem to be forming a picture of her as sexually promiscuous, as if it somehow tarnishes her as immoral or sinful. We learn that she had sex at 13 and has had sex with 20-25 people (she is not sure). Dean waits outside, the very model of a supportive partner. The procedure begins. The camera is very invasive, looking at her fearful expression and amplifying the sound of utensils. Thankfully, in the eyes of pro-life supporters, she sees the light and abandons the procedure. Dean is supportive.
Once word gets to the actual father of this relationship, he and a couple of toughs beat Dean. I’m sure somewhere in amongst the punches delightful Dean turns the other cheek, or forgives them or something. But in all seriousness, his character continues to show reasons to empathize with his position. Cindy, in turn, becomes the antagonist who acts immorally. The closing of the film has her telling adorable, lovely Dean that she wants a divorce. He responds to this by reminding her of the promises made in the ceremony; how she is not recognizing the sanctity of marriage.