Blue Valentine: Some thoughts on tragic trends

This post contains spoilers to each movie/musical I mention in it, fair warning.
So, the other day, I watched the movie Blue Valentine, starring Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. I don’t know if I’ve just grown so disenchanted by movies that it’s become harder and harder for me to enjoy them, or if it was just this particular movie, but I came away from the end credits feeling very frustrated.

I enjoyed some of the movie, and I grew invested in the characters and their relationship, but the ending gave me no pay off whatsoever. I watched them fall in love, and I watched them fall out of it, but I missed what happened in the middle.

Acutally, I missed how they fell out of love at all. The movie did a great job of showing us how they fell in love. It takes place in two different time periods, past and present, and it spends a lot of time in the past showing us the characters’ backstory: how they met, started dating, decided to get married, etc. That part of the story takes place over days, weeks, months, who knows how long.

But the part where they fall out of love happens in like twenty-four hours. That’s all we see of their future life. We see that they have a kid, and they both love their kid, and that staying in a relationship is hard but if they can work on it it might be okay… but by the end of the day they are getting a divorce, and I don’t understand why. I knew going into the movie that the divorce was coming, because I had read reviews, but it still seemed like it came out of nowhere. Maybe everything was subtle and supposed to be implied, and I must have missed it. I just couldn’t accept the ending.

This movie seems to say, “love is great but it doesn’t last.” Even the most in-love couples fall out of love eventually. And that bothered me. I get it though. I mean, I get that we are a broken and finite people and that we can’t keep love whole on our own. I understand that.

I can even appreciate movies and stories that utilize that theme, like the musical The LastFive Years. (Seriously, you should check it out). In it, Jamie and Cathy divorce, but at least we are given more time with them, in both the build up of the relationship and the build up of the break-up, so that the story becomes truly tragic. We spend enough time in both Jamie and Cathy’s heads that we can understand their brokenness and baggage.
In Blue Valentine, I feel like we get a lot of time in Gosling’s head in the present, but not enough in Williams’ to make her final decision make sense, since she is the one calling for a divorce and Gosling is the one begging her to keep her vows and work through it.

Anyway, the point of the movie, even if it didn’t say it very well, is that love doesn’t last, and that’s the point of a lot of stories we tell ourselves, and it makes me sad.

I’m thinking about this in contrast to other movies and stories like Crazy, Stupid, Love. (Maybe I should just analyze all Ryan Gosling movies. That could be some fun research, eh?) I love Crazy, Stupid, Love, and one of the things I love about it is that the characters don’t get divorced at the end. The movie’s premise is that they separate for a while, and they each sleep with other people, but it’s not portrayed as a good thing, it’s something that both appalls Steve Carrell’s character and his significant other. They talk about fighting for your soulmate and working hard to keep a marriage alive, and I think a film like that is so rare in today’s culture.

We are a fallen people, and so often we make films about our brokenness, but every once in a while, our films end in hope: an echo of the perfect, holy and whole Love that is our source. That grace is definitely crazy, and it can seem so foolish to us sometimes.

Anyway, I’m not saying Crazy, Stupid, Love is perfect, there are some ideas I don’t necessarily agree with in it too. And I’m not saying Blue Valentine is completely terrible either, I just didn’t like that to fully understand the movie you had to already have an established worldview that accepts love and goodness as things that never last. I’m not against tragedy, sometimes I don’t enjoy movies because they aren’t tragic enough. (I guess that’s my main issue with this one.) I just wanted to point out some of the thematic trends we gravitate towards in our narratives as a fallen people searching for wholeness.