Around the middle of the story, we are introduced to this one question – How do you trust your feelings when they just disappear like that? This is the key question that addresses the plot and characters of the film.
Dean, played by the ever astonishing and brilliant Ryan Gosling, is a child of divorce, with no ambitions for his life but one belief growing up; that he will not have a failed marriage like that of his parents. This belief makes him become a fully devoted husband to Cindy and father to Frankie. Similarly, Cindy (portrayed by Michelle Williams) too is haunted by her parents’ and grandparents’ marriages respectively. She finds herself constantly asking the question How do you trust your feelings when they just disappear like that? She is haunted by it and is very cautious about love. When she meets Dean, she is apprehensive about going out with it and even after they start dating, she only agrees to marry him because of her unplanned pregnancy with her ex-boyfriend. So when their marriage becomes mundane, it is like Cindy was not only expecting it, but waiting for it to happen. Worse, willing for it to happen. Because it was all she had ever known – imperfect, out-of-love marriages.
We always say “Let time do its thing. Time heals all wounds.” And while that may be true, so is the inverse. Time can be our doom. And that is what Blue Valentine excels in showing to us. Time (okay, routine too) and its cruelty that turns a fresh romance bitter and mundane. Blue Valentine shows us how we live in the fear of our nightmares so much, that eventually, we create them. Both characters are doomed to have the one thing they were scared of their whole lives. The one thing they had told themselves repeatedly they would never allow for themselves.
But also it speaks about perspective. For Dean, when we do not know the whole story, we feel he is being very insecure and obtuse when Cindy mentions running into Bobby. However, upon learning that Bobby is the father of Dean’s daughter and that Bobby and his friends had beaten Dean up just for dating Cindy, we understand his reaction. There are little moments in the film that subtly reveal a lot about the characters without saying anything at all. The song that Dean sings, to which Cindy dances during their first date, foreshadows their inevitably doomed romance. The fact that Dean asks Cindy to put on her seatbelt and drive safe, but with Cindy never reciprocating the concern, shows how both characters feel about their relationships.
When we are shown the flashback scenes of them falling in love, the two actors are shown close to each other, in wide frames where we can actually see the two interact with each other and their body language towards one another. In contrast, in the now scenes, the two are separated by close zoomed in shots of the individual characters, showing us how now there is a divide.
It is very easy to take sides in this movie – something I believe Marriage Story does in a more balanced way. While Dean is fully committed to the relationship and marries Cindy and fathers Frankie despite knowing he is not her biological father; while Dean is physically beat up by Bobby and his friends for Cindy, while Dean is still working to make her feel beautiful and special and loved, Cindy has grown out of love. Cindy has become numb. Cindy wants him to change himself all of a sudden. She wants him to have passions and interests outside of just being a devoted family man. Cindy is no longer in love with the person that Dean has evolved into after all these years of being married to each other. But then again, we forget how (for lack of a better word) difficult Dean is. Just in terms of even trying to strike up a conversation with him. He gets defensive and takes the conversation to much exaggerated heights than originally intended. These personality traits were there in the beginning too; when he threatened to climb over the fence if Cindy did not confess what she was keeping from him (her pregnancy). They were just overlooked because of the love and also, in Cindy’s case, her lack of options.
As we see the marriage crumble down, we see Frankie becoming the collateral damage. She is the one who has to say goodbye to her father. And while it is true that Dean and Cindy had a dysfunctional marriage – something to do with them living their own fears and the fact that their childhood traumas left them both emotionally stunted to deal with their own emotions – it is undeniable that their decision to get a divorce has implications for her daughter and her entire life from here on out. It could also mean that she too, could grow up with the same issues as both her parents individually suffered, which declared their romance doomed. So as we see in the closing scene her running after her daddy, I am haunted with the question that when does the cycle end? When do we understand the importance of mental health and of accepting our issues and moving past them rather than living in fear of them our entire life? It is a question that it’s high time we find answers to. It is a question that could make or break Frankie’s life. Make or break our own lives.