Monday, March 28, 2011

Love Is Strange: More thoughts on 'Blue Valentine'

After watching Blue Valentine for the third time tonight, something hit me: love is strange. Complicated. Messy. And probably more than anything, disappointing. Similar to what every Yasujir┼Ź Ozu film would tell us about life.

Each time I've watched Blue Valentine, I've seen it differently. The first time, it was all about the highs and the lows. Smiling from grin to grin, heartbreaks going up and down. Left to right. Fits of rage, sexual passion, dancing to a song titled, 'You & Me.' It was all there. And I felt it. Everyone did.

The second time, I noticed it was a story about dealing with (and accepting) relational brokenness. Like the doomed fate of a child who still believes in Santa Claus (e.g., one day, that belief will be dropped), love is (sometimes) all about disappointment. Going from the honeymoon of dating to the throws of a difficult relationship, there are more than just a few bumps along the way. People tell me, 'it's not all bad. It's really worth it.' So why are there so many movies like this out there telling us how sticky, tricky, and just-plain-horrendous marriages can be? Isn't it because it's but a reflection of what see? Or is it just what we choose to see? Or is it just our selfish desires getting in the way of making the other happy? Is it happiness for us, first, that gets in the way? Or do we all just want to feel special and that's when things start to go south?

The third time seeing Blue Valentine, I kept noticing how in the first act both characters talks about 'feelings.' This was the feeling they had, and so, they went with it and 'poof!' what happened? Their risk failed. Their love failed. Their feelings, failed. Like a Greek tragedy, like Romeo + Juliet, it was all lost. And the two people standing face-to-face by the film's end looked more like strangers than former lovers. What happened? Don't they remember? The beginning? The past? The journey along the way? In their attempt to take the risk of love, they end up seeing just how unfortunate (and painful) love can be. They see how loves sometimes turns us into strangers. Strangers to the people we once were, to the people we once loved. But is it really all lost?

As the song by Mickey & Sylvia goes: "Love. Love is strange. A lot of people take it for a game. Once you get it you never want to quit. After you've had it, you're in an awful fix."

In Blue Valentine, both characters were in more than just an 'awful fix.' For them, the stars failed to align. Instead, clouds came, fireworks blasted off, and the burning blues of their future (room) was the only thing made clear. This was their clarity. And not surprisingly, they both couldn't face it.

Sitting in the audience, we want to believe that hearts would soften, minds would be cleared, and their lives would change. Some way. We plead, silently, from the inside-out and hope. A hug. A kiss. A touch. A glance. Something. Something to (maybe) make the other person--and maybe even the person, themselves--change. Do we believe that love changes? Or is it merely that the feelings do? Can we find our way back into love? Or is it like trying to find your way back into being a kid again? Achievable on days when you're at Disneyland or on the playground or coloring with crayons but seemingly impossible anywhere else.

Perhaps this is why Blue Valentine is so rare, so pure, so good. For it presents us with two people, two dreamers, two kids, essentially. Kids trying to grow up in a very broken, very difficult world. Are they ready for love? Maybe that isn't so much the question as is this: are they ready to receive love and not only give it? This is, perhaps, the biggest thing no one tells you about getting into a relationship. It's not just about what you give, what you take, what you're willing to sacrifice. It's also about what the other person is willing to receive. And, also, what they're not willing to receive. Are the two souls in Blue Valentine willing to let themselves be loved? It's hard to say for certain, but I'm doubtful (that's why they seem so insecure, so self-protective, so distant in times of pain, confusion, and loss).

A song can bring them together but it can't keep them from falling apart.

Maybe this is part of the film's power, its mystery, its wonder, and tragedy. For two hours, we get to see the evolution (and destruction) of a relationship, played out as if time ran parallel--the bad running alongside the good. The only problem is, the music has stopped and the couple (may be) beyond repair. Are they?

I guess that depends on who you are and how you see it.

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