dir: Derek Cianfrance
[img_assist|nid=1366|title=It'll all end in tears, like everything else|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=450|height=580]
Jesus, what a fucking depressing film.
Maybe it’s not entirely depressing, just mostly depressing. At the very least, it’s wrenching, gutting and very uncomfortable. And sad.
And what’s it about? Well, it’s about two people not in love anymore.
I don’t think I could ever bring myself to watch this flick again. That’s not entirely true: it’s really well made, I guess. And the music is really nice and appropriate, and heartbreaking at certain points. And it’s well filmed and well acted.
But, jeez, does it hurt to think about it.
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are a married couple who are clearly not happy. Their marriage is clearly headed towards dissolution. Dean is surly, drunk and hectoring, passive aggressive as well as just outright aggressive, fuelled by his sensing that Cindy is shutting him out.
Cindy clearly cannot stand Dean anymore, and their every remark to each other is brittle, jagged and fraught with peril. Don’t mistake this for some highfalutin Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf retread where sophisticates are tossing martini-enhanced barbs and cutting witticisms at each other. They, being the two leads, play it like real people unwilling to face the reality that they shouldn’t be together anymore.
It seems so simple, and obvious. But then think of how many films are actually about this anymore? Romantic flicks are all about longing, and suffering and ever so artful misunderstandings, all justified in the end by the idea that we are made complete and whole by the right person.
Few flicks want to admit, like the reality, that true romantic love rarely endures past the intrusion of the daily mundane, or the fundamental incompatibility between two people that passion only briefly obscures.
The flick’s not a big melodramatic Statement about Marriage in Contemporary America or anything that pretentious. It’s just about a couple falling apart.
The film doesn’t grind along from A to B. It uses a fairly simple but involved structure to show us the beginning and the end of their relationship. They’re intercut together for maximum sadness value. In the contemporary setting, Dean has receding hair and is drunk all the time. In the past, he still looks like the cool motherfucker Ryan Gosling thinks he is. But in the past, there’s no kid, and they’re deliriously happy once the relationship gets going.
In the present, they have a kid together, called Frankie (Faith Wladyka) but they’re clearly not happy. The flick never tells us directly why. There’s no specific emblematic event or action that has turned Cindy away from her husband. It’s not the love of another, or infidelity, or violence, or drugs more complicated than alcohol, though alcohol clearly plays a large role.
The juxtaposition of the happiness of the early stages of their love, with the discomfort and disgust of the present is really excruciating to watch. Seeing a scene where Dean and Cindy are happy and laughing like goofy kids, followed by a present scene where she can’t bear, can’t stand, cannot tolerate being touched by him, is almost as hard to watch and hear as when their cold war escalates into open warfare towards the bitter end.
To belabour the point, there’s the concept of their ‘special song’. When Dean plays it on the stereo in the sterile ‘love hotel’ they venture to, which, for some bizarre reason, they think will save their relationship, he is drunk and Cindy is already disgusted with him, before she gets too drunk to function. When it skips to the past again, she’s ecstatic to hear the song, to hear him sing it, and is determined to believe the song “You and Me”, sung in that Motown-y way, will have all the significance that he thinks it will. It’s the second time when it acts as a knife in the guts, not the first.
Dean is a fairly unambitious working class guy who never finished high school. The flick never implies this is, in and of itself, the problem, but when Cindy is still hoping there might be a change in Dean’s outlook and ambition, to allow for the possibility that something could be salvaged between them, you know it comes down to the fact that she just plainly doesn’t love him anymore.
And it’s not the falling out of passionate love that can be replaced by that bland companionate partnership that most long-term relationships devolve into, where emotion and sexual desire are diverted into obsessions over food and house renovations. It’s the stone cold loathing of someone you used to love.
And, for me, it’s terrifying to watch and contemplate. It’s terrifying to see how Cindy could go to the complete other end of the emotional spectrum concerning Dean, and how much of a monster Dean can become once he senses she can never feel anything positive for him again.
It makes for very painful watching. The performances, I guess, are really great, but I really found them pretty annoying much of the time, I guess because we were supposed to find them annoying at certain times. Ryan Gosling is touted as some kind of latter day Brando reincarnated, but is that really a good thing? I’ve seen him in so many film where he seems to be playing exactly the same guy with the same range of ticks and mannerisms, and I keep expecting him to intone “the horrah, the horrah,” while rubbing his head and doing that cheek rubbing thing he does.
Annoying affectations. But he’s still compelling, I have to give him that. Most of the time as this character, except when he becomes what he becomes towards the end, he’s almost kinda relatable. It’s relatable to watch him playing a guy who, through sheer disbelief can’t bring himself to accept that the lynchpin, the foundation he thought he was going to build his adulthood upon, that of being a husband to Cindy, and a father to Frankie, is no longer tenable. It’s a horrible feeling, and an even horrible dawning realisation. And most of us, regardless of gender, can relate to that.
To keep it all raw and in yer face, the director and the actors conspire to keep it ‘real’, by improvising most of their lines, which keeps the dialogue, especially in the heated scenes, mundane and believable. Most of us don’t magically become eloquent and wise when we feel that yawning abyss gnawing away inside, when we’re confronted by just how little the love of our lives loves us anymore.
No, we lash out and say horrible, hurtful, begging things, knowing that nothing we say will change the outcome, but desperately hoping that one more word will magically make the difference. Appeal to their fear of loneliness, manipulate them with their children, tell them you can change, beg them to tell you what to change about yourself, and that you swear you’ll do it, anything, please, just tell me…
The way it ends, as all things like this end, is in misery, and relief: if you watched only the end credits of this flick, you would be under the deeply mistaken impression that this was the sweetest and most shamelessly romantic flick you’d never seen. Fireworks and young lovers hugging, convinced that they are the only two people in the world truly in love.
How deceptive, how true.
I still don’t know if it was a good flick, because it was certainly a painful flick, but it made me feel a wide range of emotions, and movies rarely if ever do that. Most only offer diversion and escape, which is usually all I ask.
But every time I think of the tune and chorus “you and me, you and me, ain’t nobody but you and me” I feel like sobbing. The rest of the flick’s music is ably supplied by Grizzly Bear’s last album, but that song is the sharp flaw in the heart of this diamond of a flick that keeps it all together, and makes it all fall apart at the right frequency.
It’s well made misery fodder made by people who’ve been burned for people who have and will be burned again. Don’t watch it with someone you love.
7 times that Future Room certainly did not look like a robot’s vagina out of 10
“I didn't want to be somebody's husband and I didn't want to be somebody's dad, that wasn't my goal in life. But somehow it was.” – marriage is a life sentence without parole – Blue Valentine.