Blue Valentine

I went to see the movie ‘Blue Valentine’ last week.  It’s too stark and raw a story to say that I enjoyed it, but it did have an impact on me.

The film is about the breakdown in a short but ill fated marriage, between Dean and Cindy, told in jagged flash backs.  Many of the shots are in extreme close up, and the acting is subtle and painful.  There was nothing glossy or slick about it.

I found as I was watching that my sympathies veered between Dean and Cindy, but I suspect that was the point; that a relationship will falter because there is a failure of communication and fault on both sides, and that people aren’t always easy or pleasant.

There was a particularly uncomfortable sequence where, in an entirely misconceived attempt at reconciliation, Dean books them into a shabby themed hotel in which they then spend a drunken evening in a room with a revolving bed but no windows.

As they got increasingly drunk it was clear nothing was going to be improved by the outing.

The dialogue was extraordinary; I found myself getting increasingly aggravated by it.  It wasn’t ‘ordinary speech’, but nor was it the clear minimalist exchange of information usually found in films.

As Dean becomes increasingly agitated he speaks all the time, badgering Cindy with endless repetitions of the same questions.

‘What do you want? What should I do? Tell me what I should do? What do you want?’  Interminable, wearing repetition leaving no gaps, not even pausing for breath and so Cindy cannot reply even if she were prepared to; so she just stands and lets it wash over her.

We know that this has happened so many times before that she has given up trying to answer; anything she does say he almost wilfully misunderstands.

As a way of showing a complete break down of communication it was very effective.

Writing dialogue which dramatises a failure to communicate is very tricky; I tend to go for silences, and it is difficult to show a reluctance to speak through writing gaps.

I am going to reconsider the use of excessive speaking as an alternative, although I think the calibration of it must be difficult: how to convey an increase in frustration and pain without alienating the reader into having no sympathy for the character?

Bombarding someone with questions can make them feel like they are under attack, rather than having an interest shown in them.  Asking a question is only the opening of a conversation if the asker waits to hear the answer and responds to it, otherwise it is nothing more than filling an empty silence with unnecessary noise.

Interestingly, a couple of days after my trip to the cinema, I watched ‘Proof’ on television.  Probably sensitised through my reflection on the dialogue in ‘Blue Valentine’, and although a completely different style of film, there were  scenes in ‘Proof’ where I could see the same technique at work.  A failed sibling relationship is shown through one sister badgering the other with endless questions; the answers are either not forthcoming or when they are given, are ignored.


I’ve just a couple of questions……just don’t ask me any.

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  1. Very thought provoking Rowena. The style of communication you describe in the film is one I am very familiar with, having been raised in a Greek family, where too much talk and not enough listening was the norm. It’s a style that is not without its benefits – but the overall atmosphere it creates leads to high levels of defensiveness on all sides. Not a great formula for real, authentic communication. But you can kid yourself you’re communicating, just because you’re talking a lot.
    Thanks! x


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