Beta Valentine

The crack team of Chateau clit crits does not review movies too often because most of what passes for entertainment in theaters is rubbish. However, once every decade or so a movie so bracing, so truthful, and so relevant to the cultural moment comes along that we feel compelled to give it a platform for the readership.

The post ahead contains spoilers. If you are a giant vagina, close your eyes and think of momma’s womb.

Blue Valentine is an exploration of a modern marriage in the process of disintegrating, told via alternating scenes between the couple’s sordid present and their romantically heady past of five or six years ago. The flashback scenes aren’t labeled as such; the viewer knows they are flashbacks by the youthful hairline of Ryan Gosling’s character, Dean, and by the fact that there’s no kid around. The effect of the flashbacks is like a prolonged near-death experience, where the characters’ dying relationship is punctuated by gauzy vignettes of happier times.

Although the theater was filled with SWPL women probably on a bender from Glee house parties, don’t mistake this film for a chick flic. There’s too much truth told in the portrayal of a relationship hitting the skids for this to be anything resembling the typical sappy romance movie. For one, there’s no happy ending. Women’s faces after a manipulative cheese-fest chick flic show the telltale signs of throat-lumped weepiness: the glisten of fresh tears on cheeks. But the crowd of women filing out of the theater after Blue Valentine had only the vacant-eyed look of a shellshocked soldier who has just seen his buddy catch shrapnel. Or, in this case, catch a little too much reality.

Quite simply, there hasn’t been a movie in our lifetimes which depicts the fall of a man from charming nascent alpha to inept needy beta, and the loathing that this engenders in his lover, better than Blue Valentine.

Every male reader of the Chateau needs to see this movie, if for no other reason than to absorb the lessons it offers as a cautionary tale. The movie hits upon a number of powerhouse themes of this blog, and doesn’t flinch from the consequences. It makes one wonder if the director, Derek Cianfrance, reads this humble outpost of id brutality.

Michelle Williams plays Dean’s girlfriend/wife/pedestaled princess, Cindy. The two of them are from lower middle-class backgrounds. She’s a young, knocked up slut with daddy issues (she confesses to a nurse in one riveting scene in an abortion doc’s office that she has had “20, maybe 25″ sexual partners, and the guy who got her pregnant — an alpha male wrestler — left her holding the baby bag), and he’s a high school dropout who works as muscle for a moving company who unironically wears American bald eagle sweaters and loves his job because it allows him to drink at 8AM. In other words, they are proles, with tastes, habits and dysfunction to suit.

Gosling and Williams give stellar performances. You will not see better acting unless Daniel Day-Lewis is on the bill. And this is the kind of movie that absolutely requires a high level of acting expertise; the subtle emotions and facial tics that are evoked to flesh out two ordinary people in a downward spiral of contempt, bitterness and fear, victimized not by each other but by ancient, primal mating forces pushing them in opposite directions, are beyond the range of most actors and actresses.

The casting here is important, because an unrealistically good-looking female lead would have strained credulity. Williams is cute, but not hot. She has a thick Teutonic neck, a slight belly roll, narrow hips, and an incipient double chin lurking underneath her long flowing blonde locks. That her cuteness is physically grounded like this helps explain why a guy of Dean’s caliber can feel simultaneously awed by her beauty and motivated by her attainability. Williams’ pedestrian 7 or 7.5 ranking delivers the message that exquisite female beauty is not the only instability factor that can corrupt a marriage; a man’s betaness can do the same.

The critical Chateau (and game) themes this movie hits upon include:

– alpha pump and dumps and beta providers and how women react to each type of man
– negs (AKA teasing) as a pivotal component of successful courtships
– the never-ending cycle of female shit testing
– the flame-out of male shit test failing
– forcing closeness before attraction is built
– the near impossibility of reviving a woman’s love after it has been squandered by beta behavior
– the deviousness of a woman’s female friends
– the well-poisoning that ensues when a woman gains higher social status than her husband
– the absolute irrelevancy of children to influence the modern woman with regard to her relationship choices
– the influence of competitor alpha males on a woman’s relationship trajectory
– the misguided idealism and romanticism of kind-hearted men
– the utter cluelessness of kind-hearted men about the nature of women
– the brute self-denial men practice when they project their romanticism onto women
– the inability of women to understand — let alone control — their own maelstrom of emotions
– the wisdom of the 2/3rds rule when expressing sentiments of love
– the recklessness and stupidity with which the lower classes careen in and out of relationships
– how easily unenlightened men are blindsided by women’s biomachinations
– how easily women can be bedded with simple charm
– how complimenting a woman can turn her off
– how a failing relationship can cause a man to forget what he did to attract the woman
– how a man can lose his sense of self when he allows himself to be defined by the strength of his LTR or marriage
– the foolishness of pursuing a relationship with a single mom
– and the tingle-killer of excessive self-deprecation.

There are scenes in this movie where you will cringe with a mix of disgust and pity. When Dean leans against a door frame, sobbing and pleading with Cindy to “tell me what to do. I’ll do whatever you want to make it better”, you want to slap him hard across the face and lead him to the tree of knowledge that is the Chateau. When he forces a hug upon her in the hopes that it will stir those old feelings and she responds with a stiff-armed turtling, visibly aching to escape his touch, your cringing will reach epic proportions.

Similarly, there is a visceral sex scene, while not very graphic (you only see boobs once in this movie), that you will have a hard time watching. Suffice to say, a woman out of love is no fun to make love to.

The disgust you will feel over Dean’s immolation and Cindy’s cold retreat is made all the more palpable by the flashbacks to times when Dean was the cocky, charming troubadour who swept Cindy off her feet with some solid early game and a hipster ukelele. In what is perhaps the greatest (and thus most realistic) neg ever delivered in a Hollywood movie, Dean says to Cindy, during his second attempt to pick her up, that he “heard pretty girls are nuts. You must be crazy insane then.” Pitch perfect. That, my friends, is how you deliver a competent neg. In fact, Cindy even acknowledges the neg concept when she replies “you have a funny way of insulting and complimenting a woman at the same time.” It wasn’t long after that they fell into bed.

The attention to detail is apparent in Blue Valentine. Cindy gets knocked up by an aloof alpha whom she allows to fuck her raw dog from behind, rutting like animals. He, naturally, cums inside her and issues a perfunctory “Oops, sorry” after he is spent. She rushes to the toilet to urinate out the sperm but it is too late. In another flashback we see her examining a pregnancy stick with fear in her eyes.

In contrast, when Dean first lays with Cindy, he goes down on her. He eats her out dutifully until she has climaxed. We do not see Dean penetrating her during that scene. The message is clear — alphas fuck the way they like to fuck, betas selflessly please their women. Since Dean never has a kid with Cindy despite a flashback scene where he expresses his desire to have one with her, we can assume that either she went on the pill or she required him to use a condom even in the marital bed.

Another message that should not be lost on the viewer: Cindy keeps the alpha asshole’s kid while denying Dean a genetic legacy of his own. She changes her mind while laying down and in stirrups in the abortionist’s office that she wants to keep the kid. Dean seals his fate when he agrees to love and support her and her kid, because he wants to build a family. Cindy, a desperate, broken single mom-to-be, eagerly jumps into a Justice of the Peace marriage with Dean.

But Cindy cannot tame her desire for a higher social status man (read: a bigger asshole), and Dean’s satisfaction with his banal employment, and his profligate flattery of Cindy’s looks, eventually undermine the charm which initially attracted her. Her growing contempt for his beta neediness is so strong that she is willing to cast Dean out and traumatize her kid, who loves Dean because he is a doting stepfather.

This is why you should never treat single moms as anything more than holes into which to dump a few inconsequential fucks. As harsh as that sounds, a worse fate awaits the man who would attempt to build a relationship with a single mom. Every minute of every day, her kid reminds her of the alpha asshole who impregnated her, and whose seed she willingly chose to bring to life. You, as the provider chump assuming the role of the unrelated daddy, will always be second best in such a woman’s eyes, particularly if she chooses not to have kids by you. You will always be that guy who wasn’t quite good enough to burden her with child.

What man would want to live with such a daily reminder of his inadequacy? Well, men without any game, for example. When you feel the restriction of lack of options, you tend to settle for the dregs of womanhood.

Dean is a sympathetic character, so it would have been easy to stoke the audience to his side, but thankfully Cianfrance avoids that pitfall. Though less superficially sympathetic, Cindy is no villain. She is just following the dictates of her Darwinian script. She knows not what she does, and so you can’t really get annoyed with her. She even says as much: “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore!” This is the wail of a woman who feels unsettling guilt for falling out of love with a good man, and yet can do nothing about it.

The only real villain in the movie is the brief appearance of Cindy’s female co-worker, a grade A cunt who shouts “Don’t let him brainwash you, honey” at Cindy as she is leaving the office to calm Dean down. She even has sharp, vampiric teeth which she flashes at Dean through the office glass.

This lack of an obvious foe perhaps explains the blank faces of the crowd leaving the theater; what do you do when there is no one to root for, and no one to revile?

And that really gets at the heart of the matter. The forces that nurture relationships and that break them apart aren’t agents of good or evil. They are laws, like gravity, that we all must accommodate if we want to find love and be happy. Blue Valentine does the best job to date of any movie at illuminating the crass functioning of the mating market and the competing, and mutually alien, desires that animate men and women. It’s a dark and claustrophobic reminder of the fragile contingencies which sustain love. If the movie makes the phalanx of women leaving the theater uncomfortable, it’s only because it hits a little too close to home.

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