When I sat down to watch Blue Valentine, I was in the slightly masochistic mode of one who is about to live through a very painful story.
Had I known the film would have made it this difficult to get out of bed the next morning, I don’t think I would have been able to bring myself to watch it. But I’m glad I did. And because it still tugs at the hems of my mind, I must get this out.
The Guardian’s review of the film helped me put words to the problems I did find with it. The review fittingly describes the forces of guilt and desperation that kept this doomed couple together for so long. But while it discussed what the film had the potential to do, it used a phrase that stopped me cold: “Even the best intentioned and most loving marriages can come unstuck.”
So, my fellow Muslims. This is where we come in. This is the truth we must face.
In our faith there’s a lot of lovely talk about intentions. About good intentions outweighing the bad, and good intentions being so highly esteemed that they are treated as if one actually acted on them. What this film brings to light is the much more nuanced reality for us: that even if we go into something with the best of intentions, there is still a possibility of failing. Failing miserably.
Here’s how the trainwreck version of things plays out for us. We meet a Muslim boy/girl, like them, and are convinced by our elders that the only way to go about things is to marry them. So we go ahead with it. And not just because we are forced to. But because we genuinely love the person and are grateful for having them in our lives.
I hope that’s where it ends for most of us. I hope that the reality of work, bills, children, and growing old together unfold as they should.
But in this trainwreck version, the version that is becoming more and common in these times–is some semblance of the following. Muslim boy likes Muslim girl (or vice versa), they get married (again, because that’s the only way to do this), get educated, make new friends, and realize what it is they really want, or that they’re not sure they are who they want to be. They try and try to stay together, but simply cannot. After agonizing Blue Valentine-esque realizations, divorce proceedings finally begin. The families are apalled. The community is stunned. The imams are confused. They don’t understand where things went wrong. There was no physical or emotional abuse. No issues with the in-laws. No cheating. No lying. What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong. They grew up, looked at one another, and realized that they weren’t right for one another. That’s what happened.
What makes this so hard to process is that it’s not really something that went wrong. It was guided with the best of intentions, fueled by prayers and goodwill. But try and try as one might, some things are simply not meant to be. We may not traditionally believe that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. But some semblances of hell are meant to be lived through, for better or for worse. And if that is the only way to be, so be it.
That excruciating reality is what some unfortunate Muslims must contend with. It would be very easy to tell ourselves that this film has nothing to do with us. But it has everything to do with us. It tells us the gut-wrenching truth of a failed marriage in the way only fiction can. And, fitting to what a work of fiction like this does, it offers no practical advice about avoiding it. It just tells you what is.