There’s a scene in Blue Valentine where Dean asks “Why do you have to make money off your potential? What does potential even mean? What does that mean, potential? Potential for what? To turn it into what?

This scene is, as critics have pointed out, intimately personal, yet social in its implications. Putting aside the instability of gender roles and the impact of the gains of feminism on men explored in this film, I really wonder about this notion of Potential. Capital P.

Yes, what does potential mean? Does it mean that if I’m good at drawing, I have to be an artist? Is it a waste if I do not fulfill my potential? And if I do fulfill my potential, what does that mean for me? Where do we go from there?

In the end, neither Cindy nor Dean fulfills their potential, and neither are happy. Dramatically speaking, of course this works. But surely there must be people in the world who are content with unfulfilled potential? Because paths diverge, and sometimes we are led to places we didn’t realise we want to go, or at least feel comfortable in.

And really, who said we had to live up to our potential? What does potential mean if it is unfulfilled? It’s not concrete. It’s an idea. It’s latent. It floats. Perhaps it tugs at us. But without action, there is no consequence.

So what justifies action? How do we act?

There seems to be a hierarchy in our dreams. Great if you want to be a doctor, but prepare for stares if you dream to be a cab driver. Why, though? Is it because we have glorified the idea of ‘living up to our potential’?

I honestly have no answers, but the film and the questions it raises tugs at me so. This notion of Potential in particular – it sits like a virus in my stomach, restless.


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