[Spoiler warning for those who haven’t seen Valentine.]
“The journey of love is an arduous trek,” a Valentine’s Day card reads in Jamie Blanks’ 2001 film, Valentine (based on the novel of the same name by Tom Savage), and while Blanks’ follow-up to 1998’s Urban Legend is a slasher movie, it’s a slasher movie only secondarily. Primarily, it’s a love story, and at its core are two kindred characters on that arduous trek: Jeremy Melton (later known as Adam Carr) and Dorothy Wheeler. Both so dearly want love. But both are so full of self-doubt. Both are stuffed with feelings of deep inferiority. And consequently, both rage against the society that refuses to love them back. So alike are these two forget-me’s that they are essentially the same person—so much so that it’s equally plausible that Dorothy is or could be the killer just as much as Adam. The two are mirror images of each other, two halves of the same person, and the parallels between the two wind their way through the loneliness and the anger they both suffer throughout the film.
In the last five minutes of Valentine, we learn that Dorothy is the Cupid Killer—or at least we think so until the last few seconds when Adam’s nosebleed reveals him to be the true killer. Many wonder how Dorothy wound up in the Cupid Killer’s costume and tumbles down the stairs with Final Girl Kate just before Adam pumps her full of lead. But there’s a logic to Dorothy dressed as the Cupid Killer, because script writers Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts have said that Dorothy is the killer—in an earlier version of the screenplay. Through revision, director Blanks thought Dorothy would serve as an effective final red herring and gave the bloody crown to whom he thought was the more logical choice: Adam.
We’re introduced to Adam and Dorothy’s similarities in the opening minutes of the film. It’s 1988, and a Valentine’s Day dance is awkwardly raging at Robert F. Kennedy Middle School. Adam, at that time known as Jeremy Melton, is a homely kid with thick glasses and buck teeth… and he’s on the prowl for a valentine. He asks several girls to dance with him. They all reject him, some in the most vicious ways. Paige tells him, “I’d rather be boiled alive!” Adam wanders the dance alone until he comes upon Dorothy, who is also alone, sitting on the bleachers. “Buffalo,” as Dorothy is called by a gang of bullies because of her extra weight, accepts Jeremy’s hand, and the two outcasts make out under the bleachers. Thirteen years later, Dorothy explains her motivation to her girlfriends. She reminds them that she was “fat,” and at the middle school Valentine’s Day dance, “the only person who looked at me the whole night was Jeremy [Adam].”
And 13 years later, things haven’t changed much for Dorothy. All her girlfriends have found mates, and Dorothy thinks that she’s found her own: Campbell, an attractive young man with dimples and an athletic build. But even after the two fail at sex because Campbell is unable to “raise the flag” for her, she so desperately wants someone to love her, she refuses to see all the other red flags that Campbell can and is raising. In an altercation with Campbell’s ex, Dorothy shouts, “He loves me!” But it’s not convincing to us and probably not to herself, either. The ex-girlfriend corrects her: “He loves your trust fund.”
Dorothy needs someone to love her, as does Adam. Without this, they both feel alone, rejected, incomplete. Dorothy confesses how empty she feels inside without someone to love her—especially on Valentine’s Day—when she chokes through her words: “Campbell’s all I’ve got.” As an adult, Dorothy is still that vulnerable little girl in middle school. In a moment of great emotional pain, she shouts at Kate, “You’ve always been the popular one. And Shelley was always the brainy one. And Lily was the fun one. And Paige was the sexy one. And I was the big, fat one!”
Adam’s pain is the same. At the end of the film when we think that Dorothy is the killer, Adam offers a soliloquy to Kate, who doesn’t understand why Dorothy would kill her own friends. Adam says, “All I can think is if someone is that lonely or that angry, they can learn to hide it. But inside, it never dies. It just stays there. Eats away at you. Until one day you have to do something about it.” He’s supposedly talking about Dorothy, but after we learn Adam is the real killer, we realize Adam’s words are about himself. However, his sentiments are interchangeable: Dorothy is alone and angry. Adam is alone and angry.
Adam and Dorothy try to cope with their loneliness and anger. Ironically, Dorothy fills that emotional hole inside her with food. When she thinks she’s been dumped by Campbell, she sits alone at a table at her own party and finishes off a plate of what appears to be some 20 buffalo wings. To put an exclamation point on it all, Dorothy growls, “Men suck!” Adam, meanwhile, fills his emotional hole with booze. In the beginning of the film, we learn he is on the wagon. He tells Kate he hasn’t had a drink in three weeks. But later, at Dorothy’s Valentine’s Day party, Kate finds Adam gulping down beer as quickly as he can fill the glass. Just like she rejected him at a Valentine’s Day dance 13 years ago, Kate rejects him again. “Get away from me,” she says, disgusted, and turns her back on him. Both Dorothy’s and Adam’s journeys have made a full circle: just as they were as adolescents, their adult selves are alone, rejected. The past echoes when adult Adam stalks Kate at the end of the film, as he pleads with her to “dance with me”—just as he did 13 years before.
The final parallel between Adam and Dorothy is at the climactic moment when the Cupid Killer falls atop Kate and the two tumble down the stairs. The killer sits up and seven bullets are fired into their chest. At the top of the stairs, Adam is holding the gun. When he removes the cherub mask, it’s initially revealed that Dorothy is the killer. Their identities are now mirror images: Dorothy is wearing Adam’s clothes. And it’s entirely plausible that Dorothy is the killer until the twist ending. We could just as easily believe that Dorothy is the killer as we do Adam. She has been marginalized by her friends, by men, by society. Adam has been marginalized as well by the girls at the Valentine’s Day dance 13 years ago and by society. Back in 1988, after adolescent Dorothy accused him of sexual assault, he was sent to reform school, then juvenile hall, then to a mental institution.
Valentine is a tragedy, a sad commentary on how people often mistreat others and how these actions take root deep inside a person’s psyche and sense of personal value. Early in their lives, both Adam and Dorothy were placed on a one-way road on which they tried to love their worlds and the people within them, but they were not loved back. As Paige tells Kate in the film, “Relationships don’t make U-turns.”