Pooja Savansukha ’15
“Blue Jasmine,” Woody Allen’s most recent film is a comedy-drama that depicts a contemporary adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ award-winning play, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” Woody Allen is known for directing films that tend to have a bittersweet romantic feel. His recent films have used the backdrop of Barcelona, Paris and Rome to further the romantic essence of his story-lines, embracing stereotypes to create light-hearted films. “Blue Jasmine” departs from Woody Allen’s typical oeuvre by depicting something that explicitly comments on contemporary society. It is also the first film that Woody Allen’s has directed in America since 2009s “Whatever Works,“ which starred Larry David and was set in New York.
Despite the shift to a deeper issue that is more disturbing in its’ extremely realistic portrayal, the film retains Woody Allen’s patented and much loved, light comedic style. “Blue Jasmine,” is fuelled by Cate Blanchett’s hilarious, sentimental, and incredible performance as a 21st-century Blanche DuBois. Set mostly in the city of San Francisco, “Blue Jasmine” traces the life of American socialite Jeanette, also known as Jasmine, who is played by Blanchett. While she enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle in New York with her wealthy husband Harold (Alec Baldwin), things change for the worse when she learns that Harold is in love with another woman and wants to get a divorce. This prompts her to expose her husbands’ suspicious financial dealings, resulting in Harold being arrested and eventually committing suicide while in prison. She is left broke and has to move to San Francisco to live with her less affluent sister.
Baldwin’s character is an attractive tycoon, married to Jasmine and he is depicted in the half of the film that involves flashbacks to their flamboyant lives. Jasmine, the socialite wife is so busy enjoying the fruits of her husband’s trickery that she coerces herself to look the other way and remain in complete denial of his swindling habits. Jasmines’ character as the wife of a swindler raises questions such as ‘How much did she know? In “Blue Jasmine,” just when the audience almost believes that she was truly unaware, a twist in the plot revealing that she was the one responsible for exposing her husband’s misdemeanors depicts her knowledge of this. The ironic and disturbing topic of the film is laid out in what happens to Jasmine after she is displaced from her life of wealth and comfort. The deterioration of her mental state, consequent to the loss of her wealth and status is highly reminiscent of what happens in our society.
In her life with Harold, Jasmine was not simply wealthy. Her wealth had defined her place, position, and identity. It transcended from being something she has, to something that she is. When she suddenly loses her money, she loses the essence of her identity, and consequently her role as the happy, sophisticated societal figure that hosts parties and always knows just what to do or say. A question that is raised by her loss of wealth is, who is she? She herself has no idea. It is disturbing that there is no depth to her character. Without money, there is nothing to her. This loss of identity comments on the way certain people today tend to become so attached to wealth or status, that they lose the essence of who they truly are, stripped of material goods. Jasmines’ inability to confront her own true self in light of this harsh reality, makes her lose her mind. She finds herself addicted to sleeping pills, talking to herself, and blabbering to strangers on the streets.
Having lived a grand illusion to begin with, she is unable to create a new illusion to distract herself with. This leads to her falling apart. Jasmine’s tragic flaw, parallel to that of Blanche DuBois, is that she is a woman of ‘refinement’ who refuses to ‘’lower’ herself to become someone she thinks she is not. Although that does make her a snob, it is disturbing that she is genuinely unable to not be that way. In her job as the office assistant of a dentist, her twitchiness and discomfort reveals that her character is beyond a snob. She is psychologically unable to be someone else, she would rather go crazy. Jasmine’s slow mental breakdown is a manifestation of her stubborn natue and her inability to be anyone other than her dream of who she wants to be. Seeing her dream shattered and consequently the deterioration of her own life, allows the audience to realize Woody Allen’s comment on society through the film.
Reiterating the timelessness of the issues that Tennessee Williams herself pointed out, Allen has diversified his own oeuvre. While I would have hoped for Jasmine to have had a realization of some sort, if not a happier ending, her complete down-spiral at the end makes the story even more thought provoking and reminiscent of the dangers of being attached to money, power and status. While many people have classified Woody Allen’s films as too cheesy or cliché,’ “Blue Jasmine” definitely extends itself to cater to wider audiences.