By Akshay Seth, B-Side Editor
Published September 6, 2013
“Blue Jasmine” is more than just Woody Allen’s latest proclamation to the world that at 77, he’s finally figured it all out (“In 1942, I had already discovered women.”). It’s more than just a character study of a has-been socialite torn between denial and an ever-fading notion of absolution. More, even, than Cate Blanchett gesticulating. At only slight risk of hyperbole, I’d go as far as saying it’s more than just a movie — it’s an unanswered question, thought up by Allen and posed in Blanchett’s thistle-honey voice.
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It is, for no lack of a better phrase, The Shit. Most people who’ve seen it have echoed similarly fawning sentiments, albeit in slightly better wording. Yet, I find myself frustrated. Frustrated because so much of what I’ve read about the film in the month since its release has made the exasperating generalization that Jasmine Francis is another one of Allen’s one-note characters, smugly drawn to glimpse reality through a pair of binoculars. Is she darker, less neurotic? Yes, but ultimately etched in our psyche by perhaps the best piece of work by any actor or actress in five years.
Don’t get me wrong — I wouldn’t have seen this movie four times had it not been for that gargantuan performance, and Cate Blanchett deserves all the praise she will ever get and more for what she’s accomplished in this film. Simply put, it’s the type of portrayal that inspires other actors to be better, one that will be remembered years down the line for its near-flawless examination of mental decay.
But at the same time, it’s wrong to assume Jasmine was meant by Allen to be a horrible person, festering towards the madness she’s brought on her own snobby, perfectly coiffed head. No. This movie is better than that. It leaves you with something more meaningful than the bitter aftertaste that accompanies tongue-in-cheek simplification.
In truth, it’s a refreshing change of pace considering Allen has erected a prolific, storied body of work around the pervading (some would say annoying) idea that any character, no matter how complex, can be caricatured to occupy unapologetically sheltered environments: either Park Avenue havens or wherever the people who occupy Park Avenue havens think the other side lives. Here, Allen underscores the aloof irony of those caricatures, and through that isolation, gives us an engrossing study of the complicity of weakness and amorality.
The key word is complicity. One cannot exist without the other. Jasmine is rarely if ever truly amoral. Think about it: Is there ever a point in the film where she intentionally attempts to hurt someone? She calls Chilli everything except “greased-up fuckhead” and lies to anyone and anything within earshot, but really, every single insult she heaves or story she spins is, at inception, a vain attempt to fool herself — a knee-jerk reaction at the notion of confronting reality. She shudders at the idea of being dragged back down to the confines of the middle class so she jaunts around with her nose so far up in the clouds, you’re left wondering why she hasn’t already suffocated. But again, the only person who really seems to care is Jasmine.
In most of the reveries she gravitates toward when cornered, our protagonist ends up babbling about “Blue Moon”, a jazzy, crooning hit from a simpler time (when people could moon each other at high-school dances without getting sued). The song throws out flowery lines like, “You saw me standing alone / Without a dream in my heart / Without a love of my own.” These are lyrics that convey an almost naïve sense of vulnerability — vulnerability that latches itself onto Jasmine the moment she meets her con-artist husband Hal, and persists in her decomposition throughout this film.