By Akshay Seth, B-Side Editor
Published September 6, 2013
She tries to make it on her own, and her efforts are feeble yet earnest, only to be cut short by a hard-to-watch scene featuring attempted rape. She falls because, as the song suggests, she’s only ever known how to be supported, and without that crutch there, she has no option but to revert back to looking for another.
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The first time I saw “Blue Jasmine,” I was reminded of the film “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” headlined by a similarly absorbing (though subdued) performance from Tilda Swinton. Both movies show us a woman’s struggle to find meaning in lives destroyed by personal tragedy and are both presented in an analogous intermittent-flashback structure. But they fall on opposite ends of the spectrum in their treatment of conflict. In “Kevin,” Swinton’s character is buffeted by public backlash, harassed and tormented for a perceived role in her son’s delinquency. She’s never in denial of what’s happened. She’s in shock, unable to think of anything other than where she may have gone wrong with her son, and the film excels in the deliberate buildup to their final, mutedly cathartic confrontation.
Unlike “Blue Jasmine,” “Kevin” never caters to any notion of vulnerability. The only driving force is fear, and because Swinton’s character is merely reacting — trying her best to not cave to outside pressures — we never blame her for what’s happened. Jasmine’s story is the same, just marred by her own perceived weakness, a weakness that makes her push outwards. And because she’s responding in a more tangible, futile manner, we incorrectly think she’s a bad person.
Vulnerability comes from love. Jasmine figures out early on that her husband has always been a crook, but she keeps herself in a state of denial because the feelings she has for him are genuine. Reality strikes in the form of Hal’s dalliances, and for the first time in her life, Jasmine goes out of her way to do something right: She turns him in. She’s hated for it, abandoned by her own son, who at first expresses horror at the realization that his father could be a fraud, but in the film’s heart-wrenching climax, admits he holds his mother more accountable for everything that has happened. Why? Because everything could have been fine if she kept her mouth shut.
It’s a sad revelation, but one that reaffirms the nuance behind this third act and gives us a glimpse at the scale of Jasmine’s real predicament. And when she finally sits on that bench, babbling to nobody, the question that Allen set out to ask finally presents itself: Does amorality breed weakness, or is it the other way around?