What is so staggering, heart-wrecking, and distressing about Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine isn’t just its flagrant mistrust of humanity and the world, but the very fact that a seventy-seven-year-old Allen is the mind behind all this wariness and cynicism.
In most of the auteur’s films, his creatures often find a compromise to be contended with, never quite getting what they want, but attaining what is good enough and displaying some gladness because of it. There is something dark about that, too: that nothing ever really does come full circle, that no plan ever really is fulfilled, and that life is merely a series of appeased concessions. But these are still happy endings per-say, regardless of their lack of ethics or outright exultation. Martin Landau’s Judah Rosenthal still has to live with the crime he has committed, but at least he will not be found out. That’s pleasant enough for him, though the dark demons will continue to follow him and though he is eternally condemned to question his execution of a lovesick innocent. Even the characters in Hannah and Her Sisters attain the utter opposite of what they sought at the beginning of the film. They all learn to settle on the merest of prospects that are available to them, and because of it, they remain contented (leastways, until the credits roll).
Read at Unsung Films: Woody Allen: A documentary
Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine, however, alongside every other character that surrounds her in her guilt-ridden existence, never finds any such conciliation in Blue Jasmine. She is introduced as a brittle and cruel (yet strangely sympathetic) neurotic – broken by the revelation that her husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), was nothing but a foul and promiscuous ponzi-schemer. She’s now moved into her blue-collar sister’s home – her stepsister, and one whose life Jasmine inadvertently ruined by encouraging her to invest with crooked Hal.
Jasmine and her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), are polar opposites, yet they, along with all the other characters in the film, possess a tendency to blame others for their misfortunes. They are stuck in a cycle, unrelenting in their condemnations and in their irresponsibility. Contrary to the cookie-fortune platitudes that attest to personal growth and sophistication, they never do change, nor do they even strive to better themselves. Ginger blames her inferiority complex in regards to Jasmine on genetics, Jasmine blames her predicaments on her nefarious husband, and even Ginger’s ex-husband – perhaps the only truly sympathetic character in the entire film – solely holds Jasmine accountable for blighting his life, marriage, and his future.
Nobody is blameless either. They all have their flaws, and again, the blemishes that they are endowed with are ones that are easily mendable. They know it too. They could better themselves simply if they just kept themselves in check, or even if they merely had higher standards for themselves and for others. But it is much easier to lean on your condition, whether it is poverty or depression or deceit or unalloyed, devastating lonesomeness. Again, Ginger blames it on her genes, and that is enough for her not to expand her prospects and her horizons. Hal’s estranged son blames his melancholy and his addictions on his father’s choices, and Jasmine, the epicenter of this ceaseless self-pity, fiercely rebukes any soul who feels inclined to be honest with her with their critiques of her lifestyle. She, too, is holding a concealed truth that no one knows, and when that is revealed, there is no sympathy left for this magnetically unhinged creature, because she, like Hal, like Ginger, like Louis C.K’s short-lived Al, is wholly responsible for her series of woes. They have all provoked their situations, and for the rest of their lives, they have chosen to lean on their suffering as a means to stay stagnant, as a means to never improve – as partners, as characters, and as human beings.
Blue Jasmine also offers the most authentic glimpse of real human beings with respect to Allen’s latter-period oeuvre. Even in the stunningly nostalgic Midnight in Paris, the director’s characters remained caricatures. They were little sketches of human beings that breathed only because he asked them to, lacking every human quality that Allen’s earlier work possessed with such abundance. Jasmine and every other creature that Allen has crafted for this film, however, breathe again with dimensions and with real, authentic complexes. They challenge you because they are both despicable and sympathetic. Even Hal, that swindling fraud, garners some solicitude when his fate is revealed – because he, too, like human beings, like these characters, was simply stuck in a cruel and unchanging cycle. After all, it is hard for people to evolve or to change their ways or to look away from greed and gluttony like wistful cardboard characters could. We inherently look for shortcuts, whether it’s through fraud, or deceit, or the mere act of changing the angle of the truth we present so as to make ourselves seem more sympathetic.
Read at Unsung Films: Midnight in Paris
And this cycle goes on. It is doomed to repeat itself constantly and unremittingly. Jasmine doesn’t change, and nor does Ginger, nor does anybody else. Neither one of them can keep themselves in check. Neither one of them can settle. A more youthful Allen may have found compromise romantic. Now, he finds it impossible.
Jasmine, who has been lied to for all her life, still can’t stop herself from lying about her past and her personality to the one potential partner she meets. She, too, is stuck in this cycle of deceit. Her husband did it to her, and now she will do it everyone else, and it will go on and on and on, without cessation.
This is the most cynical of Allen’s films. Unlike every other character that he has created, these are the mere few that find no solace in their neuroses. Ginger leaves her indecent partner for another one that is just as equally dishonest only to come back to the flawed partner she had so thoughtlessly abandoned. And Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard), the one man that Jasmine has finally met, the one that can save her from her hopeless desolation, isn’t virtuous at all. He is a politician, and he seeks a trophy wife to flaunt off to the public. He is running for congress soon, and the chic and well-spoken Jasmine seems like the prototypical consort. There is no love that binds the two together. The two are actually incapable of it, because they cannot look past themselves and their vanity. When he finds out about Jasmine’s past, he does not treat her like a partner would. He simply leaves her on the sidewalk and drives away. Now, he will search for another wife, and the cycle will callously press on.
This is a seventy-seven year-old man dictating such scorn. The view that we are left with at the near end of the eighth decade of Allen’s life is that nothing will change and that nobody could ever be even slightly virtuous. Cruelty reigns in Blue Jasmine, and so does egotism and conceit. Nobody is redeemed. Instead, they merely carry on in their callous ways, heedless to growth or maturity or simple humanity. They will pity themselves recklessly and blame others hard-heartedly. And if no one is there to listen to their one-sided contempt, they will simply speak to themselves until someone does, because all that matters to these characters is themselves and their self-interest. There is no love here, no compromise, no consolation. It’s an unkind film, and a mighty one, too.