Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Why Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" Haunts Me

I'll never forget Blue Jasmine's final sceneno matter how hard I try.

Woody Allen's latest film is partly set in San Francisco. I've been an enthusiastic Allen admirer since Annie Hall, and I'd been anticipating for months the prospect of seeing what he would do with this city's beautiful scenery and quirky inhabitants.

Adding to my anticipation was the fact that Blue Jasmine is an updated retelling of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, in my opinion one of the 20th century's greatest plays and films. To top it all off, Allen's film stars Cate Blanchett, who will at a minimum receive a much-deserved Academy Award nomination for Blue Jasmine. She may even win the damned thing (though I wouldn't want to go up against Meryl Streep in the upcoming August: Osage County).

Blanchett as Jasmine plays a modern-day Blanche DuBois, a fallen woman (in the financial sense) forced out of her One Percent Manhattan life. With nowhere to go, Jasmine must move in with her lower-class sister in San Francisco's still-sketchy-in-places Mission neighborhood.

The storyline follows Jasmine as she attempts to rebuild her life. Psychologically, however, she's not up to the task. And the Jacqueline Susannesque quantities of Xanax and vodka she swallows aren't helping, either. Though Jasmine is pretentious and self-destructive, I came to care deeply for her. She is one of my favorite Allen heroines to date, and I rooted for her all the way.

Spoiler Alert! Don't Read The Following If You Haven't Seen the Movie

As Jasmine's situation becomes more claustrophobic, with doors and windows closing on her in every direction, I began to fear the worst outcome for her: death. I was wrong. It was worse than that.

Toward the very end, it's clear Jasmine can no longer remain in her sister's apartment, her last refuge. And so, in the final scene, we follow Jasmine as she leaves the apartment, wanders the streets, and eventually plants herself on a park bench. Her hair is stringy and wet, she wears no makeup, though she is wearing one of her last pieces of nice clothing, a Chanel suit jacket. Jasmine is talking to herself in such an unnerving way that a woman seated on the bench gets up and leaves. Cut to black. The end.

That's when the purpose of Blue Jasmine became all too clear. It's a case study of how someone becomes 'a crazy homeless person.' No one has Jasmine's back. She's completely alone, without means, and unable to care for herself. Allen's film suggests to me that any of us could end up like her, whether it's due to a loss of: money, physical health, mental health, family and friends, or youth. And this is why the movie's ending haunts me. The scene doesn't tap into the audience's fear of death, as many of Allen's movies do. It taps into our fear of a living death.

Allen offers some hope, however. Jasmine's downfall was, I think, largely because she wasn't fully present in her own life. She looked the other way at the inconvenient and unpleasant truths happening right in front of her. It's as if Allen is saying that if we're to avoid our own 'living death,' attention must be paid to what's going on both within and around us. Once we do, we have to take the appropriate actions—before it's too late.

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12 comments:

  1. Isn't it wonderful when a movie or piece of art moves you like this?

    Your feelings as you watched this and wrote about it will stay with you forever.

    (my favorite: Irving Ackerman. Always the wrong answer!)

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    1. You're so right, Judi. It's rare and wonderful to be so moved by a film, play, book or song.

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    2. About fifteen minutes after reading your post, I saw an ad for the movie on tv, and smiled to myself. :-)

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    3. Have you seen the movie or do you intend to? Would love to know what you think!

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  2. Oh she's going to get the Oscar, Jim. That last monologue alone clinched it. O. M. G.!

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    1. You can probably see why I was dying to discuss this with you!

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  3. Glad you liked the film as much as we did, Jim. It stayed with us for several days. No one's better than Allen at capturing human foibles and weaknesses and showing us the humor in tragedy and the reality in the absurd. Life events are funny/sad, weight given depending on what angle you're experiencing it from. "I want to do something substantial...I want to be an interior decorator!" I was pulling for her, too, when it appeared she'd live happily ever after with the aspiring politician (Peter Sarsgaard).
    On a related note, have you seen the 2011 two-part Allen retrospective now playing on PBS? We watched part one, last night, and I believe part two is tomorrow. They repeat the showings at different hours, so check the listings if you're interested.

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    1. Totally agree Derek, Woody is a national treasure. Thanks for the heads up on the PBS show; I'm going to TiVo it now!

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  4. Cate Blanchett is one of my favorite actors. I must see this movie, but probably will have to alone. Paul's definition of a good movie has to do with how many explosions exist in it. The final scene that you described is one of my greatest fears too Jim.

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  5. Awesome justification to see this movie. Now I must see it. Thanks for sharing this informational stuff.

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  6. I just saw this film for the first time last night. I immediately thought of Blanche DuBois as well as June Christy's "Something Cool" character. Sad film. Powerful.

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