“When I did what I did I regretted it”
A film dealing with issues of causality, Woody Allen‘s Blue Jasmine provides much more than surface appearances. Rather than simply be a character study of an emotionally and psychologically broken woman whose rarified airs of elitist wealth came crashing down after her husband’s villainous financial skeletons are found, this story is also a tragic tale about perception. Does one woman’s dumb luck success really make her into some kind of expert on life possessed by a trustworthy opinion because she can afford her lavish tastes? Does her ability to throw a dinner party for New York’s illustrative hoard make her wiser than a part-time bagger at a grocery? There’s no way a woman with an abusive ex-husband living in a San Francisco apartment has it better than one who’s pampered and spoiled at her palatial NY estate. Right?
The saddest part of generalizations such as these is that both parties can’t help but believe them due to societal expectations and wealth’s intrinsic demarcations. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) knows she’s a woman of note because of her material possessions, upper crust friends, and day-to-day worries solely consisting of whether or not to hit Pilates or yoga. She has the perfect life, perfect husband (Alec Baldwin’s Hal), and perfect ability to ignore each and every blemish and crack within its pristine façade. She believes she’s a queen because she has the time to do nothing else. And her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins)—both adopted and raised by the same parents—believes it because she doesn’t have the time to not. Working forty-plus hours weekly with two kids at home? Why wouldn’t she idolize Jasmine?
We witness this dichotomy everyday ourselves with personal experiences often mirroring what Allen shows here. Friends and siblings grow apart with age either due to the disparity in their paychecks, politics, religion, or a myriad other things. It happens; it’s life. If the relationship changes again, however, like with some event realigning your two worlds or possibly even reversing them, it’s not as hard as you’d think to find the situation turning you into that which you reviled. When tragedy strikes and the one who was always too busy to care about the other needs help, he/she will seek it and their jilted counterpart will most likely accept. Just don’t be surprised if the impoverished throwaway turned savior finds his/her giving charity to the one who never returned the favor previously to quickly lose its appeal.
It’s easy to say Blue Jasmine is about its titular character’s mental instability courtesy of her fall from grace and the permanent vapidity and narcissism of her personality despite no longer having the means to get away with them, but I must beg to differ. Blanchett gives a powerhouse performance that is guaranteed a nomination if not the Oscar win come winter, but what truly intrigues during the course of the film’s flashback heavy progression is the evolution of Hawkins’ Ginger. Allen is constantly juxtaposing present with past where it concerns Jasmine’s memory and déjà vu as the people around her come and go. The one consistent point between both is the sister she once forsook and now desperately needs. And despite everything the former socialite did or didn’t do, Ginger finds the capacity to forgive.
Not only that, she also helps maintains the “cultural” chasm between them even though she now possesses the upper hand. She selflessly puts her own fall from prosperity—deftly hidden by our storyteller until necessary thanks to her not having it long enough to truly change her way of life—in order to care for the massively tragic descent Jasmine has undergone. She lets a woman who has just been revealed to have far worse taste in men give her advice on love, self-esteem, and self-respect. She allows herself to risk ruining everything she’s built because she still believes Jasmine knows best. The situations Ginger puts herself in as a result of her sister’s need for assistance is therefore far more heart-breaking because she risks losing her humanity and that’s far greater than money and stature.
And this brings it all back to perception and how looks are often deceiving. We believe Baldwin’s Hal is the villain through his con man deals and adulterous ways without fully knowing whether or not he acted alone. We believe his son Danny (Alden Ehrenreich) makes the lies all about him—quitting school so as not to face classmates he once bragged to about Dad’s business acumen—despite details still unknown. Ginger’s boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) is assumed to be a hothead due to where he came from while the man she sparks an affair with (Louis C.K.’s Al) is a romantic with only her wellbeing in mind. We make these assumptions just like the characters do, always putting stereotypes before the attempt to try and get to know someone.
We buy into the idea Jasmine’s nervous breakdown stemmed from her naivety without considering how deeply involved she might be in the chain of events gradually revealed in precisely timed vignettes. She becomes a victim the others put aside their lives to support. We believe her anxiety, fears, and delusions are a direct result of one man’s deceit because she has conditioned herself through years of aristocracy to believe it too. Blanchett masterfully draws us into her fragile creature amidst rough around the edges strangers by appealing to our compassion and ease with which to trust a woman in her position over the rabble barely scraping by. It’s a brilliant performance within a carefully controlled plot that unfolds into a surprisingly potent emotional reveal to make you want to immediately watch it again.
It’s her trail of those scorned that helps free us from her spell. Hawkins, Cannavale, and Peter Sarsgaard awaken to discover how manipulative and selfish Jasmine is—traits cultivated through years of watching her husband do the same. Everyone readily gives her the benefit of the doubt because of her elegance and intellect unaware we’ve become deluded from the fact it’s all plastic and fake. Only Ginger’s ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) can see through the lie to stand up for himself without falling prey to her charm. Full of spite and acceptably self-righteous, he isn’t “put in his place” by her deflections or want for pity like the rest. Far from being a model citizen himself, he knows what we will soon discover: Jasmine isn’t and never has been better than anyone.
Blue Jasmine: 9/10