The first thought that came to me at the end of the movie was, this man understands women. I say this with five other Woody Allen movies tucked in my viewed list.
In Blue Jasmine, his direction of Cate Blanchett brought out the actress’ best: her portrayal of her character, Jasmine, a mentally unstable woman who was once on top of the social and economic ladder and fallen to the bottom of it. There is no scene in the movie that’s inconsistent or doesn’t belong to the story.
In some scenes, I’m repulsed, by Jasmine’s high-handed welcome of her sister, Ginger, and her husband when they visited her in her Upper East Side mansion and the fact that prior to this she has never issued an invitation to them because she’s ashamed of her sister’s status and provincial ways.
In a few, I feel vaguely about her decisions, as when desperate to regain her old life she tells a man who’s taken a liking to her that she’s an interior designer, divorced, and childless when in truth she has no marketable skill, just gotten a job as clerk for a local doctor but left it as quickly because he groped her, a widow of a philandering and fraud dealing husband who left her and killed himself afterward, and with a grown up child who disowned her years ago and hasn’t an inkling of his whereabouts; when she refuses to ditch, or sell her Chanel bag (and luggage set) for a more practical one.
But mostly, I feel for her, as when finally confronting her husband she went half mad at her husband’s confession that he’s leaving her, as in immediately, for a teenaged lover (a bit of humor here for me because squeezing out the truth may mean goodbye to comfort and all that, so couples despite the signs stretch it out as long as they can, meaning marriage works as long as couples don’t read things too far in which is a bit inane, my point being one must assume a certain level of “stupidity” to stay “happily” coupled with another, but then the question inevitably overtakes you, for how long?); her sister’s inability to see that she’s in no state to work or resume normal activities and needs medical help instead; when the man who she’s about to be engaged with left her on a roadside after learning she lied to him about herself; when after discovering the whereabouts of her son, she visited him and confessing she needs him, he tells her instead to fuck off; her Chanel bag at her side appearing to be the only comforting thing to her.
From the first scene to the last, the viewer rides out a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows, and as what happens at the end of such rides, emotions come to an abrupt dip, as when the movie ends with Jasmine, on a bench, appearing totally unhinged, hair uncombed, face unmade, talking by herself about her “happier” past. It’s hard to even imagine a beautiful woman gone wacko and when you actually see one it makes you jittery and angry, because then what’s in store for those deemed not beautiful enough?
As the movie credits move up the screen, my mind swings nearer to home, to the crazed women I see muttering on the streets. I’ve always wondered what happened to finally push them over the cliff (besides wondering why folks at the City Welfare Office don’t get them off the streets).
In Jasmine’s case, she was already at risk prior to the crisis events in her life. She’s predisposed to hysteria and took medication for that. It was because of her hysteria her husband later told her that he left her alone to do whatever she liked (and him to his women) and generally uninformed about his work (turns out their wealth is founded on fraudulent deals for which he was later arrested). Eventually her husband committed suicide and took their wealth to the grave with him which was her unravelling.
Homeless after her released from the hospital, she went to live with Ginger. She tried to fit in her sister’s lifestyle. She gets a job despite the embarrassment blue-collar work brought her. But she can’t help yearning for more, better, the luxuries of her old life. Ginger’s boyfriend, who’s a regular in their place, is her constant aggressor in what he calls her snobbish ways. These clashes bring on her anxiety attacks which Ginger and her boyfriend are completely oblivious of. And to top it all, just as when she thought she found a reason to become “alive” again, her rich, politician-wannabe suitor dumps her on the roadside after he learned of her lies.
Jasmine’s story on the whole is that her abrasive character is really a front to protect herself from further discovery of her deepseated insecurities, and she was, up until her total breakdown on the bench, surrounded by people insensitive to her illness. I’d dig it in and say these people didn’t love her, in the true sense of the word and this cues the viewer on the story’s real tragedy: These people also were needy, so much so they’re unable to perceive beyond their own needs (e.g. if her suitor loved her truly, he’d find a way to forgive her for telling him she’s divorced when she’s in fact a widow because it’s not as if she frauded him of a million bucks, but then it goes to show that for him, an aspiring politician, image is everything).
In the end, the viewer sides with her, concluding that she was in fact misunderstood, ill-judged; that she went down as the stronger person, who despite her illness had hung on in there as long as she could.