Thoughts about the Woody Allen movie Blue Jasmine

Update (3/9/14): I don’t know why it did not strike me before, it being so obvious, but this movie is a revisiting, in many ways, of A Streetcar Named Desire.  This reminds me of the days when my daughter was little, and we’d watch the same movies many times over.  A Bug’s Life was one of them.  I had shown Claire The Magnificent Seven, and Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, and had told her that the one was an American remake of the other.  Yet, somehow, I never noticed that the cartoon was yet another remake–sort of.  Then, one day, I noticed.  I pointed it out to Claire, and she instantly could see it.  Anyone can.  I wonder about how these connections are made in the brain: sometimes they are instantaneous, and sometimes delayed, and sometimes, well, we never make the connection.  Still, the oh-so-many ways Jasmine is Blanche Dubois are so painfully obvious that I am almost at pains to admit I never noticed until now.

Cate Blanchette won the Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which I had top of my Netflix queue just in time to know whether she deserved it.  She did.

Cate Blanchette won the Oscar for her role in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” which I had top of my Netflix queue just in time to know whether she deserved it.  She did.

Clearly, Woody spent a lot of time absorbed in the Bernie Madoff story, as did I, and it inspired much of the movie.  Around that time I was reading a lot of finacial web sites, and learned quite a bit about what was going on.  But that’s only the back story in the movie, and never is dealt with directly; certainly, no finance stuff is presented.  You just get the idea that Alec Baldwin (Madoff) is playing three card monte with investors’ money, went to jail for it, and left his wife high and dry when the house of cards collapsed and there was no real money inside it.

She, Cate–the character calls herself “Jasmine,” but evidently it’s a name she gave herself–arrives at the start of the show in San Francisco, at the ratty (although clean) apartment of her working class sister.  She’s going to flop there for a while until she gets on her feet.  She is a haughty, toplofty type, used to the life of the very rich–an apartment if not on 5th Avenue then Park, a house in one of the Hamptons,  routine luxurious travel to tony parts of Europe, all the rest.  An Australian, the actress captures perfectly the tone, dialect and mannerisms of a rich New York woman with the very great responsibility to decorate well, and ensure that the party she is throwing goes off just right.  That’s her role in life; she’s made for it.  She’s the perfect wife for such a world, and as a plus she has no desire to have any notion of what is going on with her husband’s business dealings, and simply assumes he would never be unfaithful to her.  She lives inside a dream of her own making.

The movie ‘s flashbacks tell us these things, but the current story is her dealings with the working class people she is now forced to deal with.  And she can’t.  But what’s most interesting is the way these normal, salt-of-the-earth people react to her.  It’s as if she had just stepped off a spaceship after aliens had abducted her and she has forgotten what earthlings are like.  They try to be polite, but it’s tough, given her obliviousness to the need to even TRY; not only can’t she comprehend them either, she wants them to go away.  The only thing going for her is her physical attractiveness; if she were ugly, she wouldn’t have a chance.  But that only prolongs the agony; she is in no state to learn what’s wrong with her and repent, and beg God to renew her soul and remake her life.  She’s like Dorothy in Oz–she just wants to return to a Kansas that no longer exists–but she can’t face that fact.

Which is, incidentally, a calling card of Woody Allen’s: an acolyte of Ingmar Bergman, an existentialist, the world is an atheistic wasteland and hopeless.  Never do his characters call out to God for redemption, and if they did, I suspect, a bird would crap on their upturned face by way of reply.  We need to pray for that man.

I present this description of the movie, because Cate’s character reminded me of ME.  I am like that in many ways.  While I was not fantastically rich at any point in my life, I, too, made up in my own mind a persona to present to the world, and only by God’s grace have I been able to recognize that I had been living as if the artificial was real.

We are all this way, I suspect.  It is the nature of the Fall, of the sin nature we inherit.  We justify ourselves to ourselves, and move on, and then we forget we did that.  Time passes, and if it’s working for us, we take that as evidence it is true.

Watching the movie, I thought of Bernie Madoff’s wife.  Cate’s character has no talents or abilities outside of being the wife of a very rich man in New York in the early 21st century.  Ansd so it was with Ruth, seemingly.  Stripped of her husband’s wealth, she’s a fish flopping on the shore, trying to breathe air when all she can breathe is water.

When I say that I am that, too–and that everyone is, that it is an accurate description of our fallen condition–it may sound presumptuous.  I obviously don’t know every human who lived since Adam.  And anyway, why would Woody Allen be someone to learn such a thing from?  Fair enough.  Yet, Woody had the Baldwin character kill himself in prison.  A man who was on top of the world, and when it was all taken away he had not enough substance in himself to live without his earthly substance.  That’s pretty insightful on Woody’s part, even if he’s not an exemplar in his personal life.  But haven’t we always said that about him?  His movies are often wonderfully insightful, and he seemingly can’t see himself.

I must say that the movie  haunted me, telling me that I am that person.  I have hidden from my sin nature all my life, even when I thought I wasn’t doing so.  Sin is so embedded in us that it takes a shock to wake us up.  I hope the book demonstrates that, and helps us walk that path away from our blindness.