At the Movies: Blue Jasmine

January 23rd, 2014 12 Comments

Blue Jasmine 2

 

 

I admit I was unprepared for this. I expected Woody Allen saying something intelligent about the human condition in his typical wry, humorous, neurotic style. After all, the movie bills itself as a “comedy-drama.” I don’t know who came up with that description, but whoever it was is a very sick puppy with a distorted, sociopathic idea of comedy. Let me try to give you a little background.

 

M. Scott Peck was a psychiatrist and author who wrote, among other books, The People of the Lie. Peck approached psychiatry from a Christian point of view and in The People of the Lie, he posits the existence of evil as a thing unto itself, rather like Coleridge’s description of Iago as, “…a being next to devil,” full of “motiveless malignity.” From a Christian perspective, if you believe in God, you must believe in the devil, and the people Peck discusses are the ones whom the devil has chosen to destroy those around them. (I am both greatly simplifying Peck’s brilliant analysis of evil and putting my own personal spin on it, but it’s close enough for government work.) These are people who project their own evil onto the innocent, so that their victims are made to accept responsibility for an evil that is not ultimately theirs. Let me try to give you a quick example, not from Peck’s book, but from my own indirect experience. This actually happened.

 

A recently divorced woman with three children, two boys and a girl, each with very specific attributes, was struggling through financial problems of her own making and decided to try and write her way out of her financial difficulties. (We could, at this point, have a very valid discussion about the lesser evil of making bad or impractical choices, and how a job at MacDonalds or K-Mart might have been a more practical option than sailing into a profession for which she had no training, experience, or qualifications, but we’ll let that go.) She wrote a work about a recently divorced woman with three children, two boys and a girl, each with very specific attributes, who was struggling through financial problems. The only change made in the fictional work was that she wrote of herself as an innocent victim, but otherwise it was a complete parallel to her real life. In the fictional piece that she wrote, her financial difficulties are resolved when one of the boys commits suicide. In real life, when the real woman who wrote this finished her written work, she then read the piece to her three children. I know this happened because someone I know was present at the reading and told me, horrified, what had transpired. What message was that woman sending to the real boy whose fictional counterpart committed suicide?

 

That is the evil of malignant narcissism. Those are the people who become the vortex of their own whirlpool of evil and disaster and chaos, sucking everyone near them down into the depths and destroying them. That’s the Jasmine of the title.

 

Blue Jasmine is a portrait of that kind of woman. From the point of view of creating a work of art, that kind of woman is a valid subject for study. The problem is—and the reason the movie didn’t work for me is—that if you start with an unpleasant malignant narcissist at point A, and after ninety-some minutes of catastrophe and disaster and chaos and cringe-inducing behavior you end up with that unpleasant malignant narcissist still right there at point A, you don’t have anything that could be called a work of art in the traditional sense of storytelling. There is no arc, no progression, no growth, no learning. Perhaps, I hear Woody Allen cry, that is the point of the movie, that the people of the lie never learn; they are simply terminators who take all and sundry down with them. It’s a valid point (even if I just made it myself), especially if you choose a sort of post-modern, deconstructionist style of storytelling, but it does not make for a satisfying ninety minute movie-going experience.

 

Jasmine is a wealthy New York socialite who projects her own failings and evil onto everyone around her, and blames everyone but herself for the fall that she saw coming and could, perhaps, have averted. (Think of the Bernie Madoff scandal and you’ll have a pretty good idea of the background plot.) The only true innocent in this movie is her son, and you learn all you need to know, more than you ever wanted to know, about Jasmine in a scene where she finds him after many years and confronts him, saying, “But what about me? Why did you leave me? I needed you!”

 

Those are the people of the lie. It’s all about them and their needs.

 

Beautifully directed by Woody Allen, with uniformly great performances, and one disturbing, unforgettable, coruscating Charybdis of a performance by Cate Blanchett, it will linger with you long after you have left the theater. But so too do certain horrific car accidents; does that mean you want to go out of your way to see one?

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  1. Anonymous says:

    That was definitely a horrible thing that the mother did to her children. I doubt I will ever see this movie good performance or not. I don’t have to see it I lived with that kind of thing growing up. My Father would constantly say things Like “if it weren’t for you kids I wouldn’t have to work for those bastard at G.M.”He was a quality control engineer. We all were blamed for his drinking. It was our fault he got drunk. He told us if it were not for all of us he could pursue his dream what ever the heck that was. At one point he actually shouted at me “I wish you were never born” This was while he was beating me with his belt as I tried to escape down our hallway. I don’t have to see a “car wreak” our life at home was a car wreak.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I liked the movie Woody Allen made called “Midnight in Paris” This movie stared Owen Wilson as a frustrated writer visiting Paris with his fiancee. He wants to go back in time to Paris in the twenties and at midnight his character does just that. This is a very charming movie so I hope you get a chance to see it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This also reminded me of a movie that my husband and I saw a few years ago. It was called “There will be Blood” Daniel Day Lewis plays a character named Daniel Plainview. This character is awful and reprehensible. The longer the movie went on the worse the character becomes. He seemed to have some kind of feud going on with a young preacher who is awful in his own way. His character like the character in ‘Blue Jasmine” learns nothing. The movie does have a plot and it is about him finding oil in California. My husband and I both hated this movie. It just made me want to go home and take a shower not because it was sexy but because it made me feel dirty. I think it left a bad taste in my mouth.

  4. Anonymous says:

    “The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”

    Woody Allen

    It sounds like he should have followed his own advice. I have seen other movies labeled comedies and later wonder who in the world thought that this movie was a comedy. This makes me wonder about the movie makers and the critics. I have gone to see movies based on a good review of a critic and I ended up being sorry that I went to see that movie. “There will be Blood” is a good example of that. My husband and I went to see “Les Miserables” the movie because of good reviews and ended up sitting through 2 hours of non stop singing. At one point I saw people get up and leave the theater. I guess we should have followed them. What ever happened to good old fashioned entertainment.? It doesn’t seem to exists any more or at less only on a few rare occasions.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I was thinking about what you said about evil. When we were growing up we were raised Catholic. I remember being taught about Original Sin. That is because of Adam and Eve disobeying God and listening to the devil every person was born with original sin and with a sin nature. So each person had the capacity for sin or evil. They can chose to do good or chose to commit evil acts.. Some people chose evil so many times that they do not seem to have a conscience more. I have done things that were bad and have been very guilty about those things. These people do not feel any guilt at all. I do believe in the existence of evil I have seen it and felt it. You can look back in history and see people like Hitler who was an embodiment of evil or even some one like Charles Mason. All you have to do is watch the news and you will see these kinds of things still going on.

    On the hand I have seen acts of great courage and people doing good and noble things. On 9-11, 2001 when the towers were hit fire fighters and the police rushed in to save people. Individuals who could have escaped stayed behind to save others and they lost their lives because of it. I have seen these stories and more throughout the years.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I have thought some more about that mother and her children. I kept on thinking “Well, were the hell was the father of these children?” I know you said that there was a divorce and I get that. However, doesn’t the father have some responsibility for these children? Was he paying any child support and did he have any visitation rights? If this women was a truly evil as you say and she was an abuser how come the children were left in her care? Why for the love of all that is Holy didn’t the father sue for custody of these children? Why does this man who ever he is get a free pass? Did he even bother to check on the welfare of his children or did he just go merrily on his way to a new life? You can see that this issue has left me seriously P.Oed.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s just a movie, is it a true story or fiction? If it’s fiction, it’s meant to stir emotions, so your reactions are what make the movie successful.
      Isn’t that the purpose of any form of art? To evoke emotion?

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m sorry JP- I’ve had an overwhelming day, listening to scores of complaints about the “Affordable Healthcare Act” or Obamacare. (I think Obamacare is evil.) I’m not trying to be a bore, by dragging politics into the discussion. It’s all the creativity I have left- I’m done. I realize this form of evil, is not quite the same as what you are talking about….or is it..

    My favorite Woody Allen film is “Hannah and Her Sisters.” I have not seen Blue Jasmine yet, but it will be coming to VOD soon. Can’t wait…

    Your story of the mother with the children reminded me of an article I read just last night…
    Right after the holidays, I became interested in “Crooner Christmas Music.” I started looking up artist bios/ discographies on Wiki, to help me decide which CDs to buy. Last night I read about Bing Crosby. I knew about the allegations for years, but I never realized until last night…
    For those who don’t know the story- Bing was an alcoholic, who abused his sons from his first marriage. Bing’s first wife was also an alcoholic and died of ovarian cancer when the boys were little. What made my skin crawl- Bing was so cruel to them. The boys were traumatized and left emotionally scarred for life. Two of his sons were unable to cope with life. What I read still bothers me.

    Right after your accident with Snoopy, I started to receive notifications of new posts. (I had never received a notice before. I was surprised.) It lasted a couple of weeks or so and then it stopped. It would be nice to receive notices of new posts again…thank you…

    MG

    • For reasons I do not understand, the notifications are a work in progress. The company that hosts my website upgraded their system to a newer, brighter, whiter, faster-acting system with cold-water action, and it coincided with the “wrong-button” accident that deleted everything while my administrator and I were trying upgrade my site, so we’re still trying to catch up. I’m still having problems in a variety of areas (the “Comments” tab, for one) and trying to learn the subtleties of the new dashboard, so please bear with me. All of these issues should be resolved just in time for the host company to upgrade to something even newer and faster that will leave me even further behind. Oh, brave new world.
      JP

      • Anonymous says:

        I have only received two notifications in my e-mail box. This might be the
        fault of our computer however. Also in the reply are the sentences run off
        the page. I am not sure what is causing that problem. The only way I know if there is a new post is to go directly to your web-site.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hello JP,

    when I started reading your post (last week :) ) I thought “Oh great, another review”… It didn´t matter to me that I already heard several reviews about “Blue Jasmine”. Although I had already decided not to watch it I was curious about your opinion. The main character is a spoiled, egoistic, stupid woman who doesn´t learn (and refuses to) anything about herself. But to me a plot consists of the development of the characters and since there´s a lack of it it doesn´t catch me. Somehow I´m delighted that you can´t join the praise of Woody Allen. Nevertheless I think it´s a difficult part to play and I´m delighted for the wonderful Cate Blanchett who has had the opportunity to show her talent (once again). But frankly I can do very well without that nasty, selfish, neurotic, vicious little man.
    Then going further your little personal parenthesis really shocked me. Already when I came to the underlined “read” I caught my breath hoping not to read what was unavoidably to come…. It hurts me almost physically how someone could have so less self-reflection and empathy to destroy any nascent self esteem in a young boy. Children (even teenagers) refer everything to themselves. It is proved that children even think it´s their fault if the parents get divorced. This can cause life-long damages. Obviously it was somebody who was very close to you that he revealed his traumatic event to you and you weren´t able to forget it ever since, either. I´m sure you said and did everyhing possible for you in that situation to make it easier and to provide comfort for the boy. Before you subsequenty pitched a fit (what I certainly would have)…..
    In the light of that memory I suppose watching this movie wasn´t a pleasure for you…. I´m certain “Captain Phillips delighted” you more and I´m going to read that review now :)

    Best wishes
    NW

  9. Anonymous says:

    There was the case of Susan Smith who drove a car into a lake with her two small children in and drowned them. She did this so she could be with a new boyfriend who did not want children. On the other hand her father committed suicide when she was six and her step-father sexually molested her and had sex with her as an adult. So I wonder if the evil was learned or inherited in this case.

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