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?