Friday, December 27, 2013

Blue Jasmine (2013): The loop of cruelty

Blue Jasmine (2013)
dir: Woody Allen

Woody Allen created an adaptation of A Streetcar Named Desire for the 99%. He sets up his Blanche Dubois, in this case Jasmine (Kate Blanchette), as the wife of a Bernie Madoff-esque financial cheater. Allen then proceeds to make her out to be as cruel of a character as he could make her so that he could justifiably inflict humiliations that she set up for herself.

Jasmine is the wife of Hal (Alec Baldwin), who was a financial investor who ran all sorts of Ponzi schemes while she pretended not to care about any of the details. Even as phony bank accounts and corporations are opened and closed in her name, she pretends that she didn't even look at the details because she's so trusting of Hal. Hell, she even chose not to notice Hal's philandering until he went to Paris with their au pair.

When we meet Jasmine, she's arriving in San Francisco to live with her somewhat-estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who, with her ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), had invested $200k of their lotto winnings in Hal's schemes, and lost all of it. Ginger, who is playing Allen's Stella, is now dating Chili (Bobby Carnavale), Allen's greasemonkey version of Stanley.

Jasmine thinks Chili is beneath her and her sister, and immediately starts trying to tear them apart, making enemies in the process. Jasmine also schemes her way into almost marrying a rich diplomat with political ties by covering up her past. Ultimately, her world collapses when her estranged son runs into Augie, who runs into Jasmine with her new beau-to-be, and we find out that she called the FBI on her own husband out of revenge for him falling in love with her au pair. Not out of a sense of justice, just pure anger.

And, so, almost all of Jasmine's problems are her own doing. The Ponzi scheme collapsed because she called the FBI. Her husband committed suicide because he had been convicted. Her son found out about the phone call and estranged himself. Her beau-to-be finds out about her past, and dumps her on the side of the road. Her story that she's found a new husband, combined with her cruelty to Chili, causes her to lose her last vestige of a house, and so our once-rich woman finishes the movie insane and destitute, just like Blanche. The collapse of her world is just as cruel as she has been in her past.

Except for the sexual assault. The sexual assault is not her fault. She's taken a job that she cannot do well, and that was her only "crime" when she is sexually assaulted by her boss. For no reason. Almost everything in Blue Jasmine is about moral equivalency. We're meant to see how casually cruel Jasmine is to the world at large, and that all the retribution she receives from the world is equal to the damage she set up for herself. But, she didn't set herself up to be assaulted. The world is a brutal place, but this whole scene is dropped as fast as it happened.

Allen's use of sexual assault in Blue Jasmine is probably intended to be a call-back to the sexual assault in A Streetcar Named Desire. Except, Allen's sexual assault isn't the result of mutual cruelty, or even an animalistic act of cruel domination meant to break an equally strong mind. Allen's sexual assault is merely there as a plot point to get Jasmine to cry to a friend getting her invited to a party, and is dropped as soon as she gets her invite. No more is mentioned of the dentist, and it isn't seen as anything major that happened.

I had heard Blue Jasmine is grotesquely misogynistic, especially because the main female is as much a character as a symbol of the 1% meant for the audience to throw all of their hate onto and to relish in her destruction. For the most part that analysis is true, though Jasmine is as cruel to everybody and deserves all of the devastation that happens because of her own doings. When an assault is casually thrown in, I start to have a problem. It becomes just as casual as rape and death threats on the internet and is not pleasant or pleasing in any way possible, especially when treated as "just something that happens."

Blue Jasmine is a cruel comedy. Occasionally, Allen creates a comedy that is meant for us to revel in the bleak darkness of his mind. Deconstructing Harry, and Celebrity come immediately to mind in this vein. Blue Jasmine is far superior to either of those films, and smooths out some of the jagged edges to allow us to revel a bit more easily in the destruction that Jasmine invites upon herself. And, it is truly quite funny. But, the sexual assault single-handedly moves the movie from casually blackly comic to grotesque.

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