Sunday, January 26, 2014

Blue Jasmine -- turning a blind eye and self-delusion

Director: Woody Allen, 2013 (PG-13)

Two women sitting together in first class chat as the plane jets from New York to San Francisco. One pours out her life story as the other wonders why she has to listen to the drivel. The talker is Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), en route to her sister’s apartment in California. And the small, scruffy apartment is a far cry from the spacious luxury home she has vacated and the life she has left behind in Manhattan. So begins Woody Allen’s latest movie, one in which surprisingly justice seems to prevail.

Woody has assembled a stellar cast once more.  Alec Baldwin plays Hal, Jasmine’s husband. Sally Hawkins is Ginger, Jasmine’s sister (by adoption). Andrew Dice Clay is Ginger’s ex-hudband Augie, while Bobby Cannacale plays Chili, her current greasy lover. Throw in Louis CK and Peter Saarsgard as two men after the two sisters and you round out an excellent ensemble. However, the two women stand-out. This is the first time Allen has used non-American actors in the leading roles as Americans, and they pull it off. Blanchett, in particular, is superb as a mentally imbalanced woman deluding herself throughout. She is rightfully nominated for Best Actress Oscar, and should win this easily. Hawkins gets an Oscar nod herself, in Best Supporting Actress category.

The movie cuts back and forth between Jasmine’s life in New York and her life in San Francisco. Where she had money and time before, now she has neither. Though she flies first class carrying Louis Vitton luggage, she is kidding herself. She is broke and needs a place to stay and job to bring in money.  Though she won’t tell the truth to herself, she speaks freely to her sister. When Ginger meets Al (Louis C.K.) at a party that the two sisters go to, Ginger asks: “You think Al is a step up from Chili?”, to which Jasmine replies, “Anybody is a step up from Chili.”

As her husband, Hal is a man who plays fast and loose with other people’s money in questionable real estate deals. Although the greed of white collar crime is a sub-theme here, it functions to propel Jasmine in her journey of decline. But she has a part to play, as she chooses to ignore Hal’s marital philanderings and financial dealings. Even when he causes suffering and grief to Ginger and Augie, Jasmine will not see it.

Some, such as Alissa Wilkinson in her review for Christianity Today, have compared this movie to Tennessee Williams’ play,  “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Indeed, Cate Blanchett played Blanche in that play in New York in 2009. And Jasmine, like Blanche, is a woman whose fortunes have fallen but cannot face reality.

Here is the main theme of the film: denial and avoidance of reality. Jasmine turns a blind eye to what is going on right in front of her. She does this for so long, she cannot see what is real and falls into mental delusion. But Ginger falls into this, too, when Al seems to be her knight in shining armor. And Dwight (Peter Saarsgard), a diplomat and aspiring politician, accepts at face value Jasmine’s background. He does no checking and denies the obvious until almost too late.

The Bible warns of the folly of pride and self-deception. The prophet Obadiah said, “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obad. 1:3). When we fall prey to pride, when we turn a blind eye to what is going around us because we don’t want our lifestyle compromised, we become deluded. Eventually, this delusion will be found out. And then will come the great fall.

Woody Allen’s films rarely end with the wicked getting their just desserts. But here justice prevails and those who sinned end up suffering the consequences of their sins.

Copyright ©2014, Martin Baggs

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