Riches To Rags: “Blue Jasmine”
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 7, 2013
“My Xanax is wearing off,” one of the many great lines in this latest Woody Allen movie about class struggles, corruption, and the never-ending search for meaning. The opening scene is one of my favorites. Jasmine, a name she creates in order to be the person she wishes she was, arrives from New York, after flying first class, with loads of expensive luggage, only to tell her blue-collar sister that she has no money. This sharp interchange foreshadows the movie’s theme of how upper class and lower-middle class do not understand each other, leaving a feeling of mutual contempt. Jasmine’s affluent lifestyle appears to have been a cover for an empty self, causing the many scenes in which she turns to pills or alcohol to “fill her up”. The movie unravels her story in the same way that therapy unravels the patient’s mental state. Each round we learn a little more, adding on to a story in which context is obtained in pieces, leading the viewer, or the listener, to put the story into a more coherent narrative. Like in psychotherapy, the story begins at the crisis, and then the details are added in as time goes by. With retrospect, we can see that Jasmine’s life was bound to fail. She had no inner core in which to navigate the universe. She was so heavily dependent on external validation. We know early on that she and her sister are both adopted from different birth parents, leading the audience to wonder, if somehow, this sense of landing in a new family is the pattern that Jasmine repeats, with each crisis, stimulating the search. She says she wants to go back to college, but the viewer knows this is a wish to find herself, and as patterns go, the wish remains a wish. Usually, we, the audience, quietly rejoice in seeing the affluent fall, but in this movie, the sadness of her personality pivots us away from her history of amazing wealth, towards her painful search for meaning. In this, the humanity of the movie trumps all of the scenes with large houses, expensive boats, and well-toned bodies, which had the movie missed the right note, would have made us cringe with envy. A fake name, drugs and alcohol, a reversal of fortune, sounds like an old Hollywood story, but there is a freshness to this movie which makes me think that Woody Allen’s years on the couch might have paid off.