31 Jul How Unreal Can A Character Become?
BLUE JASMINE — What happened to Woody Allen? This prolific filmmaker is well known for creating quirkily neurotic yet lovable characters—even characters with depth. However Jasmine French, the lead character in Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine, unfortunately, isn’t one of them.
Jasmine, a Chanel-clad, Park Avenue socialite whose gilded life is unraveling before her, is indeed blue. If that isn’t enough, on top of her melancholy is piled every imaginable psychiatric disorder. A woman like Jasmine, who compulsively looks the other way when she doesn’t want to know something, would certainly fall apart when forced to face an image of herself she’s spent her life vigilantly avoiding. However, Cate Blanchett’s depiction of the undoing of such a cosseted woman is melodramatically overblown and inconsistent with my clinical experience. Instead of someone whose anguish we might relate to, Jasmine becomes little more than a caricature, a mockery of human suffering.
I’m a psychoanalyst. I’ve been in the presence of real anxiety. I’ve witnessed panic attacks. I’ve seen people decompensate (the psychiatric word for falling apart) after a trauma that undermines their capacities to cope. Even psychosis isn’t a stranger to me. I’ve helped people through immeasurable emotional pain. A woman who massively avoids her real feelings through pretence and appearances is highly unlikely to pop Xanax after Xanax in front of anyone and everyone—especially Dwight Westlake, the diplomat and political hopeful Jasmine is desperately trying to impress.
Yes, there are desperate, self-absorbed women. I’m sure we’ve all encountered a few. I suppose we could call Jasmine a narcissist. Or diagnose her with a psychotic depression, since she’s incapable of facing the reality of any emerging feeling without reaching for a neutralizing dose of Xanax. But these diagnostic categories do little to help us understand Jasmine’s deeper psychological problems, and only contribute to the superficiality of Blanchett’s cartoonish portrayal.
As the film unfolds, we hear repeated references to the song Blue Moon. The song’s longings for someone to hold her and adore her are the story of Jasmine’s life. It’s then no surprise to learn that she and her sister Ginger are adopted. Adoption, no matter how loving the adoptive parents are (and we don’t know about Jasmine’s), can leave lingering fears of abandonment. “Why was I given up (left standing alone, as the words in Blue Moon lament)? Why wasn’t I wanted? Was there something wrong with me?” Some children struggle more than others with these feelings. Jasmine says she’s trusting; she isn’t. If she let herself face her deep feelings of inadequacy, she’d know she’s been, all along, terrified of (once again) being left.
Someone as troubled as Jasmine doesn’t really think she’s the one with the “better genes.” In fact, she’s so insecure she needs to make her sister, and her sister’s men, feel like the losers. If she stopped for a moment, she’d know she doesn’t trust in being loved. When her terror of being deserted is confirmed, she simply can’t bear it. Old angry, vengeful feelings get the best of her. Sadder, though, Jasmine isn’t able to get any real help, so that’s where her story ends.
Perhaps if you’re not Tennessee Williams it’s nearly impossible to pull off a successful re-make of A Streetcar Named Desire. Putting that aside, though, I must say that based upon what I’ve seen in my office, Cate Blanchett misses the mark on Jasmine. Despite the Hollywood award show buzz around Blanchett’s performance, both she and Woody Allen could have used the help of expert consultation. Then, Jasmine French might justifiably go down in film history as another one of Allen’s successfully wrought characters, believably suffering and unhinged.