What happened to Woody Allen in his film Blue Jasmine? 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 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. But why doesn’t Jasmine’s character work?
What’s Really Going on With Blue Jasmine?
Jasmine’s a woman who looks the other way when she doesn’t want to know something. So, she’d certainly fall apart when faced with an image of herself she’s spent her life avoiding. However, Cate Blanchett’s depiction of the undoing of such a cosseted woman is overblown. And, it’s inconsistent with my clinical experience. Instead of someone whose anguish we might relate to, Jasmine becomes little more than a caricature. She’s a mockery of human suffering we can’t really empathize with.
I’m a psychoanalyst. I’ve been in the presence of real anxiety and witnessed panic attacks. I’ve seen people decompensate (the psychiatric word for falling apart) after a trauma that leaves them unable 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 pretense and appearances is highly unlikely to pop Xanax after Xanax. Especially not in front of anyone and everyone— and especially not 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 psychotic depression, since she’s incapable of facing the reality of any emerging feeling without reaching for a dose of Xanax. But these diagnostic categories do little to help us understand Jasmine’s deeper psychological problems. And, they only contribute to the superficiality of Blanchett’s cartoonish portrayal.
Being Blue & Unmet Longings to be Adored
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 is the story of Jasmine’s life. It’s no surprise that she and her sister Ginger are adopted. Adoption, no matter how loving the adoptive parents are, 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 that. Unconsciously, Jasmine has been terrified of (once again) being left. Now she has been, and she blames herself.
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 love. When her terror of being deserted is confirmed, she simply can’t bear it. Old angry, vengeful feelings get the best of her. And, Jasmine doesn’t get any real help, so that’s where her story ends. That’s even sadder.
What Might Have Helped Jasmine Seem Real?
Maybe if you’re not Tennessee Williams it’s impossible to pull off a remake of A Streetcar Named Desire. That aside, based upon what I’ve seen in my office, Cate Blanchett misses the mark on Jasmine. Yes, there’s been a lot of Hollywood award buzz around Blanchett’s performance. Yet both she and Woody Allen could have used the help of expert consultation. Then, Jasmine French might have gone down in film history as another one of Allen’s successfully wrought characters – believably suffering and unhinged. But Jasmine, as blue as she was, wasn’t.