Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen’s new film, is one of the darkest and more compelling films I can remember seeing. Though he’s primarily known as a comedian, Woody does dark exceptionally well. And more often than you might expect. If you’ve never seen Crimes and Misdemeanors, or its more recent alter-ego Match Point, you are missing out on the haunted, and often violent, places Woody likes to tread as he mines his short list of themes, compiling the broadest and most prolific filmography in American history.
Spoiler Alert! Plot details and revelations about Blue Jasmine follow. You’ve been warned.
Cate Blanchett’s powerhouse performance as Jasmine has been getting all the attention, and is surely the reason Blue Jasmine has been at our local theater in downtown Burlington for well over a month now. And make no mistake, she is Oscar caliber awesome. Almost overwhelming. But after taking in the movie last night, I was and remain most struck not by its many quality performances and beautiful cinematography, but by its dramatically unresolved ending. If you know his work, you know Woody Allen is a sucker for endings. Usually, regardless of theme or tone, Allen’s films find their way to a stopping point, which finds the characters not necessarily always redeemed or forgiven or changed, but at least settled in some form. He’s dabbled in unresolvedness before (I’m thinking here of Celebrity and Deconstructing Harry), but I’m not sure he’s ever left a character, or his audience, hanging quite like he leaves Jasmine on a park bench.
Jasmine is down and out. Her life as a Park Avenue wife goes tits up when her financier husband (played by Alec Baldwin) proves to be not only cheating on her, but cheating on his clients. He’s arrested, humiliated, and eventually commits suicide in prison. Jasmine loses all her money, and then begins to lose her mind. We meet Jasmine when she arrives in San Francisco to shack up with her sister, Ginger, a grocery store clerk who Jasmine has ignored for years. As Jasmine tries to get her life back together in Frisco, we gradually learn the full story of her New York demise through a series of flashbacks. It feels like a set-up for a redemption story.
We keep waiting to find out what will happen to Jasmine. How will she change? What will finally make her learn her lesson? Even as she guzzles vodka and pops anti-depressents, her self-muttering growing worse and worse, we still wait to see what’s going to trigger a change in her. She meets a new man, a wealthy guy who hopes for a future in politics, but after Jasmine is caught in a series of lies about her past, he drops her and plunges her back into her alcoholic misery. And still we wait for the resolution. As audience members, we’re conditioned to find out what happens, so much so that it comes to seem like an unspoken agreement between creator and audience. Take us anywhere you want, we think, do whatever suits you to these characters, just tell us how it all turns out. When this doesn’t happen, it’s unsettling and a breach of the unspoken pact. And that’s what Allen does here.
It’s hard to tell if Allen just ran out of ideas or if the lack of resolution is a broader commentary on a species (the rich and selfish) for whom he has trouble finding redemption. The third act for Jasmine never arrives. Her life is ruined, she tries to put it back together, and then…what? Then nothing. The film ends with Jasmine muttering to herself on a bench with little indication of where she’s headed.
Of course, it’s not completely unresolved. Even the lack of resolution is its own form of resolution. In truth, all the evidence points to Jasmine’s continued demise, either suicide, homelessness, or just soul losing insanity. What else are we to think? She continues to be horrible and judgmental of her kind hearted sister even up to the film’s final scenes. She continues to abuse her body with alcohol and Prozac. She slips further away from any corners she can turn. She never learns. She never grows. She becomes more embittered. Less wise. Less sane. And that’s where Woody leaves her, dangling in our imaginations, left to direct her third act on our own. He points us, then back away and lets it play out in our minds.
I still feel a bit haunted. I think you will too.