Post #115: Resolution?

Things you should be watching

Blue-JasmineBlue 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.

Post #27: My Obsession With a Small, Be-Spectacled Man


There’s a small handful of artists with whom I’ve experienced what can only be described as an obsession, and I don’t use that term lightly.  I’m serious.  I was so head over heels for these people’s work that I probably should have been medicated, or sedated.   They include, but are not limited to: The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Jarrett, Wynton Marsalis, Ernest Hemingway, Robert B. Parker.

And Woody Allen.

I don’t quite know what it is about certain writers or musicians or film makers that makes it feel like they’re creating simply to please us.  As if we are their first and only true audience.  I only know that it’s a somewhat strange and wonderful feeling, one in which there’s immense pleasure, a little bit of fear, and probably some guilt too (of coveting, of over doing it and ruining it in the process).  There’s this feeling that you’ll never have enough, and yet alongside that, there’s also this horrible feeling of ruining it by loving it too much and compromising the brilliant spark that made you want to absorb it in the first place.  And yet you can’t stay away.  Some of these obsessions we outgrow, but most we don’t.  They change form, perhaps, but they’re always sort of with us.

When I was a boy we had a dog named Joni.  It always struck me as a strange name, somewhat because I’d never heard it before, but also because it sounded so…well, human.  Come to find out, it was my father’s crushing love of Joni Mitchell that inspired the naming of the canine.  For years my father had been spinning Joni Mitchell for us, expounding on the genius of Hejira or The Hissing of Summer Lawns, riffing about Joni’s artistry.  I didn’t get it at the time; mostly I thought she looked weird.  But obsessions are not there to be gotten, condoned, or understood.  They simply are.  I fully believe that we have no say in them or control over them.

I don’t indulge my love of Woody Allen like I used to and haven’t watched his films as regularly as in years past, but Robert B. Weide’s recent two part documentary, originally aired on PBS, re-kindled the flame.  It’s tremendous.  A little padded with love for its subject, perhaps, but full of insight and great interviews with actors and confidantes and writing partners and former lovers.   Highly recommended.