Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” is one of the most endearing, delightful depictions of human fragility and fallibility in recent memory. The movie follows the stories of two non-biological sisters, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) and Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who were adopted as children and now go about their lives as adults.
Jasmine wants to spend her life with someone “substantial,” someone with financial power and social prestige. We get to know her in New York City, where she lives the high life with her hotshot husband (Alec Baldwin). She wears the most chic fashion, visits the most fancy parties, and lives in a beautiful home. But she lies to herself. Throughout the film, her sister and her son criticize her for “looking the other way” to get what she wants. Turns out, she married a crook and loses everything.
Later on, Jasmine seduces a successful doctor with her sophisticated appeal. But it blows up, because Jasmine lied about her past in order to impress her impressive new man. What she hated in her husband – lying, faking, cheating – she can’t seem to overcome in herself. We feel frustrated with Jasmine, because she seems unable to change, and yet we empathize with her because she won’t stop trying. Overall, Ginger was right about her fellow orphan/sister Jasmine: she doesn’t have the courage for self-honesty; she looks the other way to get what she wants, and it burns her.
Ginger is the opposite of Jasmine but deals with a similar problem. Ginger seems to be willing to accept just about any man who will accept her. She has little self-esteem and is desperate to be desired, even if the man who desires her isn’t good for her. For Ginger, it’s better than being alone, and so she settles for what she’s got.
Ginger seems like a better person than Jasmine, because she embraces simplicity and doesn’t seem to be as obsessed with self-image and empty prestige. But it’s quite clear that Ginger is letting herself down and mistakes contentment for an emotional crutch. She allows herself to get swept off her feet by a man at a random party (Louis C.K.), who ends up being married and dumps her, and then she returns to her old boyfriend. Like Jasmine, Ginger can’t confront the truth about herself. Overall, Jasmine was right about her fellow orphan/sister Ginger: she welcomes losers into her life, because she thinks that’s all she deserves.
This is Woody Allen’s brilliance: he sets up a beautiful film in which two grown-up orphans see the difficult truth about one another but can’t seem to face it in themselves. They, like so many of us, find it extremely hard to reckon with their own fragility and fallibility and thus they tragically deepen their wound.
Allen’s movie gently and subtly raises a deep philosophical question. The song “Blue Moon” comes up again and again throughout the movie. Its chorus is: “Blue Moon / Now I’m no longer alone / Without a dream in my heart / Without a love of my own.” As warm and romantic as this song is, Jasmine and Ginger call its bluff. They are both alone, their dreams are either self-deceptive or self-diminishing, and they don’t have a love of their own. Allen seems to be asking, Are we also like that – orphans in the universe and in our everyday lives? What would it take for us to be honest with ourselves, and could we handle it? What would it mean to find true love and truly belong?