Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blue Jasmine

We are often defined by past mistakes. Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) cannot seem to shake her past. It follows her everywhere, breaking into the present through her mutterings and one-sided conversations with invisible listeners. Jasmine's anxiety and mental illness are caused by the death of a former life, one she can never recover. She was a New York socialite, the wife of a wealthy businessman (Alec Baldwin) who spent much of her time shopping, hosting extravagant dinner parties, and enjoying the financial fruits of her husband's dealings. Those dealings turned out to be illegal, leaving her quickly penniless and husbandless, forcing her to head to San Francisco to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Their already-strained relationship is put to the test as Jasmine recovers from the death of her old life and begins to navigate this new one.

Blanchett's portrayal of Jasmine is a powerful one--it's earned her an Oscar nomination, and she may very well win the award this week. She embodies a woman who has seen her entire reality fall apart around her, her fractured psyche held up by pipe dreams, lies, and prescription medication. She cannot escape the notion that she is failure who has ruined many people's lives, including her own. Ginger and Chili and Augie (Ginger's boyfriend and ex-husband, respectively) and everybody just keeps bringing it up. She's defined by her husband's sins. Woody Allen's use of flashbacks, jumping back and forth from the present to the past with little transition, invites the audience into Jasmine's discombobulation. We have to take a breath and notice, "oh, we're not in the present any more. Where in time are we?"

Ginger tries to be gracious and understanding, but often is living parallel to Jasmine, noting her from a safe distance as she navigates her own tumultuous relational waters. The two sisters don't seem particularly close. It comes up a few times that they're both adopted, but have no biological connection. It shows; Jasmine is tall and blonde and elegant and materialistic, while Ginger is a petite, spunky brunette who is both carefree and insecure. They seem to simultaneously envy and pity the other. "She's got the good genes," says Ginger of Jasmine. Or is it jeans? Maybe both.

Alec Baldwin's portrayal of the charmingly deceptive husband is interesting, in light of his recent article in Vulture entitled "Good-bye Public Life," in which he denounces the media for harboring his past mistakes. It's also an interesting film coming from Woody Allen, a man plagued by mistakes that haunt him--an affair with Mia Farrow's adoptive daughter, allegations of sexual abuse, etc. As Allen gets older, his films are becoming more reminiscent in tone. Where Midnight in Paris looked into the past from a point of nostalgia and fondness, Blue Jasmine reminds us that the past can haunt us with an unrelenting vigor, a constant unearthing of previous sins requiring an exhausting cycle of repentance. Thankfully, in Christ, our past does not define us. We are defined by our future, our hope, our inheritance to come. We are defined by Christ's past, adopted into his family through his saving work on the cross for us.

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