Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin and Louis C.K. is written and directed by Woody Allen. For her role in the film, Blanchett won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Actress. She does a stellar job successfully inviting anger, sadness, hope, frustration, pity and disgust sometimes in succession, sometimes all at once. Hers is a performance well deserving of the accolades it received.
The plot of the film follows Jasmine, played by Blanchett, as she attempts to reincarnate herself in San Francisco after her former life in New York City collapses. The opening scene captures the essence of Jasmine. On her first class flight from NYC to SF, she sits next to a nice, unsuspecting old grandmother of a lady. Babbling to herself, Jasmine catches the woman’s attention and then appears to continue babbling for the entire five or so hours to SFO. Upon disembarking, the odd couple walk to the baggage carousel, Jasmine is loquacious all the way such that you don’t quite know they’ve only just “met.” When the old woman grabs her luggage, Jasmine clutches for her phone asking for her number and the woman scuttles away to her awaiting husband without providing dem digits. We are introduced to Jasmine who is bizarre through and through.
Jasmine then hops in a taxi with her throng of Louis Vuitton suitcases en route to her sister Ginger’s apartment. Jasmine is used to living in the heart of the white collar Upper West Side and Ginger lives in a blue collar section of San Francisco. When she arrives, Jasmine with a smoggy air of superiority, is clearly aghast at the kitsch of Ginger’s apartment, children, boyfriends, life. She reaches for the vodka, pours a generous pour, and tells Ginger that she’s lost everything. After her madly successful financier of a husband Hal, played by Baldwin, is exposed as a Bernie-Madoff-ponzi-schemish-huckster, The Man takes all her money away and her world implodes. Jasmine is Neurotic. Delusional. Addicted. Pretentious. Childish. Lost. Liar.
The film continues in a series of flashbacks juxtaposing her past life as it was as the wife of a wildly successful man on Wall Street and her present life as she attempts to rebuild it as a widow of a fraud who hanged himself in prison.
Blue Jasmine raises all sorts of interesting questions and I want to narrow my focus on the Self and the deleterious effect of lying and lies on the Self.
WHAT IS THE SELF?
By “the self” I simply mean You – only the real you not the non-real you. The self is a person’s identity, her essence, her core. In one sense, we don’t choose who we are. We are born with particular genes, with a particular personality, in a particular family, in a particular time and place. In another sense, we absolutely choose who we are. Though there is much beyond our control, we absolutely do choose who we are to become: how we choose to take advantage of or overcome our genetic predispositions, how we choose to spend our time, with whom we choose to spend our time all have remarkable effects on who we are. Nothing new: we are a cocktail of nature and nurture.
It is helpful to draw a distinction between what is known as the “true self” and the “false self.” Put simply, the true self is the real self. It is who we are when you’re most fully you; when you’re living into who you were created to be. In his poem “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” which is about the self doing its selfy-thing, Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it rather nicely:
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.
The false self, on the other hand, is a projection. It is a mask, layered on over time. It develops based on who people want you to be or who you think people want you to be. The false self is a zebra with spots. The film portrays Jasmine as having such a well-developed false self that she (perhaps entirely?) loses who she actually is.
WHO IS JASMINE?
Jasmine doesn’t exist. She is made up. I would argue that Jasmine never really had a self or at the very least had an undeveloped, unformed self. I’ll state my case.
First, Jasmine’s name is not Jasmine – it’s Jeanette. Jasmine is her own creation. Second, perhaps the greatest influence over Jasmine’s construction of “Jasmine” was not Jasmine herself but Hal. When recounting their “how we met” story at a swanky rich person dinner party, they recall romantically dancing to the song “Blue Moon,” the song after which the film is named:
You saw me standing alone
Without a dream in my heart
Without a love of my own
Without a self, Jasmine indeed is alone, without a dream, without a love. Hal provides all of these things for her. He wraps up the story saying something along the lines of, “I fell in love with the name Jasmine.” Not the person, not Jeanette, but the name Jasmine was the object of his love. The only problem is that Jasmine doesn’t exist. Hal then becomes her co-creator. She is swept away by Hal and so drops out of college (one of the most formative times in a young person’s life) and Jasmine continues in adolescence.Third, while the film doesn’t focus on this, we learn that both Jasmine and Ginger were adopted, each born to different parents. Jasmine doesn’t know where she comes from. Not knowing whence or from whom you come is an obstacle – not insurmountable, but an obstacle nonetheless – to knowing who you are.
Connected to this, she suffers the curse of being pretty. According to Ginger, Jasmine was the golden child because she had the “good genes.” It seems she was groomed to think she was special and entitled (and Ginger was not) and that sets the trajectory for their lives and interactions with one another. Though I can’t exactly speak from experience, having a pretty face can means you can make your way without actually having to develop a personality. I don’t want to overstate this nor do I want to say that all attractive people have the personality of a dead moth… an attractive person can get away without substance because she has form; a less attractive person needs to have substance because he’s lacking form. I hope you get my point.
LIES, DAMNED LIES
While viewing the film, the image that came to mind is that of a web. Jasmine’s life is an intricately woven web of lies. She strings a web of lies whose fundamental purpose is to support her, her lifestyle, her image, her security, her social status, etc. Though the fabrication of the web was intended to fortify, maintain, and support her false self, in reality it trapped her. As soon as she can’t avoid seeing the truth of the Hal’s lies, she tells the truth for the first time. She tells the truth by calling The Man and turning her criminal of a husband in. That is, she precipitates the crumbling of her world. Ironically, Jasmine gives and takes away. Her lies and willful belief of lies protected all of the things which propped up her false self: the money, the jewelry, the houses, the status, the dinner parties, etc. The first instance in which she tells the truth in any consequential way results in the loss of all things that fortified her false self.
Jasmine lies to everyone. She lies to her son about turning his father in. She lies to her sister when she suggests she invest her 200k of lottery earnings with Hal (though she really knew that money would be lost to her sister and would end up as a string of pearls around her neck). She lies to her friends She lies to her new boyfriend. Rather than being honest, she builds a relationship on yet another web of lies.
Most poignant in the film is the fact that Jasmine lies to herself. She keeps the wool over her eyes about Hal’s fraud and adultery. She absolutely convinces herself that she’s better than. She’s better than Ginger, she’s better than Ginger’s boyfriends, she’s better than working in menial positions like a receptionist. She makes some strides but in the end the false self seems to stick. She’s better than her lot in life, she deserves more, she’s entitled to more.
The most destructive lie of all is the lie that she must maintain her false self at all costs lest she simply cease to exist. Rather than attempt to make some progress with her life and start over in a constructive way, she’s so paralyzed by the idea of not returning to her place of prestige and privilege that she begins a new relationship, founded entirely on lies in order to get her security back. She attempts to love herself by lying – that can’t end well. Rather than entertaining the prospect that someone might actually love her for who she truly is, she creates a new Jasmine based on what she thinks the man wants and wants to hear.
Thomas Merton writes about a relevant dynamic between the true and false self in a collection of his essays Love and Living:
The deepest spiritual instinct in man is that urge of inner truth which demands that he be faithful to himself [be/becoming his true self]: to his deepest and most original potentialities. Yet at the same time, in order to become oneself, one must die. That is to say, in order to become one’s true self, the false self must die.
She lies because she loves herself more than anything. Throughout the entire movie, I’m not sure if she actually loves anybody else. She loved the life, status, position that life with Hal afforded her. That is to say, she loves her false self which she’s created. The irony is that the most loving thing she could do for herself, however painful it would be in the short-term, would be to tell the truth. Living within the web of lies holds her captive; living consistently within the truth would liberate.
It’s true: when you tell yourself something long enough, even if it’s a lie, you start to believe it. Jasmine’s conception of reality was so distorted and convoluted that when she snapped to for brief moments, it was so disorienting that she regressed into the fantasyland of her memories of her old life. That is to say, she sat in the midst of people and babbled to herself on a bench in San Francisco.