Watch It: You like watching Oscar-worthy acting, no matter how raw it is • You just can't get enough of New York City in film, even when the movie is supposed to be set in San Fran • You prefer your rich Alec Baldwin characters to have no irony or sarcasm • You want to see an authentic, adult drama like they just don't make them anymore
Don't Watch It: You've already made up your mind about rich and poor people, and you don't want to rethink your views • Emotional breakdowns are hard on your soul • You don't want to stop liking the last semi-likeable Baldwin brother • You can't stand Woody Allen for [insert reason here]
What Makes Us Breaks Us
Everyone has fantasized about what it's like to be rich. Everyone has prejudices, hidden or not, about what it's like to be wealthy. Many, especially in the middle class, are as conflicted about the upper class as middle children are about their older siblings. It's easy to be resentful of how the upper echelons of society spend their money, while using our envy to fuel our ambition.
Imagine being ridiculously wealthy, and all the changes exorbitant living would bring. Imagine forgetting how to drive because someone else has driven you around for so long. Imagine forgetting to check the price tags on items because you can afford to forget. Can you picture yourself being so wealthy that personal aspirations (gym, yoga, Spanish lessons) are your only form of work?
Perhaps this is nothing like the extremely wealthy. Perhaps they all cook their own meals and recite long passages of Ayn Rand to each other in secret Illuminati seances. Perhaps not.
Either way– what we think about the freedom wealth provides says a great deal about us.
In "Blue Jasmine", Cate Blanchett plays "Jasmine", the disgraced wife of a Ponzi-schemer (Alec Baldwin at his smarmiest). Riffing off "A Streetcar Named Desire", Jasmine must try to rebuild her life at her estranged sister's house in San Fransisco while repeating and rehearsing her fraudulent memories.
Between Woody Allen's terrific script and Blanchett's extraordinary performance, "Blue Jasmine" obliterates one of the main assumptions we make about wealth: money cannot keep you from loneliness. Neither can poverty. Isolation is a symptom of independence, and independence tempts us regardless of the amount of money in our bank account.
The first illusion "Blue Jasmine" shatters, through flashbacks, is the idea that it's easier to be relational when you're rich. Sure, you can go wherever you want, and there aren't any conflicts around finances–but how sincere are the affections of others when you can literally pay to be selfish?
There is also a chasm between the social classes. Jasmine and her husband uncomfortable hosting her middle-class sister and her sister's husband, and not just because they're looking down on them. They're also uncomfortable by the earnest sincerity her sister's family possesses.
Humble means make it easier for us to see how we need each other. We drop the pretension when we aren't trying to be selfish.
As Jasmine's character descends into mild madness, she becomes more and more desperate to return to the fading glory of her former life. Of course, we can see how her old world is a forgery, but she can't. And as she brings her sister under her worldview, the discontentment begins to spread.
You can't Always Get What you Want
This movie is a powerful case-study on how destructive discontentment can be. We rationalize our selfish ambitions. We burn people before they can burn us. We think we can get ahead by leaving others behind us. The glitter and the gold even have a sway on the audience–initially it's easy to agree with Jasmine's criticism of her sister's new boyfriend. But this sort of snakes-and-ladders approach to relationships is the greatest Ponzi-scheme of all.
Discontentment demands we be unfaithful.
Infidelity is the price of climbing up the social ladder. I remember how, even in Kindergarten, to associate with the cool kids meant you also had to reject the unpopular ones. This wasn't a demand or a spoken rule–it didn't need to be said. If you want to move up in influence–if you are really hungry enough to get ahead–you'll somehow justify sacrificing the relationships you have to get there.
Jasmine's psychological disorder continues to grow as her life unravels. Her memories, tied with many of the film's flashbacks, become shorter and more profound. The final revelation–that she imploded her husband's corrupt empire with a phone call after learning of his affair– is the final gleaming revelation.
She isn't just suffering from mental illness. She has PTSD, brought about by a self-inflicted relational trauma.
The worst thing–the very worst thing–is to be so discontent with your present life that you are willing to become independent. It may sound noble, and it may feel free. But if you go down that road, hopefully you are eventually heeded by the trail of broken relationships behind you. If that never happens, then you will never run out of bridges to burn.
After watching Blue Jasmine, I had to ask myself: Who are the people in my life I've been taking for granted?
As it trickles down, love without contentment becomes contempt.