When Blue Jasmine (2013), Woody Allen’s latest film, is over, there are more than a few audience at a theatre who simply sit there rather stunned. This film obviously reminds us of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Jeannett (Jasmine) Francis, performed by Cate Blanchett, flies from New York to San Francisco to visit her sister Ginger living in a poor neighborhood, like Blanche Dubois, in A Streetcar Named Desire, who visits (perhaps permanently) her sister, Stella, hitherto snubbed. Though penniless, Jasmine flies first class, wearing a white Chanel jacket, carrying a Hermes handbag and Louis Vuitton luggage, signaling elegance and luxury: similarly, Blanche in a white dress appears at the beginning, refined, delicate, and cultured, though moneyless and homeless.
Here emerges rather banal topics such as the conflict between the opposites (fantasy vs. reality, the outside vs. the inside; illusion vs. fact; aristocratic class vs. working class, the East vs. the West, the South vs. the North, and so on), and the following struggles and compromises of women characters. Despite a gap of 66 years. Woody Allen and Tennessee Williams both explore the complex story of woman’s place in the world.
Jasmine seeks money, a home, and perhaps a job, as her womanizing and swindling husband Hal breaks the law, loses money, and is arrested on the streets, her husband’s son hides himself from her, and all her society friends and riches are gone. Although Jasmine tries to learn how to use computer for online classes to be an interior designer, her talent lies not in learning on the computer but in making acquaintances at parties. Ignoring and disparaging her sister’s working-class ex-husband and current lover, she begins to lie shamelessly to Dwight, a potential suitor and an aspiring politician, and to herself as well. In a like manner, Blanche’s desperate maneuver continues in order to hide her past and to seek a man upon whom she can depend for financial, emotional sustenance and for her self-image as well. Both of Jasmine and Blanche are not frank, open, or honest, distancing themselves from the vulgarity and violence of their sisters’s men, and more poignantly from their own reality. Blanche’s fabrication of herself as a lady despite her sexual promiscuity and the ensueing expulsion from her Southern hometown is bared by her sister’s husband’s cruel exposure of her degenerate past life to Mitch, a candidate for Blanche’s new husband. Jasmine’s true marital condition and her joblessness is in a similar way revealed by Ginger’s ex-husband’s disclosure to Dwight.
Both writers’ social criticisms emerge with the depictions of self-delusional and self-deceitful Jasmine/Blanche. These main female characters are depressed, become hysterical, addicted to alcohol, and finally go down to mental breakdown. Stella ultimately chooses Stanley over her sister in spite of Blanche’s being raped by Stanley who holds on to cruel and crude realism and a male chauvinist attitude. Accordingly, Blanche, after a brief struggle, smilingly acquiesces to be led to a mental hospital. Descending into her fantasy life, she addresses the doctor with the most famous line in the play: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” The ending of Blue Jasmine is similarly disconcerting, despite the director’s mix of humour and wit. Jasmine seems to be quite withdrawn from harsh reality. The film ends with Jasmine sitting alone on a park bench, talking aloud to herself and to a total stranger about her troubles, but strangers unkindly avoid her.
Yet, in spite of their shared alcoholism and nervous breakdown that seem to result from the gap between their ideal and their reality, and perhaps from their guilty consciousness, Jasmine and Blanche differ. Jasmine’s outward naivety, not knowing anything about Hal’s money and his shady business turns out to be a sham at the very end; it is shockingly Jasmine herself who has called FBI to arrest Hal on the streets, as it is revealed by the accusation from Hal’s son. Her betrayal is in fact revenge taken publicly, since she realizes that Hal falling in love with another young woman who wants him to divorce his wife.
On the other hand, Blanche’s playing the role of the ideal type of person she would like is, comparatively speaking, harmless. Behind her deceptive illusion her innermost feeling of guilty of her young homosexual husband’s suicide is hidden. Blanche, in short, still retains a degree of innocence and purity, whereas Jasmine’s elegant outlook seems to conceal cruelty. Hence, Blanche’s lot appears more devastating, while the audience feels that Jasmine, having haughty elegance blended together with distressing fragility, might have another chance to catch a wealthy, empty-headed man in our appearance-oriented world.
Nonetheless, both writers’ stories indicate that the world is often brutal to women, not only to Jasmine and Blanche but, more horribly, to their less favored sisters, Ginger and Stella. After a brief fling with Al whom she met at a party, Ginger reunites with her boyfriend Chili. Although Ginger does not seem to be quite satisfied with Chili especially because Blanche has criticized Chili’s working class crudity, Ginger takes Chili’s side and drives Blanche away from her house. Streetcar’s ending is heartbreaking, as Stella stays with the monstrous Stanley, though devastated by her sister’s fate. We cannot find much a comfort, considering woman’s place in the world, even in a 1951 film version of Streetcar where Williams’s tragic vision of women’s lives is mitigated with a different ending–
Stella decides to leave Stanley in fear of her child’s life.
By Prof. Park Eun-kyung/ Dept. of English Language and Literture
Park Eun-kyung -
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