In this post I want to analyze the representation of femininity in Woody Allen’s latest film Blue Jasmine with a specific focus on the main character Jasmine played by Cate Blanchett. My aim is to understand how the representation of the female lead feeds into a larger discourse on gender stereotypes not only constructed but also continuously reinforced by Hollywood Cinema.
Blue Jasmine tells the story of an upper-class New York socialite whose manipulative husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, runs a Ponzi Scheme. The husband’s criminal activity supports Jasmine’s uber-luxurious lifestyle which includes majestic properties, high-end fashion, holidays on ‘the Continent’ and a constant supply of the psychoactive medication Xanax chased down by Vodka Martinis. Either through naivety or wilful ignorance, Jasmine is not aware of her husband’s indiscretions: both in terms of the law, but also in terms of his various affairs with other women. After years of cheating, Hal finally tells Jasmine that he is in love with a French au pair girl and that their marriage is over. As an act of revenge, Jasmine calls the FBI who brings an end to the Ponzi Scheme while Hal is subsequently imprisoned.
And so Jasmine’s empire falls apart and she sees no alternative but to stay at her sister’s place in San Francisco as all her assets are seized by ‘Uncle Sam’. Accustomed to first class travel and luxury, Jasmine begrudgingly adapts to living in a small flat – to her standards at least – which the sister shares with her two young sons. Jasmine’s attempt to rebuild her life from scratch first appears fairly promising when she takes up a course in computing and works part-time as a dentist receptionist. Yet even after she leaves her manipulative and controlling husband in the past, it is quite clear that Jasmine is totally dependent on a patriarchal power structure as she seeks to start anew.
Jasmine confronts Hal about his affairs
In the film, this patriarchal power structure is represented like a matter of fact. Yet rather than showing that Jasmine adapts to this structure, she is continuously depicted as a victim to the patriarchy. For instance, when she finds out about her husband’s cheating, Jasmine suffers a mental breakdown. In another instance, the dentist for whom she works sexually assaults her and she leaves the job in distress. In all these scenes, Jasmine is the victim who has to suffer from the actions by the male roles represented in the film. Towards the end of the film, Jasmine makes her hope for a new life totally dependent on an aspiring politician called Dwight who fell madly in love with her. As Jasmine’s past catches up with her, these hopes for a new start are once again crushed as Dwight unceremoniously dumps her, quite literally, on the side of a road. Jasmine’s character is entirely based on her role as a victim which she embodies scene after scene for almost the entire film.
Chili yelling at Ginger and Jasmine
Similar to Jasmine, her sister Ginger too is represented as dependent and ultimately also not in control of her life. She breaks up with her brutish jock of a boyfriend called Chili, starts to go out with another man who, unbeknown to her, is actually married, only to return back into the arms of Chili. Just as much Jasmine equates her happiness and fulfilment in life with finding a (rich) husband, the sister, too, is willing to avoid being single even at the cost of her own dignity. In Blue Jasmine, women are cheated on, played with, manipulated, dumped, yelled at and assaulted. They are depicted as weak, dependent, naive, gullible and worse of all, deserving of their destiny. In cinematic terms, this highly unbalanced status quo is depicted by super close ups on the main character Jasmine whose face swells up from drugs and alcohol, her eyes are teary and her hair is greasy. Jasmine’s beauty and allure as foregrounded in the beginning of the film finally gives way to several scenes in which Jasmine’s physical and psychological demise is captured in perverse detail.
Amazingly, in comparison to the way Jasmine is depicted with such cinematic brutality, men get away scot-free. This is most evidently the case with regard to the suicide of Jasmine’s husband Hal which is only mentioned in passing. In other words, his suffering is not represented. Consequently, the film has not a single close up of Alec Baldwin. Similar to this, the role of the dentist is not revisited once he commits the sexual assault against Jasmine. His actions thus have no consequence to him. Even Jasmine’s sister’s boyfriend finally gets what he wants when he finally moves in with the sister. It’s almost as if his brutishness is actually awarded.
In spite of the unbalanced and extremely stereotypical representation of gender in the film, amongst critics Blue Jasmine is widely celebrated as another Woody Allen landmark classic. Perhaps this is an indication that the detailed depiction of Jasmine’s downfall can, in itself, produce a pleasure that is continuously emphasized through the close ups on her face. Critics – most of whom are men no doubt – perhaps find comfort in seeing the beauty of a true Hollywood diva stripped bare. Here too, the viewer is of course in a dominant position as he can watch Jasmine suffer.
In that regard, Blue Jasmine displays a striking similarity with horror or torture films – the majority of which are based on the physical torture and the psychological torment of women (Wolf Creek or The Hostel for instance). It is not as much Jasmine’s role as victim that provokes this comparison, but rather, this comparison is provoked by the depiction of her deteriorating psychological and physical condition via extreme close ups. In other words, not only is Jasmine ‘put into her place’ by the male characters she is surrounded by, but also, she is cinematically ‘put into her place’ by those who visually represent her story in such way.