The Misogynistic Lens in Hollywood Cinema

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Wolf Creek, directed by Greg McLean, 2005

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.

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4 thoughts on “The Misogynistic Lens in Hollywood Cinema

  1. Thought provoking post. Thanks.

    As I recall the film,not watching it as a cultural commentator, Jasmine and Hal and his retinue are all living in a state of utter and obvious denial regarding the impending collapse of his ponzi scheme. All are pathological liars whether it be about business, adultery, or who they are.

    Allen’s film making style often relies on brief, postcard style vignettes. His screen plays are dialog rich but fast moving. His focus is Jasmine not the men who drive her collapse. Perhaps Jasmine, is a sort of anti, female depiction of Allen himself. Remember, she has been brainwashed into thinking she is the chosen child, the beautiful one with impeccable looks, education and credentials. She cannot cope with the illusory standard. Perhaps Allen’s point is that given Jasmine’s latent weaknesses, (female or not) it puts her inevitably on the road to ruin given the culture of contrivances she (and we) inhabit regardless. I’m not sure if patriarchy is given as a matter of fact as much as the as glaringly obvious current corrupt business and political culture.

    Allen (to my amateur recollection) generally develops only two characters per movie. The Woody role and his lover/muse. So I would not expect much detail on too many characters, whether it be Hal, her sister’s boyfriend or the narcissist politician. I recall her sister as the stronger individual and pretty well drawn. Yes, she had a loutish, caricature of a boyfriend, but she is a single mom making it on her own, patriarch be damned. Who by the way, almost falls into Jasmine’s high-browed culture of contrivances, but finds her way out of it.

    I can’t recall Allen ever standing up for or glorifying patriarchy. The fantasy Midnight In Paris in many ways revolves around Gertrude Stein, the matriarch of early 20th century art. Yes, Owen Wilson gets the girl, but the real girl, not the child of the patriarch and matriarch (and all victims of ) the culture of contrivances.

    Nonetheless, to your point, I will watch the film again with an eye towards the misogynistic.

  2. Thanks, very interesting. The film is obviously derived from Tennessee Williams, with Chilli being Brando/Stanley. But whereas Williams is sympathetic to Blanche, Allen isn’t. There is a kind of coldness to all his work, I think.

    Blue Jasmine also suffers from some horrible tonal problems. Allen just can’t get real, tough guy men right. The whole Chili thing is an awful parody. He should have given the script to John Waters to adapt and direct.

  3. Comparing character development in humans between Hollywood and British productions like Downton Abbey, it’s easy to see why Downton Abbey was so successful in such a short time, where each actor tried to be authentic. How refreshing for the human mind to be freed from the Disney model for children Americans has been brainwashed on.

  4. This was really interesting to read as I thought it was a pretty misogynistic film too but for different reasons – Jasmine is entirely responsible for her terrible descent in Allen’s eyes. She is at first complicit in the destructive and doomed relationship and then through rage and revenge tries to avenge herself by reporting her philandering husband to the FBI. I left the cinema feeling Allen was painting picture in which her downfall was really all her own fault. Felt this was Woody Allen’s expression rather than Hollywood, but the industry is hardly renowned for it’s feminist ideals!

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