Unlike some actual film critics, I think that Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen is not a film about the 1% and 99%, even though we see two strata of society banging into each other. I believe the film is primarily about deceit.

In looking at a film or play, we might ask what force or fissure threatens stasis, order, continuity, happiness. In horror films the threat might be a radioactive Martian zombie cheerleader, but in serious drama, the problem is usually within human nature.

In Blue Jasmine, the force continually threatening order and stability seems to be both the intentional deceit of others and self-deceit. Jasmine holds others to a higher standard of honesty than that to which she holds herself, but most of us probably do.

In this film, the wealthy for the most part live comfortably with deceit, sometimes prospering and thriving on it. The working class characters are less comfortable with deceit, and not as good at it.

Perhaps deceit is not easily seen as central in Blue Jasmine because Jasmine’s apparent mental illness seems to save the audience from any unpleasant analysis. If Jasmine is crazy, and we are not, we do not look to see if any of her behaviors and weaknesses are our own. What a relief!

If in a film or play an ordinary person does something unsettling or destructive, we in the audience have to ask what made that happen, and ask whether we too could act that way. This often subconscious, often alarming, introspection undergirds much of the transformative powers of art (I mean actual art, not art forms meant as anodyne mass market entertainment).

On the other hand, when a psychopath or mentally ill person (or zombie, Nazi, etc.) does that unsettling or destructive act, we in the audience can comfortably enjoy our own separateness and superiority.

One of the flaws of modern British television mysteries is, I think, the penchant for psychopaths as villains. Producers seem to feel to need to escalate the scale of crime. One quiet poisoning in the vicarage got replaced by serial killings, first of men and then of women, and then of children.

I see a corollary in today’s vitriolic mass-media political discourse. Extremists like Rush Limbaugh reassure their audiences that every failure and fault is done by the other party, who are all morons and traitors, and thus the audience need never reflect on the problems or inconsistencies of their own party.

Certainly I am not questioning the value of self-delusion, without which life might be often unbearable. I have mine and you have yours. But we should go to real art not to escape reality for an hour, but to step outside our comfortable delusions just for a while, as a reality check, even if what we learn about ourselves is disturbing. Jasmine might be talking to herself, but she is also talking to each of us.

2 thoughts on “Film review: Blue Jasmine”

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