Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Blue Jasmine: theological film review

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 85 plus films later, here is the review for October, of Woody Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine.

Blue Jasmine

It sounds eerily post GFC. A rich New York socialite (Jasmine as Cate Blanchett) is bankrupted onto struggle street. She turns to her San Francisco-based sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), in an attempt to rebuild her seeming shattered life.

But like all good stories, the plot will twist and turn. The result is Woody Allen at his best, a master of a movie as character-drenched as it is plot-driven.

How to process the pain when one’s world begins to collapse? Through character, Woody Allen offers us various possibilities. For Jasmine’s step son, it is to wipe the slate clean in order to start again. For Jasmine’s husband Hal (Alec Baldwin), it is to respond to shame by taking his own life. In Augie, Ginger’s former husband, financially ruined by Hal’s fraud, it is to nurse revenge. For Jasmine, it is to hide from reality on a lonely park bench, trapped by her romantic delusions.

“Blue Jasmine” is worth watching for the performance of Cate Blanchett alone. She is the plot pivot that binds together two stories, from two worlds. Blanchett is mesmerising, her descent into mental breakdown captured by the merest twist of a hand gesture.

Director Woody Allen is an international treasure of the film industry, with a career spanning six decades, and forty-five movies. Winner of four Academy Awards, nominated twenty three times, he has given us movies including “Manhattan” (1979), “Hannah and her Sisters” (1986) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011).

Allen is known for his creative movement between reel life and real life, and his use of film and music from the past. “Blue Jasmine” continues these motifs. The film hints at Tennessee Williams’ classic movie “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The movie references in title and in plot beginning and ending, the Lorenz Hart-Richard Rodgers song, “Blue Moon.”

A romantic number penned in 1934, it offers, for those with a nose for religion, an interesting way to read “Blue Jasmine.”

The original song by Rodgers was titled “Prayer”. The lyrics included the following:

“Oh Lord, If you ain’t busy up there,
I ask for help with a prayer
So please don’t give me the air”

Over time, the original words penned by Rodgers were rewritten.

“Oh lord, What is the matter with me?

I’m just permitted to see
the bad in every man”

Performed in “Manhattan Melodrama” it was rewritten yet again, to become the romantic tune hummed by Jasmine on her lonely park bench, as she remembers the romantic beginnings of her New York high life.

It becomes an intriguing way to read “Blue Jasmine.” The words by which a society prays have been rewritten, yet the tune remains.

What is more important, words or tunes, in the human religious impulse? What are the words of faith the church might say if it were to find itself seated beside Jasmine, in her disillusioned post-GFC world, on that lonely park bench?

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal at the Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 11:55 AM

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