Despite Similarities, Do “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Blue Jasmine” Express Different Messages?
Critics and audiences alike have noted that Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (2013) takes inspiration from Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Tennessee Williams’ original play of the same name. But what are the key differences in the messages of the two films?
Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine and Vivian Leigh’s Blanche are both alcoholic, upper-class elites who gradually retreat from a harsh reality into a fantasy-fueled mental disorder. Ultimately, though, Blue Jasmine is more concerned with the morality of wealth, while Streetcar examines sexual desire and repression. Whereas Streetcar‘s Blanche and her sister’s blue-collar husband Stanley (Marlon Brando) grapple with a fraught sexual tension, Blue Jasmine has none of the primal attraction between the elite sister, Jasmine, and the blue-collar brute, Chili (Bobby Cannavale). Nor is Jasmine driven by sexual needs, as Blanche is. After her fall from grace, Jasmine’s quest to remarry a rich man reflects her ambition to re-claim her glamorous and validating lifestyle, whereas Blanche’s pursuit of Mitch is a desperate bid for security and survival from a woman who is past conventionally marriageable age and has been living more or less as a prostitute. Blanche’s fits of indiscriminate sexual desire fight with her need to conform to respectable society; Jasmine displays no such inappropriate lust (except perhaps for furniture).
It follows perhaps that Blue Jasmine offers a harsher moral critique of its protagonist’s actions. When a raging Jasmine—who has just learned that her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) plans to disgrace her by running off with a younger woman—calls the police to report her husband’s financial crimes, the audience realizes that Jasmine has been fully informed of Hal’s activities all along. At that moment, we understand that she is complicit in his crimes. In the aftermath of her call to the police, Jasmine’s refusal to recognize her own culpability or to renounce the immorality of her ill-gotten wealth shows a total lack of remorse for her deceit. Jasmine appears to feel entitled to a wealth that is, if necessary, propped up by stealing from members of the lower classes.
As Awards Daily puts it, “Where Streetcar was more about the clash between old and emerging worlds, Blue Jasmine is about the stark contrast between the 1% and the people they screwed. It is a direct indictment of what has gone on in this country over the past five or ten years. The wealthy who promise a tiny piece of the American dream to people who buy tickets for a lottery that they’ll never win.”
Moreover, at the time of Streetcar‘s setting, Blanche’s Old South is a dying relic of the past, but Jasmine’s socialite Manhattan continues to thrive. Whereas Blanche’s fading aristocracy lingers on incompetently as its power swiftly and surely evaporates, today’s Bernie Madoff’s and their Jasmine’s feigning ignorance preside over a wealth born of recent criminal behavior. Blanche’s husband’s so-called dirty secret (being a homosexual) reflects the intolerance of his society; Hal’s secrets (financial crime and marital infidelity) are encouraged and rewarded by the elite company he keeps. Blanche’s world recedes into history, while Hal’s untouchable 1% only shows signs of increasing its power.