Blue Jasmine—A Modern Blanche DuBois

In 1951, one of the boldest motion picture adaptations premiered, which earned Academy Award recognition while also scandalizing the so-called “Happy Days” of 1950s America. That film was none other than the black-and-white classic A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the controversial play by Tennessee Williams. Because of the cultural influence of this film, it is no surprise that there would be parodies and remakes of such an iconic cinematic work. It is so famous that even Marge Simpson played Blanche DuBois in an episode of The Simpsons in the satirical musical Oh, Streetcar! 

Although, perhaps the most noteworthy homage to the film comes from Woody Allen. While the director is oftentimes known for his original screenplays, he did admit that his 2013 film Blue Jasmine is very loosely based on Williams’s Pulitzer-Prize winning drama. However, Blue Jasmine actually shares a lot of parallels with the 1951 classic, which basically makes Allen’s work a modern take on one of the most dramatic films ever produced.

Within this re-imagining of a classic story, Woody Allen creates a modern Blanche DuBois in the form of the titular “Jasmine,” who is metaphorically “blue” because of her dissatisfaction with the contemporary world around her. In the film, which stars Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-winning performance, Jasmine struggles to cope with the difficult life that she has. Jasmine is a bit neurotic, which is a key trademark of Woody Allen films, especially since he himself is oftentimes very neurotic (such as his role as Alvy Singer in his 1977 classic Annie Hall). Ultimately, Jasmine appears to be a combination between Woody Allen’s trademark persona with the heroine often known as the most tragic diva in the history of theater.

Notably, Jasmine has trouble dealing with reality in a way that is very similar to Vivien Leigh’s character, Blanche DuBois, in A Streetcar Named Desire because they are both fragile and frail beauties who endured trauma in their lives. Specifically, Jasmine has a marriage that falls apart with her wealthy husband named Hal (played by Alec Baldwin), so she flees from New York to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (which is a role that earned Sally Hawkins an Oscar nomination for her supporting role). 

Additionally, another parallel in this modern update is the setting, which is much like the black-and-white classic because San Francisco and the French Quarter of New Orleans are both well-known for their streetcars. San Francisco provides the backdrop for Woody Allen’s film in a way that New Orleans provides the setting for the 1951 classic. Not only do the settings of both films share similarities, but the nature of the performances of the actors, who bring the delusional and dysfunctional characters to life, make Blue Jasmine a unique film while also honoring the basic themes and ideas found within A Streetcar Named Desire.

Much like Vivien’s Oscar-winning performance, Cate Blanchett also earned her second Oscar for playing such a tragic heroine. Not only was her performance amazingly visceral, but she also shares on-screen chemistry with her co-star, Alec Baldwin, in a way that is strikingly similar to the interactions between Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in the 1951 classic. For example, there is a scene in which Jasmine questions whether or not there is an affair happening between her husband and another woman. Such tension is evident in both this film and A Streetcar Named Desire, especially in a tense moment in which Stanley Kowalski accuses Stella and Blanche about acting “like queens” instead of being more humble in the eyes of the ferocious Stanley Kowalski.

Even with the modernization employed in Woody Allen’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, there are still thematic similarities between both films despite the fact that Allen asserted that his film is only “very loosely” based on Tennessee Williams’s play. For example, the titles of each respective film also directly relate to the respective heroines.

The title A Streetcar Named Desire represents how Blanche’s desire to escape from the bleakness of reality ultimately provides her downfall simply because she willingly chooses to depend upon “the kindness of strangers.” Woody Allen’s film also uses a symbolic title that refers to Jasmine’s disturbed emotional well-being, with the word “Blue” implying that she suffers from depression. That is actually a key personality trait for both Blanche DuBois and Jasmine because they are delusional and dysfunctional protagonists who struggle to accept reality.

In fact, Jasmine is so delusional that her real name isn’t even Jasmine—it is actually Jeanette! Jasmine’s personality reveals the fundamental fact that coping with reality is a universal struggle that a lot of people face, and that hardship transcends time itself since Jasmine is a contemporary version of Blanche DuBois.

In spite of the fact that both films were made during different historical eras, each respective film shares profound explorations of universal themes that can teach audiences powerful life lessons. Part of the brilliance of both A Streetcar Named Desire and Blue Jasmine is their gritty depictions of reality. Both films have a tragic element to them, but that is because they explore the psychological descent of people that refuse to cope with reality. In fact, the films received a lot of acclaim due to their depiction of the tragic divas (Blanche and Jasmine) and how they highlighted the harsh reality of mental illness. Ultimately, the performances from Vivien Leigh and Cate Blanchett were so dramatic and well done that it really is not that surprising that both actresses each won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for playing such tragic heroines.

Part of the lack of normality that characterizes both heroines is how they deny the truth rather than accept reality. There is also a pivotal moment in A Streetcar Named Desire that highlights the theme of illusion versus reality. Blanche has a similar moment with Mitch (Karl Malden) in which she feels delusional, and exclaims, “I don’t want realism! I want magic!” 

That moment emphasizes the fact that Blanche is incapable of accepting reality because she lives in her own delusional fantasy world rather than choosing to cope with the reality that upsets her. Such a moment shares parallels with the numerous instances when Jasmine uses alcohol as a method of escaping reality, especially since she is oftentimes seen with vodka glasses. The irrational qualities of Blanche and Jasmine make it clear that both heroines want to “escape” from reality rather than deal with it head-on.

In terms of facing reality, Woody Allen’s modernization of Blanche DuBois can teach audiences about how to deal with life instead of trying to escape from it. Blanche and Jasmine had their own tragic tales because of their inability to accept reality. Life can definitely be challenging at times, but overcoming struggles is much more beneficial than avoiding them.

Even with their own unique demises, these characters can still teach people (especially women) to summon up the courage to confront reality instead of becoming damsels in distress. Learning from the mistakes of others can actually offer powerful life lessons, and both A Streetcar Named Desire and Blue Jasmine can teach viewers to accept the harshness of reality rather than deny that universal fact of life.

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Alex Andy Phuong graduated from California State University-Los Angeles with his Bachelor of Arts in English in 2015. He currently writes film reviews and creative pieces. His sincerest hope is that his writing will inspire anyone who reads his work.

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Blue Jasmine—A Modern Blanche DuBois

In 1951, one of the boldest motion picture adaptations premiered, which earned Academy Award recognition while also scandalizing the so-called “Happy Days” of 1950s America. That film was none other than the black-and-white classic A Streetcar Named Desire, based on the controversial play by Tennessee Williams. Because of the cultural influence of this film, it is no surprise that there would be parodies and remakes of such an iconic cinematic work. It is so famous that even Marge Simpson played Blanche DuBois in an episode of The Simpsons in the satirical musical Oh, Streetcar! 

Although, perhaps the most noteworthy homage to the film comes from Woody Allen. While the director is oftentimes known for his original screenplays, he did admit that his 2013 film Blue Jasmine is very loosely based on Williams’s Pulitzer-Prize winning drama. However, Blue Jasmine actually shares a lot of parallels with the 1951 classic, which basically makes Allen’s work a modern take on one of the most dramatic films ever produced.

Within this re-imagining of a classic story, Woody Allen creates a modern Blanche DuBois in the form of the titular “Jasmine,” who is metaphorically “blue” because of her dissatisfaction with the contemporary world around her. In the film, which stars Cate Blanchett in an Oscar-winning performance, Jasmine struggles to cope with the difficult life that she has. Jasmine is a bit neurotic, which is a key trademark of Woody Allen films, especially since he himself is oftentimes very neurotic (such as his role as Alvy Singer in his 1977 classic Annie Hall). Ultimately, Jasmine appears to be a combination between Woody Allen’s trademark persona with the heroine often known as the most tragic diva in the history of theater.

Notably, Jasmine has trouble dealing with reality in a way that is very similar to Vivien Leigh’s character, Blanche DuBois, in A Streetcar Named Desire because they are both fragile and frail beauties who endured trauma in their lives. Specifically, Jasmine has a marriage that falls apart with her wealthy husband named Hal (played by Alec Baldwin), so she flees from New York to San Francisco to live with her sister Ginger (which is a role that earned Sally Hawkins an Oscar nomination for her supporting role). 

Additionally, another parallel in this modern update is the setting, which is much like the black-and-white classic because San Francisco and the French Quarter of New Orleans are both well-known for their streetcars. San Francisco provides the backdrop for Woody Allen’s film in a way that New Orleans provides the setting for the 1951 classic. Not only do the settings of both films share similarities, but the nature of the performances of the actors, who bring the delusional and dysfunctional characters to life, make Blue Jasmine a unique film while also honoring the basic themes and ideas found within A Streetcar Named Desire.

Much like Vivien’s Oscar-winning performance, Cate Blanchett also earned her second Oscar for playing such a tragic heroine. Not only was her performance amazingly visceral, but she also shares on-screen chemistry with her co-star, Alec Baldwin, in a way that is strikingly similar to the interactions between Vivien Leigh and Marlon Brando in the 1951 classic. For example, there is a scene in which Jasmine questions whether or not there is an affair happening between her husband and another woman. Such tension is evident in both this film and A Streetcar Named Desire, especially in a tense moment in which Stanley Kowalski accuses Stella and Blanche about acting “like queens” instead of being more humble in the eyes of the ferocious Stanley Kowalski.

Even with the modernization employed in Woody Allen’s Oscar-nominated screenplay, there are still thematic similarities between both films despite the fact that Allen asserted that his film is only “very loosely” based on Tennessee Williams’s play. For example, the titles of each respective film also directly relate to the respective heroines.

The title A Streetcar Named Desire represents how Blanche’s desire to escape from the bleakness of reality ultimately provides her downfall simply because she willingly chooses to depend upon “the kindness of strangers.” Woody Allen’s film also uses a symbolic title that refers to Jasmine’s disturbed emotional well-being, with the word “Blue” implying that she suffers from depression. That is actually a key personality trait for both Blanche DuBois and Jasmine because they are delusional and dysfunctional protagonists who struggle to accept reality.

In fact, Jasmine is so delusional that her real name isn’t even Jasmine—it is actually Jeanette! Jasmine’s personality reveals the fundamental fact that coping with reality is a universal struggle that a lot of people face, and that hardship transcends time itself since Jasmine is a contemporary version of Blanche DuBois.

In spite of the fact that both films were made during different historical eras, each respective film shares profound explorations of universal themes that can teach audiences powerful life lessons. Part of the brilliance of both A Streetcar Named Desire and Blue Jasmine is their gritty depictions of reality. Both films have a tragic element to them, but that is because they explore the psychological descent of people that refuse to cope with reality. In fact, the films received a lot of acclaim due to their depiction of the tragic divas (Blanche and Jasmine) and how they highlighted the harsh reality of mental illness. Ultimately, the performances from Vivien Leigh and Cate Blanchett were so dramatic and well done that it really is not that surprising that both actresses each won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for playing such tragic heroines.

Part of the lack of normality that characterizes both heroines is how they deny the truth rather than accept reality. There is also a pivotal moment in A Streetcar Named Desire that highlights the theme of illusion versus reality. Blanche has a similar moment with Mitch (Karl Malden) in which she feels delusional, and exclaims, “I don’t want realism! I want magic!” 

That moment emphasizes the fact that Blanche is incapable of accepting reality because she lives in her own delusional fantasy world rather than choosing to cope with the reality that upsets her. Such a moment shares parallels with the numerous instances when Jasmine uses alcohol as a method of escaping reality, especially since she is oftentimes seen with vodka glasses. The irrational qualities of Blanche and Jasmine make it clear that both heroines want to “escape” from reality rather than deal with it head-on.

In terms of facing reality, Woody Allen’s modernization of Blanche DuBois can teach audiences about how to deal with life instead of trying to escape from it. Blanche and Jasmine had their own tragic tales because of their inability to accept reality. Life can definitely be challenging at times, but overcoming struggles is much more beneficial than avoiding them.

Even with their own unique demises, these characters can still teach people (especially women) to summon up the courage to confront reality instead of becoming damsels in distress. Learning from the mistakes of others can actually offer powerful life lessons, and both A Streetcar Named Desire and Blue Jasmine can teach viewers to accept the harshness of reality rather than deny that universal fact of life.

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