I had wanted to write something about Blue Jasmine for a while, but was never sure how to put my thoughts into words — maybe it’s because for all the crazy babbling lady’s flaws, a part of her reminds me of my once (and perhaps still) ambitious self. The contrast between the elegant Jasmine when she could maintain the pretense of pride, and the shattered, wet-haired, shaking on a park bench but still Chanel wearing Jasmine after her pride has crumbled, is a cautionary tale. Ambition motivates us to explore further, the race to the top encourages us to climb faster — to want to become something substantial is no crime. Pride, whether as a precondition for or byproduct of ambition, breaks down in the absence of support, whether in the form of wealth, social status, or a firm mindset. For Jasmine, who holds pride and ambition dear to her personality, the loss of pride beats her down, and the presence of pride hinders her attempts to get back up.
Jasmine is disoriented after losing the life she meticulously designed for herself. That’s exactly what she was: a carefully crafted jasmine, she wasn’t always delicate or elegant — she wasn’t even a Jasmine until her name change. She wants to spend her life with someone “substantial,” someone with financial power and social prestige. “You can’t always blame everything on your genes. If you’re prepared to work hard, and not settle…” said Jasmine to her sister, revealing her path to success. I agree with the ambitious her, but I don’t think she’s completely correct. In reality, preparing to work hard and not settle is not enough; trying is not enough; even if you put in hard work you still might not succeed. Not to sound Oscar Wilde-ish but everyone works hard these days. To succeed you need luck, you need the acumen to grab on to opportunities.
So Jasmine thought she deserved something substantial, but does she? One part of Jasmine’s problem is how she neglected the role of luck in her rags-to-riches story and overplayer her own contributions. Anyone can reinvent themselves to be a Jasmine, but not all of them would have been courted by a businessman and ended up a trophy wife — that’s her luck. As for pride, sometimes it helps us in the same way that confidence does, but it fails Jasmine when there is a mismatch between her pride and her abilities caused by the miscalculation of luck. Concealing herself behind layers of pride does not make one worthy — Jasmine is still fragile at her core.
The other part of Jasmine’s problem is not recognizing that she’s fragile in her pursuit for something substantial. Her reasons for pride are too easily reversible and lack a stable foundation. When crafting her persona, she only built the walls of pride and ambition, but forgot the construction of a castle of internal peace and self-consistency. She mistook being perceived as a decorative trophy wife for being the trophy. To support Jasmine’s pride and ambitions, being a beautiful little fool is not enough. Substance and skills are important too. That’s why the loss of pride would beat her down, because once the pride is peeled away, there is nothing left to support her elegant but hollow frame: thus her babbling to a stranger on the plane and the famous line of “well you must have heard of Prozac and lithium” said to two kids.
When she almost succeeded at reinvention, her pride stepped in to stop her. Her lingering pride meant that advances by her sister’s friends as well as the dentist were perceived as beneath her. Later, had her pride not gotten the better of her, maybe she would not have lied to the diplomat about her past, and then she might have been accepted again as a suitable trophy. In the end, there is plenty of plausible criticism of Jasmine: didn’t she ask for this? Didn’t she report her husband, and thus ruins the base of her pride, in a moment’s rage? Didn't she treat her sister poorly? Yes to all of the above, but I still don’t want to criticize her too harshly because I see a resemblance of myself in her. A combination of her stupidity and pride led to her downfall, and who said that mine won’t lead to my downfall someday? Maybe until then.
Come to think of it, as the story unfolds, we realize that all that Jasmine has left is her pride. Her lonesome, pathetic pride. Her pride that contributed to her destitution — but there’s nothing else for her to cling on to. She has already lost her money, her status, her son, so if she forgoes her pride she will be nothing. She cannot bear such a life. Which leads me to wonder, how ought I live, should I be stripped of what I pride myself on or the pillar of my personality? How ought I live, should I be prideful, lost, and ambitious at the same time?
I think it comes down to two things: prevention and mindset. Prevent the loss of the most intrinsic parts of my personality by grounding it in skills that I practice and hone and potentially excel at. Have a consistent mindset that self-resolves incongruencies, that weighs pride against ambitions and ability. Finally, don’t forget that “the harder working the luckier.” Having put in the hard work means being better prepared for chance occurrences, for slips in the wheel of fortune, which, when aggregated, roughly equals to being luckier.
That’s what Blue Jasmine is to me: it reminds me of what I’d wanted to be in life and the life I’d wanted to live. But it also warns against the dangers in the pursuit for something substantial and how it could govern one’s thinking. Jasmine’s ambition and unwillingness to settle distinguish her, but also partly resulted in her downfall. I don’t know whether she would be able to reconcile wanting more and being less than more, and climb out of her sister’s San Francisco apartment and dentist reception desks and interior design classes, but I hope she makes it.