Around this time last year we wrote about the different types of intelligence displayed in the film “Good Will Hunting”. If you’d like to read the post then click on this link:
We commented that whilst Will Hunting was gifted intellectually he didn’t always behave intelligently, and it was often his friend Chuckie and his counsellor Sean who demonstrated what we’d call a more multi-dimensional version of what it is to be intelligent – showing spiritual, social and moral intelligence in conjunction with intellect. We would also say that there were times when Will’s destructive emotions took control of him.
Recently there’s been another film on general release that in many ways depicts the antithesis to the intelligences shown in “Good Will Hunting”, and demonstrates to an even greater level the dark forces of destructive emotions.
Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” isn’t exactly a comfortable watch. The excruciating flaws in the characters portrayed are quite disturbing. Their selfishness, their rudeness, their thoughtlessness and their ability to cause havoc in the lives of others are all too evident. Despite this, however, it’s a brilliant portrayal of both the social destructiveness and the personal nastiness that’s all too obvious within our societies and communities. It demonstrates how anger, fear, etc can combine for a potent demolition of someone’s wellbeing.
For those who don’t yet know the film, there’s a good synopsis of it on Wikipedia:
(Please note there may be spoilers in the rest of this blog post so for those who want to watch the film without our interpretation, it may be best to save it for another time!).
In brief, Jasmine is a high-society East Coast wife of a wealthy businessman who is eventually exposed for the manipulative, corrupt, back-stabbing, ruthless and criminal financier that he is. Having lost everything, Jasmine has nowhere to turn other than her adoptive sister who lives in California. There she goes about trying to reinvent herself and start a new life, only to fail in almost every conceivable way. Throughout the film she has flashbacks which allow us glimpses into the shallowness of her previous existence – and subsequently we witness her sorry inability to learn from past mistakes.
Jasmine, for us, epitomises someone who is smart but unintelligent, and disabled by her inability to be emotionally intelligent. Her social skills are negligible despite being a so-called “societal” hostess. All her relationships and friendships during her time as the wife of the financier are ephemeral and shallow. She doesn’t really have friends. Her ability to engage in conversation with either strangers or her poor bewildered nephews is farcical to the point of comical – and, in the truest sense of the word, pathetic. The one time in the film where she develops a relationship with a potential partner it fails miserably because of her deception and because of his superficial desire to have a trophy wife.
Her personal intelligence – her understanding of herself – is severely limited too. She thinks she knows who she is and what she wants but it’s all based on the most insignificant things in life – pretty objects, money and belongings, not a real sense of who she is, or a genuine concern for the wellbeing of another human being. The only time she begins to sparkle is when she talks about her desire to be an interior designer. Suddenly she becomes more human because she can see within herself the potential for imagination and creativity. However, even this is driven by greed – the desire to become extremely wealthy. She is so consumed by her own woes that she is incapable of interacting effectively with others. Her introspection is unproductive, unhealthy and damaging.
As for her spiritual intelligence, it’s non-existent. The only spirits she comes into contact with are ones found in the vodka bottle – the contents of which she regularly uses to help her panic pills disappear down her throat. At one point in the film she visits her prospective husband’s new house which is situated overlooking the coast. It’s beautiful, but you know that the only thought passing through this egotistical woman’s mind is “This trophy view could be mine if I marry this man”. It has nothing to do with beauty and everything to do with possession.
So is Jasmine a realistic character? Sadly, we know that she’s not entirely fictional. Neither is her good-for-nothing husband. We know only too well that many of his ilk – big wheels in the world of finance and banking – still have their six or seven figure incomes with six and sometimes seven figure bonuses, despite the societal destruction they’ve caused through their wilful greed or negligence. (Well done Woody Allen for conjuring up such an explicit analogy for what has happened within the USA and the UK in recent times.)
So Jasmine’s vile husband certainly isn’t a fictional character. The lack of thoughtful consideration by many of those that have money towards those that don’t is utterly evident in our societies today. Many continue to make judgements about “what is best” for others by imposing their sets of values and beliefs without considering the outlandish possibility that other people might not be as greedy, selfish or as destructive as they are.
For instance, one of the saddest moments in the film is when Jasmine’s sister and brother in law turn up in New York for a week. She and her husband have won the lottery and what to them is a substantial amount of money. It’s chicken feed to Jasmine and her wealthy husband Hal, who claims that he can do deals and somehow double or possibly triple the windfall of $200,000 – only to lose it all. The sister and her husband didn’t want much. All he really wanted was to set up and run a small construction business, doing what he enjoyed – putting up buildings, helping others to create or mend their homes. He didn’t want millions, and yet he succumbed to the persuasion and coercion of others, and all his money was lost. This is yet another example of what can happen when the destructive nature of greed is allowed free rein.
The slight spark of light in the film is Jasmine’s sister Ginger. Here we have someone who seems to be less controlled by destructive emotions, although she too falls foul to the force of the darker side of life on occasions too. She does, however, demonstrate some traits of the emotionally intelligent – similar to the “happy go lucky” character the actress played in a brilliant Mike Leigh film of that name.
She shows empathy, she has simple desires in life, doesn’t expect too much from anyone, is philosophical about what she has and what she doesn’t have. It’s only when she loses sight of the positive aspects of her own life that she is persuaded by her sister that she could “do better” rather than just enjoy what she has – with near disastrous consequences.
One could argue that her sister’s view that Ginger was in a neglectful relationship was an accurate assumption, but who are we to make a judgement about another person’s relationship, especially if that judgement comes from a destructive emotion like jealousy or a total misunderstanding of the needs of others that doesn’t exactly match your own aspirations or desires?
Woody Allen is a clever and creative filmmaker. Through his films he accurately conveys the strength of destructive emotions if we allow them to overpower our intelligences and conscience. He does this by portraying horrendous flaws of character in a way that we can laugh or cry about. Simultaneously he enables us to look at ourselves and the other important people in our lives to see whether there’s more than an element of truth about ourselves in what and who we’re watching on the screen. Whether it’s his intention or not, it’s there in abundance in this film.
Our interpretation? If we could all be more intelligent through managing our destructive emotions to the point where they don’t have a negative impact on ourselves or our loved ones, then these sorry situations might not occur. If the characters had been more mindful of or even aware of the presence of destructive emotions in their lives, then these pathetic people might have actually considered a more appropriate and thoughtful way of being. Art reflects life – quite clearly in this instance. If we want to be intelligent, as Robin Williams says in “Good Will Hunting”, we can’t just learn it from a book. We have to feel it. We may be able to dive into a self-help book about how you pick yourself up after a breakdown in a relationship or a loss of a job but we have to do something more positive, and we have to think and behave in a more intelligent way. We have to take control of and manage negative, destructive and damaging emotions.
We are potentially intelligent beings, and if we don’t employ all of our intelligences simultaneously then we’re in grave danger of becoming or behaving like the shocking portrayals of personality as seen in “Blue Jasmine”.
We need to think of others as well as ourselves, and sometimes we might even have to think of the needs and desires of others before our own wishes. We need to consider who we are, and what makes us tick. We need to be responsive. We need to know how to make decisions that are balanced between an instinct and an intellectual response. We need to use our senses carefully, fine-tuning our hearing, our sight, our touch. We need to consider the impact of thoughtless behaviour before we choose to do something that could harm others as well as ourselves, not as an afterthought after the destructive force of out of control emotions has had its way.
We need to be intelligent, and we need to think of ways of helping others to be intelligent without giving them a prescription of tasks and thoughts that merely impose our interpretation of life on them, disabling them from coming to their own conclusions of how they want to be.
The film ends with Jasmine sitting on a park bench in negative “Forrest Gump” mode, talking to strangers who have no particular desire to hear the insane and self-depreciating ramblings of the confused or the mentally ill. We’d like to think that she eventually shook off her depression, her anxiety, her selfishness and her entrenched inability to be socially and spiritually intelligent. There’s no Hollywood “happy ever after” here but by embracing the whole notion of multiple intelligences and by accepting the existence of and the destructiveness of unchecked emotions, and at the very least trying to live according to the philosophy of being well and enabling others to be well, then perhaps we might then be able to truly laugh at the situations and scenarios portrayed in such films.
Congratulations to all involved in the film but particular mention must be given to two outstanding performances from Cate Blanchett (Jasmine) and Sally Hawkins (Ginger) – both of whom are more than likely to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s thanks to their interpretation as well as the excellent writing from Woody Allen that the lack of human intelligences is so evident.