From the first bite of the apple in the Garden of Eden to the one Steve Jobs fashioned into his company symbol, the world has evolved on the nourishment of knowledge. While objective knowledge, acquired by scientific observations, is widely acknowledged to be beneficial for us, self-knowledge, also needed for our development, has proven to be a more delicate pursuit. It requires a fragile balance between knowing and the capacity to contain what is known.
Self-knowledge comes with weight. The more you know the heavier it becomes and the stronger you need to be to carry it. The opposite works as well, the more knowledge you carry the stronger you can become. But knowing sometimes comes with a fear that you are unable to hold what is revealed. That fear can prevent you from taking in the needed knowledge to understand reality so that judgment and action can be exercised toward growth. Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen's recent movie, is an arresting and disturbing meditation on the devastating cost of not knowing, of averting the gaze from the blurring, even blinding, blaze of one's reality. Allen introduces us to his main character, Jasmine, played astonishingly by Cate Blanchet, at a point in her life where she moves in with her sister. This point is where Jasmine's story is sliced into two narratives -- the before and after -- as so often trauma does to victims.
Traumas, Greek for wounds, come in all sizes and at all periods of life -- long, short, one-off, chronic, babyhood, childhood or adult. Like a wound, trauma is a tear in the tissue of life. What all traumas have in common are the victims' sense of helplessness to protect themselves against the event or series of events, and their meaning. As a result, the ego (the negotiating agent of personality) resorts to defending itself in ways that distort personality and arrests development.
Jasmine is wounded. We meet her standing outside her sister's apartment door looking confused and distressed. We see a beautiful woman dressed in expensive clothes who can't retain her composure. We don't know what happened to her but what is unfolding is agonizing to watch. We learn that she is homeless and penniless; that in the previous chapter of her life she was married to a wealthy man and enjoyed comfort and luxury; that her husband's inappropriate financial and moral conduct was splashed all over for everyone to see, but Jasmine turns away. She declines to take the bite. She fiercely holds on to her perception of reality, ignoring or denying any knowledge that is a potential threat to it. If acknowledged and understood it might bring crisis and redemption.
Ginger, her sister, does not possess Jasmine's beauty, social sophistication or ambition. Unlike Jasmine, who seems like a bee hovering over a field of flowers sucking its beauty and sweetness while remaining detached, Ginger is struggling -- financially and personally. She is a divorced mother who lost all her money when she and her ex-husband gave it to Jasmine's husband to invest. Jasmine's make believe has consequences not only for herself but for her family as well.
Even though Ginger is angry with her sister she is capable of understanding her pain. But Jasmine sees her sister only as a reflection of herself, of her own fears. Her sister's modest apartment is a bitter reminder of how far she has fallen. She tries to "educate" her to her way of thinking, urging her not to date "losers," like her mechanic boyfriend. People are measured by what they can provide.
When Jasmine's husband tells her that he wants to leave her, the knowledge that she tried so fiercely to push away finally crosses the barrier of her consciousness and she collapses. As the dam breaks, it washes over her like a tsunami of unacceptable meaning. It leaves her overwhelmed and drowning.
Jasmine is like Samson, the long-haired Biblical character who battles the Philistines with his special powers granted to him by God. His weakness is women. And when he falls hard for Delilah, his Philistine wife, he is blinded by his infatuation. He does not see her insidious intentions in her repeated attempts to extract his secret from him about the source of his special powers. When Samson finally surrenders and reveals his secret to her, she cuts his hair when he is asleep and hands him over to the Philistines. They incarcerate him and pluck out his eyes.
Jasmine too is blinded by her need to create a protective shield against life. Like Samson's hair, her strength resides outside of herself, with her husband's provision. Like Samson's hair it can be removed from her at any moment. Both Jasmine's and Samson's desires are so strong that they fail to see beyond their narrow scope of satisfaction.
When Samson, whose hair has started to grow back while in captivity, understands that he is going to die at the hands of the Philistines, he pushes the columns of the temple and brings it down, killing scores along with himself. And when Jasmine too understands, from the depth of her helplessness and anger, that her life as she knew it was taken away from her by her husband's desertion, she calls the FBI to report his crimes, bringing him down with her own demise. He gets arrested and kills himself in jail.
Both Jasmine and Samson were made vulnerable by keeping knowledge at bay. Not knowing darkened their field of operation by illuminating only a portion of it. Both seem more powerful than they are because their power is not within. Traumatized, both try to turn their helplessness into victory and victimhood into triumph by attacking the source of their pain. Even though they don't achieve salvation, they restore their sense of agency if just for a moment.