The story of Blue Sky is set in the late 1950’s but it’s set under the lens of the early 1990’s aesthetic principles, with its electric guitar and synthesizer music accompanying female eroticism. Does that sound like I have preconceived notions and biases against the movie? Because unfortunately, I do, with all the assumptions that this film is gonna seem dated.
Another disadvantage against the film is its two plot lines combined because they couldn’t stand on their own. First is the erotic wildness of Carly Marshall (Jessica Lange), a problem that’s going to get violently fixed or will bring her to her own doom. The second concerns her husband, military man Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), an insubordinate sane voice against the nuclear testing in the two bases he’s assigned in – Hawaii and Mercury, Nevada. This second plot line is the less cringe worthy yet the less interesting one.
Because Hank encourages her to do so, Alex finds a friend with Glenn (Chris O’Donnell!), Johnson’s son. She tells him about ‘noment,’ moments when nothing’s happening, and ‘slowments,’ moments when people are too lazy. I gotta bring those back. He kisses her, which is funny because I would have laughed at those dorky words, being born in the generations when I was. Their kisses are interrupted by Hank and Carly ‘kiss and make up’ after the dance, a heightened, more sexualized version of the adolescent’s innocent love.
Alex and Glenn hang out later at the ‘off-limits,’ area. They talk about the Manhattan Project and marriage in a way that they’re not seriously talking about it. Alex tells Glenn her fears of marrying a military man because marrying one might turn her into her mother. Alex hands Glenn an old grenade, he throws out the window, the grenade explodes. Glenn’s dad, army in tow, finds the two, and Alex’s hair is dishevelled and all. Her mom then throws her all these accusations, the mother sublimating her own guilty past to her daughter.
Carly supposed to be the insane one who has to be cured, but Hank actually steps on a few delicate toes. Instead of confronting his boss about the latter’s indiscretions with his own wife, actually faces him about the nuclear testing that has irradiated two people. This leads to a physical argument that gets him to prison and then to a mental hospital where he is drugged. Nonetheless, its’ her duty now in the film’s third act to defend her husband from all the lies, while I wonder how her husband would defend her if this movie took the usual path of making her the insane one.
The only ray of optimism comes from Jessica Lange’s Oscar win, and if you’re a latent completist just like I am, this film is a must watch. But is her performance perfect? There’s something performatively cunning about her pretending that her father works for the New York Times, as if she’s winking to us,blatantly pointing to her character’s delusions. There are moments, however, where Lange doesn’t use clichés. Instead of being spiteful because Hank won’t dance with her, she dances with his boss not out of spite but with a human insanity all her own.
It’s also interesting to watch Carly’s ability to make her own fictions with her frustrated life. As she tells the Johnson’s wife that ‘a woman’s charm is mostly illusion.’ She puts red cloth over the lamps and suddenly an army base living room is now a cabaret room, a place where she can teach her girls to dance. An important theme in this film is Carly dressing like movie stars because that’s apparently that’s the only way for the audience to tell eras. The film ends with Carly putting away her vulnerably sexy Monroe-Bardot-Charisse hybrid to looking like Elizabeth Taylor, to looking like a survivor.