“Woody Wednesday” Woody Allen is a hot subject for evangelicals

God Is A Luxury I Can’t Afford – From Crimes And Misdemeanors

Published on Feb 29, 2012 by

Woody Allen uses eye, seeing and vision symbolism throughout Crimes & Misdemeanors. Judah (Martin Landau) is a wealthy ophthalmologist. Rabbi Ben (Sam Waterson), one of Judah’s real patients, is going blind. This clip is an exploration of a dichotomy between a “kingdom of Heaven” with absolutes and objectivity and the “real world” with relativity and subjectivity. Judah is on the horns of a dilemma. Judah’s mistress, Dolores, has created a crisis by threatening to publicly expose his affair with her and his financial improprieties. In the middle of the night in a violent thunderstorm, symbolic of the crisis and dilemma, Judah has an imagined conversation with one of his real patients, Rabbi Ben. The imagined conversation is about Judah’s mobster brother Jack’s (Jerry Orbach) proposed murder of Judah’s mistress of several years, Dolores, through the services of the mobster brother. Judah sees only two world views, a “kingdom of Heaven” view represented by Rabbi Ben and the “real world” view represented by mobster brother Jack. Judah’s dilemma is which world view to embrace to resolve his crisis. Judah complains: “I managed to keep free of the real world, but suddenly it’s found me.” When faced with Rabbi Ben’s “kingodom of Heaven” view that God sees all, Judah proclaims: “God is a luxury I can’t afford.” They all exhibit deficits when it comes to “seeing” what is around them and other perspectives. Judah think’s Rabbi Ben’s perspective is “blind” to the real world. Judah imagines Rabbi Ben arguing back that, although Judah is blind to God, God is not blind and sees Judah for what he is, a murderer. In the end, Judah embraces mobster brother Jack’s “real world” view and calls Jack to give the go-ahead for the already planned murder of Dolores.


Anyone who has read my blog knows that I am an evangelical and I love Woody Allen movies. Here is an article on this subject and it concludes comments by Chuck Colson and Richard Land. I have been a big fan of both of these men and have heard them speak in person in the past.

Posted at 09:58 PM ET, 10/24/2011 TheWashingtonPost

Woody Allen and evangelicals: A surprisingly romantic pair

Director Woody Allen looks on during the shooting of his movie “The Bop Decameron” in downtown Rome July 25, 2011. (REMO CASILLI – REUTERS) Earlier this year I was sitting at a cafeteria lunch table with evangelical icon Chuck Colson and some of his close faith advisors when the conversation took a turn I hadn’t predicted: Colson started talking about Woody Allen.

In detail.

It turned out Colson and some others at the table, who help him craft theological writings and classes, are hard-core fans of Allen, and were easily able to recite bits of dialogue. A debate launched about the religious subtexts of various Allen films and what were the moviemaker’s own theological conclusions.

It was only when my regular chats with Southern Baptist leader Richard Land began turning to Allen that I got curious — what’s the deal with evangelicals and Woody Allen?

It turned out that I was clueless to a fascination that now makes perfect sense, since Allen marries two things core to modern-day evangelicals: popular culture and religion. Think “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and the symbolism of the rabbi going blind; think “Match Point” and questions raised about the apparent randomness of life.

Many of Allen’s films wrestle in a complex way with core moral themes, such as the nature of forgiveness, what to do with sin, whether life can have any meaning without God. And he does this as an agnostic.

Land is also a huge Allen fan and can rattle off an amazing amout of dialogue. You can’t get the guy off the phone once he starts talking Woody.

This evangelical-Allen thing reappeared the other day when some friends on Facebook started zapping around an amazing piece of vintage talk-show footage — Allen interviewing evangelical leader Billy Graham (it’s in two parts).

I haven’t been able to determine what show Allen was hosting (he declined to be interviewed), but it looks to be the 1960s, with a wise-guy, 30-something Allen engaging the handsome, older preacher about sex, drugs and life after death.

Allen: “If you come to one of my movies or something, I’ll go to one of your revival meetings.”

Graham: “Well now that is a deal.”

Allen: “You could probably convert me because I’m such a pushover. I have no convictions in any direction and if you make it appealing and promise me some sort of wonderful afterlife with a white robe and wings I would go for it.”

Graham: “I can’t promise you a white robe and wings, but I can promise you a very interesting, thrilling life.”

Allen: “One wing, maybe?”The off-camera audience is cracking up the entire time, and both men are smiling and relaxed through the 10-minute interview even as they clearly aren’t seriously entertaining the other’s views. It’s entertainment, but it’s also sweet, particularly on Graham’s part, which results in a piece of footage that manages to be both deep and silly (this is not easy to pull off).  

The primary feeling I had watching the video was one of nostalgia for a time when the subject of religion wasn’t so firmly planted at the center of a culture war, when people of totally different convictions about matters of life and death and morality could agree to disagree. It seemed almost romantic.

It seems impossible to imagine. Can anyone think of a comparable exchange today? I considered The Daily Show but even that seems too slick.

In the interview Allen is dorky and giggly – he almost seems like a teenager embarassed to ask about dating.

Could he have sex before marriage, he asks Graham, to ensure that his betrothed isn’t “an absolute yo-yo?” Graham turns fatherly, but not dogmatic; “that won’t happen to you,” he assures Allen.

Graham’s framing of the role of faith is decidedly secular, perhaps aimed at Allen’s audience. The purpose of the religious doctrine and rules is because God wants you to have “the best of life .. happiness and fulfillment.” The ban on sex outside a committed marriage, he says, is to protect your psychological self, to keep your body free from disease.

I asked Land to look at the videos and he commented that the wise-cracking Woody of the 1960s seemed to have “less swagger in his agnosticism” than the Woody who created the characters of “Crimes and Misdemeanors” in the 1980s, with their agonizing over mortality and purpose.

“I find Woody over the years, and of course this is true of people as they get older, there is more resignation,” he said. “There is a light touch and a confidence in his earlier movies — I’m not dead, I won’t die for a long time so I have a long time to figure this all out. Some of his more recent movies, you can see he’s aware of his own mortality.”

Land is sure he sees an Allen less confident.

“He asks all the right questions, he just doesn’t have the right answers,” Land said with a chuckle.

In trying to find the source of the clip I stumbled on a 2010 interview with Allen in which he seems to reference the Graham chat and shows that he hasn’t changed his mind a bit. He still has no faith in any higher power and says Graham is “delusional.”

Speaking of characters in his new movie, Allen says “sooner or later, reality sets in in a crushing way. As it does and will with everybody, including Billy Graham. But it’s nice if you can delude yourself for as long as possible.”

It’s hard for me to imagine a talk being the two men being as light-hearted today.

By  |  09:58 PM ET, 10/24/2011


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