“Woody Wednesday” Another look at Woody Allen’s movie Crimes and Misdemeanors

I have spent alot of time talking about Woody Allen films on this blog and looking at his worldview. He has a hopelessmeaningless, nihilistic worldview that believes we are going to turn to dust and there is no afterlife. Even though he has this view he has taken the opportunity to look at the weaknesses of his own secular view. I salute him for doing that. That is why I have returned to his work over and over and presented my own Christian worldview as an alternative. Take a moment and read again a good article on Woody Allen below. There are some links below to some other posts about him.

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CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)

 
PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Ethical objectism/relativism

CHARACTERS: Judah Rosenthal (ophthalmologist, adulterer), Jack Rosenthal (Judah’s mobster brother), Miriam Rosenthal (Judah’s wife), Dolores (Anjelica Huston, Judah’s mistress), Lester (Alan Alda, TV personality), Cliff Stern (Woody Allen, unsuccessful film director), Ben (Sam Waterston, Rabbi), Halley Reed (Mia Farrow, TV producer)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR WOODY ALLEN: Sleeper (1973), Annie Hall (1977), Hannah and her Sisters (1986), Bullets over Broadway (1994), Deconstructing Harry (1997), Sweet and Lowdown (1999)

SYNOPSIS: Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors” intertwines two stories. The first involves Judah, a wealthy ophthalmologist and family man, who has had a several-year affair with Dolores. Dolores threatens to go public regarding the affair and Judah’s shady financial dealings unless Judah leaves his wife. Judah calls on his mobster brother to kill Dolores, which he does. The second storyline involves Cliff, a nerdy and unsuccessful documentary filmmaker, who is in an unhappy marriage. While working on a documentary about a TV personality named Lester, Cliff falls in love with Halley, a network producer. Halley rebuffs Cliff because he is married. When Cliff finally gets divorced, Halley has become engaged to Lester. Throughout both storylines discussions arise about God’s role in establishing ethical values, and whether the world would be valueless if God didn’t exist. Judah and Cliff meet up at the end of the film, and Judah presents an anonymous version of the murder – as though it might be a plot for a movie. It becomes clear that Judah got away with the murder, and suffered no long-term guilt. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including best screenplay and best director.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. According to the DVD commentary, Allen views his film as “revisiting the themes he examined 15 years earlier in the farce Love and Death, [and] ideas such as God, faith, and justice. ‘Existential subjects to me,’ says the filmmaker, ‘are still the only subjects worth dealing with.’” What are some examples of existential positions throughout the film?

2. Speaking to Judah, Rabbi Ben states the two key moral positions of the movie: “It’s a fundamental difference in the way we view the world. You see it as harsh and empty of values and pitiless. And I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t feel it with all my heart a moral structure, with real meaning, and forgiveness, and a higher power, otherwise there’s no basis to live.” Is there an in between position?

3. According to the DVD commentary, Allen used eyes as a pervasive metaphor in the film. Judah is an eye doctor, the rabbi eventually goes blind, etc. “Crimes and Misdemeanors is about people who don’t see. They don’t see themselves as others see them. They don’t see the right and wrong of situations.” Allen notes that the rabbi is not only physically blind, but metaphorically blind “to other things, to the realities of life.” He believes, though, that the rabbi’s blindness is also a gift. “He’s blessed and lucky because he has… the best gift anyone could have. He has genuine religious faith.” Must one be blind to the world’s problems to have genuine religious faith?

4. Although Allen claims that the rabbi is detached from the reality of the world, clearly Judah is as detached as the rabbi if not more. During an imaginary conversation with rabbi Ben, Judah describes three levels of aloofness that are characterized in the movie by himself, Ben, and Jack. “God is a luxury I can’t afford,” Judah states. Ben replies, “Now you’re talking like your brother Jack.” “Jack lives in the real world,” Judah continues. “You live in the kingdom of heaven. I manage to keep free of that real world, but suddenly it’s found me.” In both cases, aloofness is caused by a particular worldview. In the case of the rabbi, the view is that the world originates from a wholly good God. In the case of Judah, it is the view that he himself is a moral person, which view causes him to ignore his own “questionable moves.” Is the only way to be honest with oneself to have a twisted or lacking sense of morals, like Jack the mobster?

5. Rabbi Ben tells Judah that “without the law it’s all darkness.” Judah retorts, “What good is the law if it prevents me from receiving justice? Is what she’s doing to me just? Is this what I deserve?” Judah’s situations is caused directly or indirectly by choices he’s made, even though he may not have understood at the time he made them their full implications for the future. Can Judah, therefore, be held morally responsible for creating his own situation?

6. In Cliff’s documentary footage on Louis Levy, Levy states “Now the unique thing that happened to the early Israelites was that they conceived a God that cares. He cares, but at the same time he also demands that you behave morally. But here comes the paradox. What’s one of the first things that that God asks: that God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son, his beloved son to him. In other words, in spite of millennia of efforts we have not succeeded to create a really and entirely loving image of God. This was beyond our capacity to imagine.” Is Levy right about the limitations of the human notion of God, and, if so, what is behind this limitation?

7. In the documentary footage, Levy comments on the nature of love. “You will notice that what we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. The paradox consists of the fact that when we fall in love we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. On the other hand we ask of our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted on us. So that love contains in it a contradiction, the attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past.” Is this an accurate notion of the nature of love?

8. Visiting his childhood house, Judah imagines his family celebrating the Passover dinner. He asks what happens if a man kills. The image of his father answers, “then one way or another he’ll be punished.” “If he’s caught, Saul,” interjects an uncle. The father continues, “If he’s not caught that which originates from a black deed will blossom in a foul manner.” His aunt “And I say if he can do it and get away with it, and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he’s home free. Remember, history is written by the winners. And if the Nazis had won, future generations would understand the story of World War II quite differently.” Is there a middle ground between these two positions?

9. Continuing the imaginary Passover dialog, the uncle asks Judah’s father, “And if all your faith is wrong, Saul, I mean just what if?” The father answers, “Then I’ll still have a better life than all those that doubt.” The aunt asks, “Do you mean that you prefer God to the truth?” The father responds, “If necessary I will always choose God over truth.” Why would someone knowingly choose religious faith over truth?

10. After Levy committed suicide, Cliff reviewed a clip from the documentary footage in which Levy states: “But we must always remember that when we are born we need a great deal of love to persuade us to stay in life. Once we get that love, it usually lasts us. But the universe is a pretty cold place. It’s we who invest it with our feelings. And under certain conditions, we feel that the thing isn’t worth it anymore.” Is this an accurate picture of why people give up on life?

11. Hearing the news of Levy’s death, Halley says, “No matter how elaborate a philosophical system you work out, in the end it’s got to be incomplete.” Halley is probably right. Why must a philosophical system necessarily be incomplete?

12. Near the end of the film Judah explains his murder story as though it might be a plot to a movie. Cliff responds, “I would have him turn himself in. Then your movie assumes tragic proportions, because in the absence of a God he is forced to assume that responsibility himself. Then you have tragedy.” What specifically would make this a tragedy?

13. At the close of the movie, Levy has the final word in a voice over narration: “It is only we, with out capacity to love, that give meaning to an indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and find joy from simple things – from their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.” Is this sufficient to give like meaning?

REVIEWS

Crimes and Misdemeanors is a Woody Allen film that takes a serious and entertaining look at ethics and morality. It focuses on the lives of two very different men, Judah Rosenthal and Cliff Stern. The audience watches as the characters lives intersect one another and these two characters take different approaches to life and their choices based on their moral and ethical views. One of the strengths of this film is that it was enjoyable. This was a completely different type of film than, Baraka or Mindwalk, which take the non-verbal and completely verbal styles, respectively. Crimes and Misdemeanors had humor, good writing and acting, blood, and a guy poops on some woman’s chest. Those things just wouldn’t fit in Baraka or Mindwalk. The fact that this movie can mention a person pooping on another person in a sexual context and at the same time by end of the movie leave you to wonder whether God has anything to do with your moral decisions or not, is something that should not be overlooked when praising this movie. But even the pooping has a purpose in the film I believe. The movie discusses whether there are certain actions that are always right or wrong. For instance, wouldn’t it be better for Judah to have his girlfriend murdered rather than for the truth to be left out in the open. The film is scary in that, as I was watching I found myself thinking “Well, yeah, you’ve got to kill her Judah, it’s the best way to go.” This may because I’m so desensitized in the content of the films I watch, or the writing in the film was so good that you can identify and sympathize with Judah much more than his girlfriend. This was an excellent film that has caused me to seek out other Woody Allen films. I highly recommend. — Levitator

Crimes and Misdemeanors: This Woody Allen film discusses the philosophical issues of morality and existentialism by entering the life of Judah Rosenthal, an ophthalmologist in New York City. Judah begins revisiting his religious upbringing once his conscience is filled with guilt after having his discontented mistress murdered. Once Judah realizes that he will go unpunished because of his social status and connections, his conscience launches him into a philosophical dilemma, in which he must question his faith and morality. When speaking to Judah, Rabbi Ben highlights the two opposing religious philosophies presented in the movie: It’s a fundamental difference in the way we view the world. You see it as harsh and empty of values and pitiless. And I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t feel it with all my heart a moral structure, with real meaning, and forgiveness, and a higher power, otherwise there’s no basis to live. From Rabbi Ben’s perspective, Judah represents the existentialist philosophy of religion in that it is nonexistent, and that the world is cold and empty of values. This view contrasts greatly with the not only physically but also metaphorically blind Rabbi Ben, whom director Woody Allen commented on saying: He’s blessed and lucky because he has… the best gift anyone could have. He has genuine religious faith. Once Judah realizes that he will continue living his comfortable life unscathed, his situation becomes an example of moral relativism in that there are no universal moral truths. A flashback Judah experiences in the film presents the two opposing moral philosophies he contemplates. He imagines coming upon his family during a Passover dinner during his childhood, and he asks what the consequence would be if a man killed. His father answers: Then one way or another he’ll be punished. If he’s caught, Saul, interjects his uncle. His father continues: If he’s not caught that which originates from a black deed will blossom in a foul manner. Then his aunt said: And I say if he can do it and get away with it, and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he’s home free. Remember, history is written by the winners. And if the Nazis had won, future generations would understand the story of World War II quite differently. — J.D.

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Here is a complete list of all the posts I did on the film “Midnight in Paris”

What can we learn from Woody Allen Films?, August 1, 2011 – 6:30 am

Movie Review of “Midnight in Paris” lastest movie by Woody Allen, July 30, 2011 – 6:52 am

Leo Stein and sister Gertrude Stein’s salon is in the Woody Allen film “Midnight in Paris”, July 28, 2011 – 6:22 am

Great review on Midnight in Paris with talk about artists being disatisfied, July 27, 2011 – 6:20 am

Critical review of Woody Allen’s latest movie “Midnight in Paris”, July 24, 2011 – 5:56 am

Not everyone liked “Midnight in Paris”, July 22, 2011 – 5:38 am

“Midnight in Paris” one of Woody Allen’s biggest movie hits in recent years, July 18, 2011 – 6:00 am

(Part 32, Jean-Paul Sartre)July 10, 2011 – 5:53 am

 (Part 29, Pablo Picasso) July 7, 2011 – 4:33 am

(Part 28,Van Gogh) July 6, 2011 – 4:03 am

(Part 27, Man Ray) July 5, 2011 – 4:49 am

(Part 26,James Joyce) July 4, 2011 – 5:55 am

(Part 25, T.S.Elliot) July 3, 2011 – 4:46 am

(Part 24, Djuna Barnes) July 2, 2011 – 7:28 am

(Part 23,Adriana, fictional mistress of Picasso) July 1, 2011 – 12:28 am

(Part 22, Silvia Beach and the Shakespeare and Company Bookstore) June 30, 2011 – 12:58 am

(Part 21,Versailles and the French Revolution) June 29, 2011 – 5:34 am

(Part 16, Josephine Baker) June 24, 2011 – 5:18 am

(Part 15, Luis Bunuel) June 23, 2011 – 5:37 am

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