WOODY WEDNESDAY The Existential Genius of Late Woody Allen

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Woody Allen’s new film opens with a jolt of joie de cinéma—images of Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix), a professor, driving to Braylin College, and of Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), a student, walking through the campus, each accompanied by his or her own questioning reminiscences in voice-over. This scene may be the closest thing to joie de vivre with which Allen can cut loose, but it’s a real directorial kick, launching “Irrational Man” with an impulsive energy that carries through the entire film and that, despite the multiplicity of the plot, makes the movie seem as if it were sketched and inwardly grasped in a single, urgent, awed, and somewhat terrified gaze.

Filmed in poised and sun-splashed wide-screen images, “Irrational Man” conveys a lofty serenity that’s in conflict with the characters’ emotional and moral crises. It’s a trend that has run through Allen’s entire career but that has come to the fore in his most recent films—nowhere more so than here. As his writing has turned ever sketchier, leaping with a seemingly effortless rapidity to the disturbed heart of the story, his direction has brightened and turned brisk and clear—as if the oil paint’s impasto had loosened to a translucent wash. The sheer delight of perception merges with the hell of self-perception. It’s the visual fulfillment of the long-standing paradox that Allen distilled in the “Annie Hall” joke: “The food at this place is terrible.” “Yeah, I know—and such small portions.”

For Allen, hell isn’t other people, it’s oneself. He’s a comic existentialist whose self-loathing and attraction to the self-erasure of death is matched by his self-love and desperate clinging to existence. His self-criticism is equalled only by his pleasure in indulging in it. He has been a meta-man from the start, aware that he’s only a flyspeck in the universe—and that he’s the only flyspeck he’s got.

From the beginning, “Irrational Man” stands outside the regular run of life, with one foot in death, in a way that doesn’t become clear until the end of the film (and that I won’t spoil), even though the story is a simple resetting of a mismatched pair of classic movie plots. First, there’s the romantic triangle: Abe falls, more through passivity than through ardor, into a relationship with a colleague, Rita Richards (Parker Posey), an unhappily married scientist with romantic dreams. At the same time, he becomes close—platonically close—with Jill, a student whom he considers gifted. Jill feeds on his every world-weary word, tries to draw him out of his depressive, seemingly self-destructive funk, and hopes to be his muse—erotically as well as intellectually. Though Abe takes it upon himself to be responsible and resist her flirtations, they’re nonetheless often seen together and taken for lovers, making Rita, as well as Jill’s boyfriend, Roy (Jamie Blackley), jealous.

Meanwhile, Jill and Abe get wind of misdeeds in the town of Newport, outside the confines of the campus. (The scene is too good to give away.) An official is abusing his power and making a defenseless citizen’s life miserable, and Abe, his sense of justice as well as his feeling of power aroused, decides to take direct action. At this point, the movie veers into quasi-Dostoyevskian territory (the reference is built into the film), and Allen covers that territory with a brisk once-over. The wondrous paradox of the movie—and, for that matter, of Allen’s later career overall—is that his sketchy rapidity and breezy effervescence, which never abandon the tone of his earlier, brightly-lit comedy, nonetheless get a toehold on the deepest, darkest, strangest, most troubling speculative realms. The exotic depths of Allen’s philosophical musings seemingly arise effortlessly and even despite himself. It’s that very sense of thinness and lightness in the presence of philosophical thunder that provokes undue critical resistance to much of his later work.

Abe is an itinerant scholar, a perpetually restless malcontent who has experimented with extreme experiences, whether external (such as an extended mission in Darfur) or internal (drugs), and seems unchanged by them. He’s equally averse to pain and to pleasure, to hardship and to indulgence, to action and to contemplation. He’s something of a burned-out case—withdrawn, depressed, despairing, unloved and unloving, burdened with a sense of futility, going through his routine with a sense of automatism, casually indifferent to his own life, a dead man walking.

Jill, by contrast, is vitality itself—she’s cheerful, hard-working, curious, and sympathetic, but she has a double blind spot: her attraction to the black hole of the existential void—the romanticization of negativity and destruction—and her sense that, through her own caring interest and involvement, she can lure Abe away from that hole and into constructive, positive activity.

The core of the film is Jill and Abe’s tragic innocence and the unfortunate accidents and coincidences through which they mesh. Abe, thinking that he’s doing good, comes to realize, by how good his daring deed feels, that he’s doing evil, and that he likes it. Evil, so to speak, likes him, too; it quickly improves his state of mind and even his physical well-being. When one taboo falls, they all do, beginning with Abe’s readiness to have an affair with Jill. Meanwhile, Jill is attracted to his intelligence, to his nihilistic worldview, to his knowledge, to his style—but also to what she perceives as his goodness and humanity, which she plans to use her influence and charm to tease out and shore up. Then she discovers that these two tendencies, the negative and the positive, the destructive and the virtuous, ineluctably and ironically overlap in ways that terrify her.

Allen’s world, for all its lightness and comedy-studded familiarity, is far more challenging and intricate than, say, Michael Haneke’s leaden ambiguities in “Amour.” Allen’s directorial delight in the pleasure of beholding tragic mechanisms in the midst of aesthetic charm is something of a fulfillment of his career-long efforts. Allen’s worldview is as intricately troubled over the span of a film (or of a lifetime) as it is iridescently disturbed in the mercurial moment of a one-liner or the fleeting luminosity of a moment of cinematic beauty. It’s a world that’s captured in a sense of style: Allen’s personal style, down to the sartorial, the culinary, and the vocal, is inseparable from his art. One of his finest achievements of his later years is the discovery of a cinematic style that’s of a piece with his personal turns.

It’s a tone that Allen brings equally to the sumptuous and quietly hectic Fitzgerald Riviera of “Magic in the Moonlight” and to the airy repose of Newport in “Irrational Man.” There was something relatively clotted about “Blue Jasmine,” about the bounds placed on the movie’s acting and filming by its tightly fitting writing. By contrast, in his two most recent films, the avid wide-screen image corresponds to a lofty, somewhat Olympian detachment in the storytelling, which befits the films’ vertiginous ironies. In “Magic,” Allen contemplated the nature of performance (whether onstage or in intimate circles) and found deception and sincerity, sleight-of-hand and authenticity, to be the conjoined and inseparable components of character. In “Irrational Man,” he sees two sides to the problem of evil—one, that it’s so manifestly tempting a target, and the other, that it often arises from the desire to do good—and projects a radical third, that evil often feels so much better than doing good.

“Irrational Man” earns its title on both sides of the camera. Abe Lucas’s experience is fraught with unintended consequences and with the agonizingly entropic mysteries of chance, and Allen, seeing monstrosities occur, offers a serene contemplation of the world in which they happen and offers no way out—almost.

Just as Allen has nothing better to offer than a common-sense limit to deception in “Magic,” in “Irrational Man” his insight is yoked to a common-sense constraint on action. In both films, he finds himself arguing for norms that he can’t rationally justify, a conventional moralism that seems obvious at a distance but uncertain in the moment. For all his existential despair, Allen isn’t a nihilist. His films don’t display a belief in unrestrained behavior or a disdain for moral codes. On the contrary, he offers an optimism in the throw of the dice, a blind faith despite the absence of God. The pleasure of “Magic” is real, despite the volcano preparing to erupt beneath the soil; so is that of “Irrational,” despite the ease with which things could have turned out radically worse. The irrationality of “Irrational Man” is this faith in the ordinary—and it’s not entirely new to Allen’s work.

On the contrary, at the end of “Manhattan,” Tracy implores Isaac to “have a little faith in people.” Allen’s underlying humanism isn’t gone—he takes directorial pleasure in the characters who people his cinematic universe—but now it’s sublimated. In his earlier films, he wrote his characters densely, filmed them closely, and derived a wider worldview from the vectors that they bore within. Now, he sees existence as a whole, as if from the somewhat fearsome contemplative distance of someone with one foot already outside it and in the next world. His characters float through that worldscape like apparitions, as diaphanous and transitory as the directorial eye.

Nonetheless, Allen’s work is comic and breezy—not from a lack of seriousness or of commitment but from an abiding sense of fullness and progress, an optimism in the sense that the dice are infinitesimally loaded, that, in the long run, over the billions of throws, the house gets beaten just enough to keep mankind in the black. The primal trauma of “Annie Hall” is young Alvy’s neurotic realization that the world will eventually come to an end, destroying all traces of human life and retroactively rendering all action absurd. Yet, there, Allen comically overcame that nihilism by means of the sheer force and exuberance of personality. This was the heart of the film’s easygoing but intricately modernistic reflexivity—a crucial trace of which gleams throughout all of Allen’s work, including “Irrational Man.”

There’s something closed-in about Allen’s optimism; it’s the optimism of the tight community—the college, the social circuit, the couple, the family—and these circles, too, have their breakdowns built into them. His works of faith are also works of doubt, as in “Cassandra’s Dream” (where, every time the word “family” is spoken, the mechanism of destruction is tightened by one more turn). In “Irrational Man,” the collegiate setting, the intellectual community, is no redemption. Allen’s wide-screen images are joined to jaunty music (Ramsey Lewis) and noble music (Bach), there’s art on the walls and philosophy in the air, yet “Irrational Man” is a vision of art-weariness. It doesn’t offer redemption (as “Manhattan” did) through Louis Armstrong and Flaubert, Willie Mays and Mozart, but through the immediate contemplation of street life and carnival whimsicalities, of the sun and the sea—of the transitory moments, perceptions, and impressions tobe rescued from oblivion, with the confidence that they’re worth the effort to do so.

Correction: A previous version of this post misnamed the fictional college at which “Irrational Man” is set.

Annie Hall – The Opening Scene [HD]

Manhattan

Francis Schaeffer two months before he died said if he was talking to a gentleman he was sitting next to on an airplane about Christ he wouldn’t start off quoting Bible verses. Schaeffer asserted:

I would go back rather to their dilemma if they hold the modern worldview of the final reality only being energy, etc., I would start with that. I would begin as I stress in the book THE GOD WHO IS THERE about their own [humanist] prophets who really show where their view goes. For instance, Jacques Monod, Nobel Prize winner from France, in his book NECESSITY AND CHANCE said there is no way to tell the OUGHT from the IS. In other words, you live in a totally silent universe. 

The men like Monod and Sartre or whoever the man might know that is his [humanist] prophet and they point out quite properly and conclusively what life is like, not just that there is no meaningfulness in life but everyone according to modern man is just living out some kind of game plan. It may be knocking 1/10th of a second off a downhill ski run or making one more million dollars. But all you are doing is making a game plan within the mix of a meaningless situation. WOODY ALLEN exploits this very strongly in his films. He really lives it. I feel for that man, and he has expressed it so thoroughly in ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN and so on.

According to the Humanist worldview Jacques Monod the universe is silent about values and therefore his good friend Woody Allen demonstrated this very fact so well in his 1989 movie CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. In other words, if we can’t get our values from the Bible then  the answer is MIGHT MAKES RIGHT!!!!

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The question now becomes do you want to know if there is a God or not? Are you willing to examine the same evidence that I provided to the world’s leading atheistic philosopher in 1994 (Antony Flew)? Here some are links below that examine the subjects that Antony Flew studied before he switched from away from atheism, followed by the sermon by Adrian Rogers that I provided to Antony Flew and he said he enjoyed listening to.

Former atheist Antony Flew: “Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God!

Former atheist Antony Flew said, “I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeder’s point-by-point refutation of what I call the MONKEY THEOREM!

Why the world’s most famous atheist (Antony Flew) now believes in God by James A. Beverley

BP)–Antony Flew, a legendary British philosopher and atheist, has changed his mind about the existence of God in light of recent scientific evidence.Flew –

Former Atheist Antony Flew noted that Evolutionists failed to show “Where did a living, self-reproducing organism come from in the first place?”

Former atheist Antony Flew pointed out that natural selection can’t explain the origin of first life and in every other case, information necessarily points to an intelligent source!

 

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The argument from design led former atheist Antony Flew to assert: “I must say again that the journey to my discovery of the Divine has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason, and it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being!”

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Former atheist Antony Flew pointed out that natural selection can’t explain the origin of first life and in every other case, information necessarily points to an intelligent source!

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Former Atheist Antony Flew noted that Evolutionists failed to show “Where did a living, self-reproducing organism come from in the first place?”

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(BP)–Antony Flew, a legendary British philosopher and atheist, has changed his mind about the existence of God in light of recent scientific evidence.Flew –

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Antony Flew in his book THERE IS A GOD talks about his “notoriety” as an atheist! ( also 7 News : Web Extra: Ricky Gervais on God)

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Was Antony Flew the most prominent atheist of the 20th century?

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Why the world’s most famous atheist (Antony Flew) now believes in God by James A. Beverley

____________ Antony Flew on God and Atheism Published on Feb 11, 2013 Lee Strobel interviews philosopher and scholar Antony Flew on his conversion from atheism to deism. Much of it has to do with intelligent design. Flew was considered one of the most influential and important thinker for atheism during his time before his death […]

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