Woody Allen Contemplates His Own Existence

I just watched Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen. It’s actually a little more depressing and bleak than Match Point, if you can believe it. The characters are somehow more pathetic and there’s a little more typical Allen comedy thrown in. And there is obviously a fairly consistent 1930s jazz soundtrack the whole time.

Woody Allen is interesting because he’s a prolific and talented writer with a real sense of dialog and character development. Specifically he knows the upper crust Manhattan socialite like no other, and gives us endless windows into the dimensions of their desperate — often shallow and confused, romantic lives. Allen sometimes seems like he’s one of them but is too observant and critical to ever fall into such a stereotype. If anything he seems rather jaded by seeing through it all, and having read interviews with him in papers, it sounds like my hunch is correct.

Not that the things he sounds jaded about in interviews are all that profound. A year or two ago, he mentioned his regrets about not getting knockout groupies because he wasn’t the alpha-male, or how sad it is that he’s too old to check out gorgeous girls (he called it a favorite pastime of his, to check out young girls in skirts, I believe). Haha, as if this was a terrifying tragedy! It’s more like a bittersweet reminiscence, right? But yeah, that’s where a lot of the best art comes from — reflecting on one’s experiences as an outsider.

In his really poignant and heavy movies like this one, Allen reveals someone close to nihilism, despite his philosophical meanderings in religious ideas. He seems to conclude that religious persuasion is a fictitious belief that people create and live by, and that some people don’t see it at all or believe in its importance, and the people stuck in the middle (him) are left jaded or betrayed by their lack of blind drives. Kind of reminds you of those tales about people who are horrified by prematurely looking in the face of God, doesn’t it?

Not that I think Allen is actually nihilistic or any of the things I describe here. Particularly since his movies are ever more touching or hopeful or funny or dark and sinister than anything angry guys like Spike Lee or Werner Herzog and other “acclaimed” writer/directors manage to produce. It’s just that Allen’s movies seem to reveal someone who has seen through life and how empty it is but who lacks the energy and harmonious passion that comes with ecstatic union. Isn’t a major stepping stone of spiritual experience when one has “kensho” and wakes up to the inherent emptiness of all phenomena? Of course, it’s not a depressing realization in such a case (although it can be scary) — it’s a step towards liberation!

Woody Allen’s insights strike me as intellectually advanced and probably superior to my own. But the intellectual realization of the fabric of existence leaves one very sad and sometimes crazy. However, sometimes the resulting depression of intellectualism can be overcome by developing an intuitive realization into phenomena and approaching life’s questions in a more simplified way.

Not that I’m dissing on Woody. His movies rule! Two of my favorites have to be, A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy and Sweet and Lowdown. Sweet and Lowdown is one of the funniest, most touching movies I’ve seen, and has the best soundtrack of any Allen movie!

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