Woody Allen’s Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors
It’s no coincidence that my slow but steady decline into nihilism — now nearly complete — has paralleled my increasing love for the films of Woody Allen. Allen’s most recent film, Match Point has been called one of his top 5 of all time (by Roger Ebert) and “his most satisfying film in more than a decade” by the New York Times. It’s also probably his only movie that could accurately be described as a thriller (trailer: here). It has a mostly British cast, though co-stars Scarlett Johansson (Scarjo), who turns in a good performance for once. The movie is terrific, though rehearses the same themes of many of his movies, most notably his existential masterpiece, 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Essentially, both deal with the question of life as “harsh and empty of values and pitiless” or life endowed with a “moral structure, with real meaning, and forgiveness, and some kind of higher power”. You can probably guess which side Allen comes down on in both films (it’s the first one).
In Crimes and Misdemeanors, the idea of a moral structure to life (the idea that “the eyes of God are upon us always”) is literalized through the eyes of Ben, a rabbi who is the film’s “good guy”; as the film proceeds, Ben is diagnosed with a degenerative condition that eventually leaves him blind. The eyes of God, then, are unable to see or judge our actions.
The existentialism in both films comes from the focus on choices (a philosopher in Crimes states, “we are in fact the sum total of our choices” — this philosopher ends up comitting suicide). If life is nothing but the sum total of our choices, we must be sure of — or at least have some type of guidance as to — the consequences of those choices. But Allen’s world (which, you’ll admit, is our world too) is one in which the bad guy gets the girl, the good suffer, the wicked prosper, murder goes unpunished, and chance plays more of a role than any moral structure. A happy ending would be if guilt haunted the wicked, spoiling their gains. But, as both films show, guilt is something that can be pushed under the rug. That is, despite the role that chance or luck plays in thwarting any type of formal justice, humans can often choose — not just their actions — but their consequences as well. As Crimes’ main character’s aunt states in a flashback, “for those who want morality, there’s morality. Nothing is handed down in stone.”
My point with this brief review is to convince you to see Match Point. If I have done the opposite then ignore this review and just see the movie. I think the NY Times puts it best: “The gloom of random, meaningless existence has rarely been so much fun”. It’s no Bananas, but it’s definitely an extremely smart and thought-provoking movie that will perhaps win over even those who have avoided Allen’s films in the past (though the themes are the same, this film lacks the one-liners as well as the presence of Allen, who stays behind the camera for this one).