Comedy is easy, getting murdered is easier.
How does Woody Allen get away with murder?
Allen writes and directs CRIMES AND MISDEMANORS, and let’s the murderer get away with it – as long as the murderer comes to a reconciliation with himself! By all accounts, isn’t that the most important realization that any human could have? It’s in all the media, all the biblical teachings, all the girly songs: Finding yourself – even if you find you’re a murderer – is the best discovery of all. Sunshine, orchestra swell, tears…
Having found his stride in this movie, Allen would get away with murder again in his brilliant MATCH POINT (2006).
Martin Landau is respected ophthalmologist Judah Rosenthal, whose affair with the fiery Dolores (Anjelica Huston) threatens to disrupt his family life when Dolores, uh, threatens to disrupt his family life, if Judah will not confess his affair to his wife (Clair Bloom).
In the B-story, Allen has planted himself as moviemaker Cliff Stern, infatuated with artistic free spirit producer Halley (Mia Farrow), cultivating her through the counter-intuitive method of inviting her to view one of his film projects – raw footage of a philosophy professor (Martin Bergmann playing Professor Louis Levy so convincingly, his footage looks lifted from the History Channel or National Geographic). Halley and Cliff hang out watching old movies together and chatting cinema esoterica. Both Cliff and Halley are working for blowhard producer Lester (Alan Alda), who is cultivating Halley the old-fashioned way – bluntly trying to fuck her. And Cliff is married (to unexciting Joanna Gleason).
The great thing about Woody Allen is that he always asks the “big” questions. Even his comedies explore these big questions, shot through the prism of dark humor. Through his Levy footage, Allen the writer explores the metaphysical nature of love and morality, even as events unfold in the movie to reflect Levy’s musings. (And on a side note, I love the way all Allen’s characters are smart. Not only displayed through their dialogue, but when we walk into any of their houses, we see their massive bookcases filled with books. I love that! How did this writer-director-star ever flourish in an industry – in a world – intent on catering to the Great Unwashed? CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS was nominated for numerous Academy, Golden Globes and BAFTA awards; the first film to win the 2010 20/20 Award for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor; numerous other awards and nominations coming its way. Score one for Team Smart.)
You will notice that what we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. The paradox is 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 our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted upon us. So that love contains in it the contradiction: The attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past.
— Professor Levy (character)
While Cliff is busy falling in old-fashioned love, Judah (Landau) is desperate to preserve his family, resorting to calling his underworld brother (Jerry Orbach) to “fix” the mistress situation. It is not as cut-and-dried as it sounds, as Judah is torn morally, rent spiritually throughout the process, and in a daze, actually visits the murder site after the fact, seeing his mistress’s twisted, bloodied body on the floor, long before anyone in the world knows of her demise. It’s a fantastic take on something we’ve grown inured to over the years in movies – premeditated murder.
And with Cliff we see a situation all too familiar to us: the shy guy (Cliff) more intellectually appropriate for the woman than the arrogant rich showoff (Lester) – but the woman ending up with the showoff. After all the cultivating Cliff enacts on Halley, all it takes is money and power to have her proclaiming about the showoff, “He’s really a sweet guy!”
As with all Woody Allen movies, a simple plot outline does not suffice for the intelligence of the dialogue, the richness of his character interrelationships, and their movement among life’s complicated tapestry. Neither does it convey Allen’s razorwire delivery of comedic one-liners sprinkled mad-hatter throughout his scenes whether they be tragic, philosophical or even – comedic.
In the end, Judah (Landau) sits with Cliff (Allen) at a party they both happen to be attending. Being ambiguous about actual events, Judah feels compelled to tell Cliff his story and its outcome, of how he suddenly felt at peace with himself, even though he had committed a heinous act. It’s a brain-twisting wink to the audience – here’s the star telling the writer the plot of his own movie back to himself as the actor. And here’s the director as the character playing devil’s advocate and trying to find holes in his other character’s moral relativism. Is that the height of conceit or a double entendre?
And then for Judah and Cliff to resign themselves to the fact that life has no happy endings; that a man must eventually pay for all his crimes and misdemeanors. Judah laments: “If you want a happy ending, you should go see a Hollywood movie.” But this is a happy– and this is a Hollywood mov– ahhh, my brain is twisted…
We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions. Moral choices. Some are on a grand scale. Most of these choices are on lesser points. But we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are in fact the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.
— Professor Levy (character)
Remember, these aren’t the words of a real philosopher, these are not platitudes handed down from Freud’s era, or established in philosophical canon – these are the words of a filmmaker. These are the words of Woody Allen.
Now go, and may all your crimes and misdemeanors be reconciled…