I have to confess to being a bit of a fan of Woody Allen. I know a lot of his views would be completely contrary to mine, or the Church’s for that matter. But he is (or can be) an inventive and funny film-maker and his movies often touch on matters of ultimate meaning. Also, he is a very acute observer of human relationships.
One of his movies that deals with the question of ultimate meaning is Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) which basically concludes that there is no ultimate meaning because there is no God.
But the movie doesn’t shy away from the full and awful consequences of this. The central character has his mistress killed and has to wrestle with his conscience over what he has done.
By the end of the film, however, he concludes that since there is no God and therefore there is no such thing as right and wrong in any ultimate sense, he hasn’t broken any overarching moral law by having her killed and he decides to get on with his life without any further qualms. In other words, murder doesn’t really matter so long as you don’t get caught.
One of his more recent movies, Match Point (2005) also involves the killing of an ‘inconvenient woman’.
There is no overt wrestling with religious themes in this movie, but we are led to believe that because so much in life is random anyway, one more death in the overall scheme of things doesn’t really matter.
Although Allen is known mainly as a comedian, this is pretty bleak stuff but it is also very important stuff. At least Allen knows that if there is no God, life has no ultimate meaning and right and wrong is merely a matter of opinion.
Most people who reject belief in God don’t follow their non-belief to its logical conclusion. At least Allen does that.
In some of his more recent movies, Allen looks at the clash between bourgeois and bohemian values. He does this, for example, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) and in his newest movie, still showing in cinemas, Midnight in Paris.
In both movies we are presented with a character who chooses a conventional lifestyle. They want to marry, settle down and live a life of material comfort.
In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Vicky is torn between the bourgeois life she has chosen with her fiancée and the much freer and exciting but also more chaotic and unpredictable life offered by a handsome Spanish artist.
In Midnight in Paris, writer Owen Wilson is engaged to Rachel McAdams who is very bourgeois and very materialistic and very shallow.
Wilson is in love with Paris. In particular he loves Paris in the 1920s because during that decade many of his favourite artists and writers lived there including Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway.
By some unexplained magic he is able to transport himself back to that Paris so long as it is at a certain spot every night at exactly midnight.
In the end (spoiler alert), Wilson ditches his materialistic, bourgeois fiancée, decides to stay in Paris and meets a girl much more suited to his own artistic and bohemian sensibility.
In these two movies, bohemian values score a very easy victory over bourgeois values.
Bohemianism may be wild and chaotic, but it’s free, it has soul, it is creative and artistic, and it’s much sexier.
At best, the bourgeois types portrayed in these two movies are nice and boring, at worst they are shallow and materialistic and soulless, like the Rachel McAdams character.
Set up this way, how could bohemianism not win? Any right-thinking person would want it to win. I wanted it to win.
But Allen makes it too easy for the bohemians and he makes it too easy by leaving out children.
In neither movie do any of the main characters, whether bourgeois or bohemian have children. Without children, the safe and boring and conventional lifestyle of people who opt for a 9-5 job and aspire to a nice house in the suburbs can hardly look anything other than shallow and materialistic and soulless, unless there is some purpose to it other than itself.
But the vast majority of people who live this sort of life have children and it’s mainly for the sake of their children that they opt for a safe job (assuming they can find one) and settle down with one person in a nice, safe area in a neat, liveable home.
Without children, the bohemian lifestyle can’t look anything other than exciting. Having no real need of money they can devote themselves to their art, and because they have no children they can go from one sexual partner to the next.
But throw children into the mix, and how would that lifestyle look? Just a tad irresponsible maybe?
So by leaving kids out of his movies, Allen allows bohemian values to win an overwhelming victory over bourgeois values.
Next time he makes a movie about the clash between those two sets of values he should put kids into the mix and then see how things turn out.