Monday, 6 October 2014

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

"God is an illusion I can't afford"

One of Woody's more serious, darker films Crimes and Misdemeanors precedes Match Point in its story of murder and morality and its a beautifully crafted, well plotted and technically assured piece of filmmaking. 

"The Eyes of God are upon us"

Ostensibly a morality play and one that concerns itself with the notion of religion as a man made system in place to control our world, Crimes and Misdemeanors has a glorious metaphor running throughout about sight and blindness, light and dark and the value of money. This is most prominent in its depiction of Judah (Martin Landau) the rich and successful ophthalmologist whose life could be ruined is his mistress (Anjelica Huston) makes their affair public, and in his patient Ben (Sam Waterston) a kind and devout Rabbi who is slowly going blind - he's by no means a pivotal character, but what he represents is clearly very important to the structure and tone of the piece. 

Their outlooks on life, which they have shared back and forth for years, are radically different; Ben is optimistic and sees the best in people and believes things are God's plan whilst Judah is cynical and believes people are inherently immoral. Haunted by his father's words that God sees all things it's almost like he tests those words, himself and God when he agrees to his shady brother's suggestion to kill his mistress to keep the status quo of his home and work life. In what becomes the perfect crime, Judah realises God does not exist because he has not, and will not, be punished. As Judah later recounts, life is defined by your own choices, and in conclusion it is perhaps those seen as immoral that ultimately win out in Crimes and Misdemeanors.

This notion is further contrasted by the subplot featuring Woody himself as a down at heel documentary filmmaker whose successful TV producer brother in law (Alan Alda) throws him a bone by getting him to make a documentary about himself and his superficial yet well received career; Allen is seen to be moral - even to the extent of being thrown into a quandary when he becomes attracted to production assistant Mia Farrow, despite his failing marriage, he can't leave his wife for her - earnest and a deep thinker but its all for naught because the fame, adulation, acclaim and even the girl (Farrow) ultimately goes to the shallow Alda. 

"I believe in God...I know it...because without God the world is a cesspool"

It's a depressing and pessimistic thought I'll grant you, but it's one we can all see the truth in, especially perhaps in the morally corrupt, financially fixated and selfish 1980s (and its interesting to review this just a day after a rewatch of what is seen as the populist and ultimate ''Greed is Good'' 80s New York movie Wall Street) The message is that sometimes the good things don't necessarily happen to those who behave 'good' in life; like the philosopher whom Allen's character would rather be making a documentary about says, we live in a cold universe which we invest in emotions to give it a moral structure, but its clear the universe is still cold as the philosopher in question ends up committing suicide, because he was lonely and alone. The saving grace of Crimes and Misdemeanors is that whilst Judah may get away with murder and may continue to enjoy his prosperous success and the love of his family, equally Ben - who we see in the final scene now totally blind and dancing with his daughter at her wedding - will never lose his faith and the love and warmth that gives him and those around him.  It's main message perhaps is one that says all you can do is hope to teach those around you, specifically the next generation (as we see through the flashbacks to Landau's childhood, Ben and his daughter and in the touching quirky relationship between Allen and his niece watching old movies) what you believe to be right and wrong and trust them to find their own way. 

"I'm talking about reality, if you want a happy ending you should go see a Hollywood movie"

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