I started discussing this in Kenji’s “Films for a Better World” thread, but I would like to continue the discussion. I believe that Woody Allen’s films are unconventionally optimistic.
I believe that yes, Crimes and Misdemeanors does have the message that the nice guy will always finish last, and that doing the right thing will never benefit you, but it is the extension on this message that makes it optimistic. The film also says that when presented with this situation you have two options: feel sorry for yourself and complain, or find happiness in the fact that you are doing the right thing and try to enjoy the little things in life. So what this means is that we have the choice to decide what our lives are like, and how much happiness they contain.
Another example is the ending of Annie Hall (spoilers). With a conventional happy ending Alvy and Annie would end up together, ride off into the sunset, and live happily ever after. You would leave the movie feeling happy their fictional love worked out and than you would move onto to other things. The current ending is so much more fulfilling, because it feels real in that there isn’t a “happy ending”, but also adds the “we need the eggs” joke, so we leave the movie feeling good about life and accepting of the ups and downs.
So what do you think?
Woody Allen certainly appears at first glance to be a Pessimistic, there is no doubt in my mind, if you look at most of his quotes he hates both himself and his films. As you may know he never looks at them ever again, once they are shot out to the public. However, I have found a lot of up tempo meaning in a lot of what comes through in his films, such as what you stated above. Since his films are an expression of who he truly is than it appears that he could be labeled as both…I am not sure if one overpowers the other more or not.
Huh, Woody Allen’s worldview is one of the most pessimistic in the cinematic universe. He only keeps making his pointless films in order to keep busy to stave off the thought of his demise ( I recall a quote when Bergman died in which he said something to the like of "Bergman would have given up his entire cinematic oeuvre in order to keep living).
Ari, Well it appears that way, but when you look at my given examples and many others, I think he has his own special type of optimism.
I guess that’s true if you take Woody at face value but I don’t think he actually honestly believes what he’s peddling (and I say this as someone who loves Annie Hall but still believes Alvy Singer is doomed to a life of unsatisfying relationships no matter what brave facade he attempts to maintain with the “we need the eggs” joke). But you can take out of Woody Allen films some message of cheap existentialism – yes, life is pointless and meaningless but there’s nothing else so why not just try to enjoy what we have.
Look at the characters portrayed by Allen himself in his films to see the answer to this question. He always portrays a loser type who is cynical of relationships, critical of himself and others, neurotic, self-involved, always looking at the dark side, etc. But these men are not pessimists inspite of all appearances to the contrary. No, they are optimists. They always think no matter how bad their own circumstance are or how silly they look or act, that they are imminently going to get laid. They usually manage to, as well. That confirms in my own mind that Allen is an optimist, and that is why we all can identify with his characters and situations. He gives us all hope that we too can muster some irresistable sex appeal in spite of all appearances to the contrary.
This is sort of an interesting question. I think the cliche is that Jewish people are pessimistic and complain and have Jewish guilt, etc. and Allen’s neurotic characters sometimes play off these stereotypes. But if you look deep down at this, it’s almost like Allen’s characters are so cynical that they become optimistic. Larry David’s character in Whatver Works is a good example. David has a very different kind of humor than Allen does – he’s much more angry than Woody Allen is. But I think his character in Whatever Works uses that anger as a form of frustration because he’s so optimistic at what the world COULD be, yet it chooses not to be. Does that make sense?
I’ve often felt this way while watching Curb or Seinfeld, where David has such a positive view of how things should be and is just angry because they’re not. I think you can apply this to Woody Allen but instead of the anger, Allen is much more accepting of the way the world is, even though he tries desperately to change it. I agree with Bob on this – that Allen’s cynicism and neurotic behavior is not a reaction to pessimism but rather optimism.
I’ll be a third to Bob and Fredo there. There’s a line in Radio Days said by Julie Kavner: “What a world….it could be so beautiful if it wasn’t for certain people.” I think that’s an important part of Allen’s worldview – the absurdity of some people and the great lengths that folks will go to to compensate for the chaos. In the same vein, he’s fully aware of his own absurdities – and the fact that one must interact with other people and their idiosyncrasies in order to participate in life. Still, his characters tend to be basically good people caught in ludicrous situations, like Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors (and that’s one of the more extreme examples.)
I think he plays a neurotic pessimist, but if you look at his films, they’re fairly optimistic. People don’t die at the end of them, they just change and move on. Even overwhelming sorrow is eventually forgotten about in time. The things that make life worth living — Manhattan, great art, beauty — remain constant and eternal. And “bad people” tend to get their karmic retribution.
Comedy is always optimistic. Leslie A. Fiedler had a theory that tragedy is pagan because the universal death that comes at the end of it reflects a pre-Christian mindset that after life there is nothing, nada, the void; whereas comedy is christian in that the happy ending (after much misunderstanding) represents the promise of salvation after death.
Allen’s genius — and the reason why so many intellectuals love him — is that he plays with this formula; he creates comedy out of the trappings of a pessimism that sometimes almost verges on the tragic in its sensibility, but he never forgets the basic rule — the salvation of the restoration of order. Of course, Keaton played in the same existential ballpark.
i watched Take The Money And Run last night. His character sure seemed up beat to me.
Old adage. Tragedy ends in death. Comedy in a marriage. Classically, the ending of a comedy is the beginning of a “new world”
I think that Woody’s profoundly pessimistic and melancholy, and has been for some time, his early professional success (fame, money) notwithstanding. He’s practiced time & again a reckoning or listing in his films of the beautiful, lasting things worth living/loving for: (just off the top of my head) Stardust Memories, the singular memory of Dorrie looking up at him with Louis Armstrong singing “Body and Soul”; the dictation in Manhattan that turns into a recitation of reasons “why life is worth living”; the epiphany of the Marx Brothers optimism after Mickey’s botched suicide attempt…Professor Levy’s (successful) suicide in Crimes and Misdemeanors puts a period on the film that none of his words, or the pleasant lies under which the characters live, can gainsay. The eternally beautiful things and the ephemerally sweet times are snatched from the mouth of misery (and in this Woody has an affinity with another life-long favorite of mine, Dennis Potter).
It doesn’t seem likely that a truly optimistic man/artist would have to return habitually to a litany of the precious few saving graces that salvage our otherwise miserable existence. (And Woody’s statements of the myriad ways in which this existence is miserable fill his scripts.) And as an artist, he personally describes the process of writing and production of his films in the flattest terms & with the flattest affect imaginable, in interviews—but that’s all apart from the often beautiful, life-affirming, hilarious parts of his work!
Yes, I would tend to consider the optimism point of view if it weren’t for Crimes and Misdemeanors, which serves up a really chilling depiction of crushed desires, and negative characters coming out on top. Martin Landau’s character, philanderer and ultimately murderer, comes to represent a universe indifferent to our most despicable actions. Alan Alda’s obnoxious character wins over the girl. The rabbi goes blind.
This particular film is darkly haunting for me personally, and I think it’s one of Allen’s best, but I believe when held up to his body of work that it represents Allen’s actual deeply pessimistic worldview.
Anyone whose overall goal is to make fun of himself and laugh at himself is a secure optimist at heart. Woody Allen’s an optimist. He acknowledges and makes fun of his own neuroses in all his films. Enough said.