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to be or not to be.
Woody Allen as the modern Philosopher.

by Matthew Helderman
9247 Alden Dr. Beverly Hills, CA 90210

For Woody Allen, the brilliance and inspiration.

Table of Contents:

Dedication............................................................................................................................2 Acknowledgements..............................................................................................................4 Abstract................................................................................................................................5 Preface..................................................................................................................................6 Introduction..........................................................................................................................7 Allen As the Modern Philosopher......................................................................................11 Annie Hall..........................................................................................................................16 Manhattan..........................................................................................................................23 The New York City Jewish Intellectual.............................................................................32 Sexuality and the Female Character..................................................................................41 Existence and Meaning......................................................................................................47 God & Ethics......................................................................................................................57 Conclusion.........................................................................................................................64 References..........................................................................................................................68


There are a few people Id like to acknowledge and gratefully thank for their help, guidance and assistance during the long process of completing this thesis. Professor Abba Lessing, for his unwavering honesty and brutal truth when I needed it. Abba, you have been a true gift throughout my time at Lake Forest College and I thank you deeply for the times we have shared together. Id also like to thank Professor Janet McCracken for her ability to keep me calm and grounded more than most. Janet, I thank you for your wonderful kindness and patience you have been a brilliant professor, advisor and friend. Your support is appreciated and I thank you for the hand you have always extended when I needed it. Also, Professor Alexander Mawyer who approached the project with a great love and appreciation for Woody Allen as well as philosophic study of film. Professor Mawyer, you have been a wonderful addition to the thesis project - your notes, thoughts and discussions have always been exciting, stimulating and helpful. I am honored to call you a friend and thank you for your guidance. Lastly, I would like to recognize the Lake Forest College Library and the Lake Forest Town Library for the hours I spent trekking through the shelves. My work at the usual spots will be long missed but the hours were well spent. Thank you to all of those who contributed along the way - the professors, friends, family, filmmakers, critics and writers whose work before my own was a major source of inspiration. And of course, Woody Allen.


This thesis documents the philosophical notions presented by the filmmaker Woody Allen. My research asserts the position that Allen is more than simply a filmmaker, writer and artist but rather that he is in fact a philosopher. Beginning with the early development of Allens comedic routines as a young man, I propose that his work illustrates a continuing progression of self realization, self education and the questioning of the purpose of existence as mirrored in his work.

While Woody Allen is often regarded as a comedic figure, I argue that Allens philosophical undertones are equally as prevalent as his comedy throughout the latter stages of his career. My findings unveil that Allens personal like and development are very often the driving forces behind his distinctive and original voice within the history of American film.

Woody Allen is a philosopher because he questions the notions of reality and is unwilling to accept the status quo. Holding a magnifying glass up to reality, Allen questions everything and his discoveries terrify him leaving his humor to encompass the emotions.


In the beginning I approached my research with the idea that Woody Allens films all shared a similar philosophical undertone. Hoping to gain an understanding of his personal philosophy I sought to concretely define what makes Woody Allen a philosophical figure worth studying. Setting forth in my early readings I began to slowly recognize the necessity of his own life in the development of his distinctive voice and concerns. From his youth in Flatbush Brooklyn, to his drop out years of University education and all the way through his failed relationships as a young adult - I realized that Allens own life more often than not mirrored the philosophical presence within his films. Restructuring my argument and focusing on the specific nature of his presentations of philosophic thought, I looked to define the modern philosopher and then build the framework around the definition with Allen as the subject. As my research continued I applied Allens own life to the ways in which it was mirrored through his films and the characters within them. My findings provided evidence that Allens life was the inspiration for the style and tone his films presented while his philosophic messages were often his worst fears concealed behind his humorous character. Ultimately the major question came down not to whether Allen has a philosophical message, which became glaringly obvious, but more importantly was Allen the philosopher I believed he was?


Before defending whether Woody Allen is a philosopher, the first step is to define philosophy and moreover define a philosopher. I define philosophy not merely as a way of life or a series of ideas that an individual holds regarding life or existence but rather that philosophy is an activity. This activity is the continual pursuit for answers to difficult questions. The individual who poses these questions and seeks the answers if therefore the philosopher. 1 The next step in building my definition is to accurately determine which questions are philosophic and which are not. I define the philosopher as an active seeker of answers who deduces truth from false belief finding resolution where before there had been confusion and meaning where previously nothingness had existed. Therefore, philosophy is the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom through a series of questions. Thus philosophy becomes a pursuit but never an ends until the rational conclusion has overridden the previous state of confusion. Through a methodology, the philosopher edges closer to the true nature of life itself. I defend here that the philosopher is the inquirer of truth, the seeker of wisdom and the participant in ultimate understanding. Beginning with criticisms, the philosopher must tear down common belief, traditional thinking and accepted rational notions in the pursuit of honest discovery. This criticism allows for the break between the philosopher and the masses as the ultimate

Pecorino, Philip. Philosophy As Defined. Boston: Suffolk University Press, 2000. pg. 1-3

goal of truth is sought. Once the critical element has been established, the philosopher can set forth defining their claim and means for achieving their proposed resolution. As the philosopher questions the held belief, they begin by investigating the claim itself and the reality behind the truth. Building off of the findings uncovered by the pursuit, the philosopher forms theories and presents a new set of ideas more rational than those previously held. In this final stage, the philosopher actively reaches the end of the philosophical process by defining a new series of conclusions based upon their questionings. I put forth that the philosopher is the questioner and the philosophy is the pursuit of truth and resolve. What then are these questions that the philosopher has sought throughout history? The philosopher seeks time and again to understand purpose, to recognize reality and to rationally resolve the tensions of being human. Questioning the very nature of being, the philosopher looks to answer the fundamental questions of human reality. I believe that Woody Allen is a philosopher because he meets the criteria proposed by the above definition. Allen provides a philosophic message by creating characters, situations and dialogues in which a critical eye examines and attempts to bring truth to falsehood. Allen himself not only partakes in the seeking of wisdom, but he creates stories, films and works of art which take on a philosophical nature in and of themselves. While comedy plays a large role in the distinctive Woody Allen voice, I present the notion that his comedy is a reaction and a shield to his philosophic fears. Using film

as his medium, Allen addresses the philosophical wonderings spiraling throughout his thoughts and his findings frighten him. His reaction is therefore to poke jokingly at the philosopher and the philosophic thoughts he uncovers all the while presenting an original philosophical message of his own.2 Using his films to create scenarios in which his characters must grapple with the philosophical choices of humanity, Allen presents the audience with a work or art both examining philosophy and seeking truth in itself. The proposal here is to establish how and exactly what Allen is attempting to answer with his films. Examining the fabric of relationships, sexuality and existence Allen reaches far beyond the sarcastic comedic tone he was initially known for in his early work and develops a desire to uncover truth in his later works. The struggles in Allens films are exercises in his own struggle to confront them, his characters thus become extensions of his fears and hopes to find meaning where he is convinced there is none. Allen presents a world in which choices must be made, situations cause questioning and answers are scarcely obvious. Through his films, Allen presents the precise questions a philosopher puts forth in the seeking of truth. Allen is worthy of studying because he presents a highly original, fascinating and often perplexing vision of reality. His films are hysterical and terrifyingly honest in the attempt to uncover truth. His body of work spans nearly five decades and his philosophic

Jenkins, Tony. The Difference Between A Star and A Legend. Atlanta: Times, 2003. pg.14


message has shifted several times throughout his career yet the overall tone of philosophic questioning has always remained. Woody Allen questions the traditional and challenges the populace - he establishes himself as a philosophic figure by seeking truth and attempting to resolve the significant challenges of human existence. By undercutting the idealogical, religious and short comings of others Allen asserts himself as a modern philosopher continuing in the tradition of the great thinkers before him. His films function as questions and sometimes answers, but always as means of philosophic discovery. Rejecting the systems he deems false, Allen uses his films to provide truth where others have failed. Using his life as a background mirroring his career, I set forth to establish Woody Allen as a philosopher. Shaped by his early life and experiences, Allens philosophical discoveries draw heavily upon the upbringing and evolution which followed his childhood. Thematically the tone often shifted but underneath every film the presence of philosophical questioning always remained.


I.) Allen As the Modern Philosopher

Beginning as a comedian, Allen had a true ability to make people laugh. As a school child Allen became obsessed with magic, studying several hours per day and entertaining his classmates with stories and quips. Jokes came easy and the writing was so simple that by the age of nineteen he had secured a writing job jokes for David O. Alber and The Ed Sullivan Show after dropping out of New York University and City College. 3 As his comedy blossomed he decided to branch out and use his jokes in a stand up routine. Audiences loved his style, a unique brand of Jewish intellectual humor mixed with a paranoid and neurotic persona he began to develop for his routine. Balancing serious yet humorous personal issues with brilliant timing and punch lines, Allen became a fixture in the stand up comedy world of New York City.4 Around this time however, Allen began to wrestle with the troubling demons that would plague him throughout his career, the ability to balance the serious thoughts within him while keeping the audience laughing; When I was a little kid, I loved comedy and I loved Bob Hope and G r o u c h o Marx. I grew up with that. Right up until my teens I tried to act like Hope and make jokes and snap off one-liners effortlessly. But then as I got a little bit more literate and older - seventeen, eighteen - I wanted to be in the theater or in show business in some way. My interest was in writing drama. I wanted to write for the theater and I didnt even think about writing comedy. I thought I
3 4

Lax, Eric. Woody Allen: A Biography. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2000. pg. 10 - 27 Lax. 30


wanted to write what Isben wrote or what Chekhov wrote. I knew I had a comic talent because I was already getting paid for it. And I kept succeeding in comedy and always longed to make a jump over to serious work. Its been frustrating for me to overcome that obstacle. 5 The next logical move to outgrow his simplistic comedies was to enter in to playwriting and establish himself as a serious writer. Writing Dont Drink the Water in 1966 was a commercial and artistic success but was highly comedic. Although trying to distance himself from his usual tone, Allen once again found himself in the world of comedy. During 1966 Allen saw his work brought to life for the first time with actors and live performances. Gauging audience reaction to his full length piece rather than a stand up routine allowed Allen to shape his material according to the research like development. Highly analytical and self aware from this young age, Allen rounded his work with highly developed characters and situations which the audiences could both relate to and yearn for at the same time. 6 As the show continued successfully, Allen was approached to adapt a script he had written, Whats New, Pussycat with Warren Beatty and Peter Sellers. Both excited and anxious, Allen felt that his greatest dreams of working in cinema were coming true and joined the project. As the production set forth, Allens script was rewritten several times and Warren Beatty dropped off the project unhappy with the decisions being made. 7

5 6 7

Lax. 26 Lax. 31 Lax. 35


Watching his script nearly change entirely, Allen began to question the ways in which the film industry worked. The released version of the film bared little resemblance to the original script and Allen swore from that moment forward he would only work on films if he was given entire creative control over the process. Preserving his vision and presenting the pieces he had written, Allen distanced himself from the Hollywood norms and sought to release works intimately from his visions. In 1971 Allen was back on the scene with a new film, Bananas, which set the precedent for Allens early period. Marked by their formless and slap schtick nature, Allen gave movie goers a continuation of the kind of comedies he had loved as a young boy. Progressing as a filmmaker was his ultimate goal and yet digging himself deeper in to a role as a comedic figure was not the proposed outcome. 8 Throughout the next five years Allen produced three more films, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex, Sleeper and Love and Death all in similar style to his first work. Audiences grew to love his style and the films were successful both financially and artistically, the period marked the definitive works of Allens early films - but that was the problem. By 1977 Allen had established a following and an audience who adored and knew his style well. His neurotic characters, anti-movie star looks and light comedies were perfect cinema escapism experiences for his audiences and yet he wanted to bring forth more of the intellectual and interpersonal dramas within him.

Lax, 40


Released later that same year, Annie Hall was immediately loved both by audiences and critics alike, garnering Allen his first Academy Award and laying the ground work for his confidence and abilities to write serious material. Annie Hall was both a blessing and a curse for Woody Allen as it proved to be the beginning of a new chapter in his career and yet also turned the page on his overwhelming previous successes as he sought new frontiers with his work. After Annie Hall, Allen faltered with his follow up film Interiors. Drawing heavily upon the European and artistic influences he had gathered over the years, the reception was negative and Allen appeared battered by the experience. While Annie Hall saw the early invention of the Woody Allen persona through the character of Alvy Singer, Interiors nearly negated the success and his overall tone shifted accordingly. I propose that Woody Allen became a philosopher during the later stages of the 1970s as his films adapted a more deeply emotional and interpersonal nature exploring and questioning the rationale behind relationships, religion and existence. With Annie Hall as the beginning of his development, Woody Allen burst forth as a philosophical filmmaker in to the later stages of his career. Allens career in retrospect offers a brilliant vantage point over his work as a whole. With forty four films completed to date as writer and director, Woody Allen certainly has provided audiences with enough source material to consider his overall messages. Producing roughly one film per year for forty years, Allens films can be


studied through close consideration to his own life during the production date of each individual film. Furthermore, in the establishing of Allen as a modern philosopher, the trouble becomes using film as the medium to deliver his philosophic message and yet Allen has been fortunate enough to avoid the missteps by taking an authoritative auteur approach to his art form. Acting as an auteur from the birth of his career, Allen has written, cast, acted, directed, edited and scored his films. The messages from each of Allens films can therefore be reduced to the actual internal message being presented by the director at that specific moment of his career and more importantly from the specific moment of his life. Viewing his career as an evolution, Woody Allen s development as a thinker and filmmaker have simultaneously grown together. Using his films in a philosophical dialectic fashion, Allen has continually produced works in which Woody Allen the philosopher becomes one with Woody Allen films.


II.) Annie Hall

Originally written and shot as a murder mystery, Annie Hall was an odd film from the beginning of production. Riding high on the success of his previous farcical comedies, Allens script titled Anhedonia would revisit the light and comedic nature of the earlier works. However, during production, Allen scrapped the idea and rewrote the film in to a dramatic comedy relationship study centered around Alvy Singer played by Woody Allen and Annie Hall played by Diane Keaton. Alvy Singer built off the early Allen characters from previous films in that he was a neurotic, Jewish, left wing quasi-intellectual but the film itself tapped in to deeper levels of emotion than Allen had visited before. Film critic Roger Ebert explains Annie Hall as a major turn stylistically and thematically for Allen. His first real departure from zany comedies.9 Cutting back and forth through flashbacks and flash forwards, Allen portrayed the relationship of a couple over the span of several years. Both the style of filming and the duration of the character archs had never been explored before by Allen. The production story behind Annie Hall is where I begin to draw my evidence that Allen used the film as a turning point for his work unintentionally allowing his subconscious desire for drama to override his comedic natured writing. Rushed in to production, Allen had little time to formulate the new story structure and several of the

Schickel, Richard. Woody Allen: A Life in Film. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publishing, 2003. pg. 43


scenes were improvised while filming giving the piece an authentic and realistic look at a relationship. Alvy Singer is both the prototypical Woody Allen character that he became known for during his career and also a major departure from the earlier Allen characters. From his youth, Allen used comedy as a crutch defense mechanism to shield himself from his fears, the harshness of the world he lived in and the struggle to deal with the complex ideas swarming his thoughts. Alvy Singer exercises all of Allens intimate nervousness and inability to find happiness in other humans. Using Alvy Singer as the basis for his persona, Allen found a way to offer his inner most angst through his work. From magic as a child, to stand up as a young adult and then Alvy Singer as the Woody Allen persona, Allen enabled himself to continue working under the guise of his comedic shield while questioning the very structure of the world around him in a philosophical nature. In a flashback sequence early in the film, Allen revisits a real life experience he had as a young child during an existential moment; Doctor: Why are you depressed Alvy? Alvys Mother: Tell Dr. Flicker. Its something he read. Doctor: Something he read, huh? Alvy (9 years old): The universe is expanding. Doctor: The universe is expanding? Alvy: Well, the universe is everything, and if its expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything! Alvys Mother: What is that your business? He stopped doing his homework! Alvy: Whats the point? Alvys Mother: What has the universe got to do with it? Youre here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!


Doctor: It wont be expanding for billions of years yet, Alvy. And weve got to try to enjoy ourselves while were here!10 The audience is given both a glimpse at the personal terror running within Woody Allen both at the young age of nine year old Alvy Singer and also a window in to the philosophic sense of the conversation. For Alvy Singer, the universe is everything and with the knowledge that it is expanding he has become enlightened. His enlightenment has thus lead him to stop doing his homework because it is pointless knowing the universe will eventually break apart. Using humor, Allen masks the deep and dark content of his early existential discoveries giving the audience both humor in the form of the Mothers reaction and optimistic relief in the form of the Doctor. Alvy Singer is presenting a complex idea about the nature of being and Allen is both agreeing and covering his tracks with the comedic shield he so often deploys. With a newly developed persona, Allen was thus able to seek answers to his inner most questions using his films as his quest. While his first several films used comedy as an ends, Annie Hall used comedy as a means with the true essence of the message far beneath. By using comedy to aid the message he is presenting, Allen is able to appeal to both the high and the low brow audiences while slowly shifting to a more dramatic subject matter. Annie Hall and the introduction of Alvy Singer as the Woody Allen persona create new and fascinating possibilities for analyzing Allen as a philosopher. In a Freudian sense

10 Annie

Hall. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Diane Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1977



Alvy Singer is the repressed feelings Allen has long held off from delivering with his films but the formation of the proper persona offered new opportunity. As Annie Hall continues forward and the relationship begins to deteriorate, Alvy Singer becomes jealous, anxious, frustrated and obsessive - dealing not only with the relationship that is slowly falling apart but also over he inability to control anything within ones life. 11 Allen reflects upon the difficulty of human happiness in a voice over monologue stating; I feel that life is divided in to the horrible and the miserable...The horrible are terminal cases...And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful youre miserable.12 As a montage of their relationship flickers across the screen, the audience cant help but relate to the truth with in the words. Relationships are highly complex and difficult to manage situations and life is no different as a whole. On one hand it is humorous and the pessimistic view could be attributed to Alvy Singer and separated from Woody Allen but I assert that Allen is using Alvy Singer to voice his concerns. The concern that life is a difficult struggle but there are glimmers of hope time and again that make it worth living. As the film comes to an end and the relationship between Annie and Alvy has fallen apart, Diane Keaton walks away from Woody Allen leaving him standing alone on a street corner in Manhattan. Lingering on the street corner Alvy Singer begins a voice


Baxter, John. Woody Allen. Cambridge: De Capo Press: 1999 pg.74 Keaton.

12 Annie

Hall. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Diane Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1977


over monologue which is heartfelt, tragic and humorous all at once forcing the audience to care for the situation and consider the deeper meaning with in the words;

I thought of this old joke...a guy goes to psychiatrist and says, Doc, my brothers crazy; he thinks hes a chicken. And the Doctor says Well why dont you turn him in? The guy says I would but I need the eggs. Well I guess thats pretty much how I feel about relationships; theyre totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.13

Leaving the audience with this send off message just before the frame goes black, it is difficult to discern how personal the meaning is when Woody Allen is considered the source rather than Alvy Singer. Using Alvy Singer as his voice, Allen presents his findings that relationships like life itself are irrational and crazy but we partake in the hope that we will find meaning and purpose. Taking an indirect route, Allen used Annie Hall to become the serious filmmaker he so longingly sought to be. As an audience, we care about Alvy Singer and Annie Hall breaking up and we feel badly when he is left standing alone on the street corner. Allowing the audience to relate to the difficulty of relationships, Allen presents a film in which the purpose of life in finding happiness with another person. Alvy Singer believed he was unhappy with Annie Hall but when she is no longer in his life he realizes how badly he needs her. Annie Hall gives meaning to Alvy Singer who seeks purpose and meaning in a seemingly pointless existence. By placing Alvy Singer in a series of
Annie Hall. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Diane Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1977



situations which result in his self realization that we all need the eggs, Allen summarizes the essence his belief that purpose is another person. Professor of philosophy and life long Woody Allen fan Lou Ascione states; Woody Allen has a deep understanding of humor and knows how to use it not only for entertainment but also as a means for philosophical commentary...Humor can be used to present philosophical ideas and/or raise important questions that many people would reject outright in typical conversation.14 Using comedy as a technique that he has honed masterfully during his years as a comedy writer and stand up comedian, Allen transitioned his abilities to deliver his philosophic questions within causing the audience total discomfort or annoyance. As Alvy Singer attempts to find happiness, Woody Allen criticizes relationships and the dependency human beings have on one another. By criticizing the social normality Woody Allen seeks to define a more rational approach to happiness, meaning and purpose but ultimately succumbs to the concept that relationships are necessary. When Allen presents an unpopular or untraditional idea in Annie Hall he immediately shields himself with humor. The audience reaction therefore is to both laugh and yet consider the implications of the deeper subject matter. If Allen were to outright approach the situation aggressively without humor, the audience reception would certainly be less accepting. For example, in a scene half way through the film as their relationship begins to crumble, Annie gets in to a cab leaving Alvy standing on the

Conrad, Mark. Woody Allen & Philosophy: You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong?. Chicago: Open Court Press, 2004. pg.43-54


sidewalk. Confused and aggravated Alvy approaches a random woman walking on the busy sidewalk as asks; Is it something I did? to which the woman responds; Its never something you do. Thats how people are. Love fades.15 The woman continues walking and exits the scene leaving Alvy standing once again alone on the street corner. What Allen has done is to present an unpopular idea that love is impossible to maintain and that happiness is unobtainable. However, by using humor Allen avoids the pitfalls of negative audience reaction or an excessively dramatic sequence within the film. The humorous nature of this scene is what created the opportunity for a philosophically unpopular idea regarding romantic love to be presented to the audience.16 Allen interjects his masterful use of humor to ease in the truth and emotion he wants to deliver without entirely abandoning his true comedic self. Allen is able to bring our attention to a viewpoint that is opposed to the standard thesis that true love lasts forever...Allen uses this indirect approach because the direct approach is likely to be outright rejected by the audience.17 Again his self awareness as both a director and as a character within Alvy Singer allows Allen to question philosophically the nature of love and meaning all the while keeping the viewer interested and pleased. With a developed persona and a newly discovered ability to mask serious themes underneath a layer of humor, Woody Allen turned over a new page in his personal and
15 Annie

Hall. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Diane Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1977


Conrad, Mark. Woody Allen & Philosophy: You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong?. Chicago: Open Court Press, 2004. pg.43-54

Conrad. 43-54


professional life with Annie Hall. His success as a young filmmaker and writer granted him tremendous freedom but the success caused Allen to further question the role of the artist in presenting dramatic and important works. Alvy Singer opened a new door giving Allen a voice for his inner most questions - the struggle was finding answers.


III.) Manhattan

When considering Manhattan, released two years after Annie Hall in 1979, I must first look at the 1978 film Interiors, which served as a bridge in between the two highly successful films. On a wave of success in late 1977, Woody Allen took a leap of faith with the production of his next project. Moving well beyond the limitations audiences had come to know, Allen drew heavily upon his Ingmar Bergman and Fedrico Fellini influences in the creation of Interiors. Heading in to the production with tremendous momentum and confidence, Allen felt strongly that the project was his next break through in to the deeply dramatic European layered filmmaking he longed for. So when the film fell flat both artistically stunting the confident Allen as well commercially, causing audiences to rethink Allen and investors to consider other projects - Allen was at a loss for the first time in his career. Startling the positive creative energy surrounding the success of Annie Hall, Interiors had the opposite affect on Allen causing him to become more fearful and anxious ridden over his artistic reception. Looking back years later Allen stated; Interiors had plenty of problems. I was inexperienced in doing that kind of film. I wish I could Interiors today. I could really make it an indisputably good picture, I feel. I had bitten off a lot because I wanted to do a drama and I didnt want to do what passed for drama in popular American films. I didnt want to be melodrama. I wanted to do a drama in the most European sense. I had great ideas but I only got a percentage of it on the screen. 18


Lax, Eric Conversations with Woody Allen Knopf Publishing 2007 pg. 147


Exhibiting the self awareness he is known for, Allen understood years later he was unprepared for the project but his eagerness to break through as a dramatic director was so great that he forged onward regardless. Ultimately Interiors flopped with audiences and the artistic reception was fairly similar causing Allen to reconsider his methods as he approached his next project which had already been approved for production later that year, Manhattan. As Manhattan entered production, Allen sought to combine the successful elements of Annie Hall and the deep emotion of Interiors while offering commentary regarding relationship roles. However, Manhattan also served as a homage piece to the city he held so dearly, New York. I wanted to make a film that was similar to the films I watched growing up, the films that made New York City seem like some goliath empire and yet gently beautiful at the same time.19 Thus, the film needed to be both a meaningful statement regarding Allens social commentaries and a brilliantly artistic portrait of his home town. Modern scholars like Professor Aeon Skoble, assess Manhattan as a film dealing with the importance of integrity and consistency through the character of Isaac.20 While on many levels I believe that Isaac offers insight in to the difficult nature of moral choice on a larger scale, I also hold strongly that Manhattan was a return home in many regards for the wounded Allen. After the failure of Interiors, Allen headed back to New York City

19Conrad. 20


Conrad. 27


for his most intimate portrait of his home town. New York City offered him comfort and the chance to redeem himself in as peaceful a place as he was able to find. Manhattan offered a chance at redemption and thus the character of Isaac is seeking rebirth, renewal and reassurance of himself when chasing a younger woman. Professor Mary Nichols argues that Allens films are philosophic because he himself has something philosophical to say. His early films are slap stick comedies and formless in nature because as a young man Allen was simply a comedian using the techniques he had developed. The films which followed the early period were marked by dramatic and relationship struggles as the characters sought to find meaning and purpose because Allen himself was full of an unsureness over himself within the larger context of the universe. 21 Nichols continues through her research to find that Allens films must be viewed through the lens of a greater spectrum to derive the philosophic significance from with in. As Allen ages, his philosophical outlook and overall perspective continually changes and thus his films must be appropriately viewed from the context of the age and development of Allen himself.22 Applying the theory of Nichols research, Allen was in his early thirties when he made Manhattan and was looking to tackle more complex and concrete issues while using humor to highlight his early talents. While Annie Hall was a transitional film only


Nichols, Mary. Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love and Life in the Films of Woody Allen. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield,

Nichols. 211 - 214


two years prior, so too would Interiors need to transition Allen back in to the main stream successes he had previously enjoyed. In pre-production for Manhattan, just after the failing of Interiors, Allen planned every last detail thoroughly. The film would need to be an exercise in perfection, a return to comfort and executed masterfully in order to create the vision he held in his mind as well as to redeem himself. As a thinker and filmmaker, Allen was developing like never before leading in to the production stages of Manhattan. His writing was more vigorous and his reading of philosophy texts had increased as his growing ambition to self educate himself took hold. Yet when Interiors fell flat it left Allen questioning his own abilities and his overall approach to filmmaking. This insecurity is well mirrored with in the opening lines of the film. Chapter One. He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion., make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion. Better. To him, no matter what the season was, this was still a town that existed in black and white and pulsated the great tunes of George Gershwin. Uh, no, let me start over.23 Mimicking the style of Allens writing technique, using a tape recorder to capture his free flowing thoughts, and using his own angst towards his own work, Allen again uses his persona to illustrate his inner most anxieties. Manhattan is a homage both to the city of New York as well as to the films he grew up loving. This very intimate work of art must of course be considered under the

Manhattan. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep. Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions, 1979.


circumstantial nature surrounding the films production and what it says about Allen as a philosopher. Starting and stopping repeatedly in the opening sequence, Allen allows his thoughts to spill forth yet he is unsure over his abilities as an artist so he must begin new again. Isaac and the setting itself of the apartment writing scenario, mirror the situations Allen often finds himself in as he creates a new work. The immense struggle brewing within Allen is clear as Isaac is unable to produce an opening he approves of. Chapter One. He was too romantic about Manhattan, as he was about everything else.24 Again referencing himself within the persona he has created to illuminate his feelings. Evaluating himself in search of a better alternative Allen uses Isaac as his voice. He thrived on the hustle and bustle of the crowds and the traffic. To him, New York meant beautiful women and street smart guys who seemed to know all the angles. To corny, too corny for my taste. Let me try to make it more profound.25 Trying to make it more profound is precisely what Allen has been struggling to do for years again reiterating the self awareness and exercise of discovery which Isaac and Manhattan are serving. Continuing on again still unable to find the proper means of expression Isaac begins; Chapter One. He adored New York City. To him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. The same lack of individual integrity that caused so many people to take the easy way out was rapidly turning the town of his dreams in - no, no its

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Manhattan. Manhattan.


going to be too preachy, I mean you know, lets face it, I want to sell some books here.26 This third failure to launch reveals the Allen afraid of rejection by too eagerly coming forth with his feelings and having the audience refuse to take the deep and often dark messages willingly. Instead of giving his opinion out right, Allen then uses Isaac to show that artists must conceal their philosophic notions through other means more appealing to the audience. For Allen, the struggle has always been the ability to both present a deep emotional and rich personal film while still appealing to an audience - precisely the scenario Isaac finds himself in. Isaac continues; Chapter One. He adored New York City. Although to him it was a metaphor for the decay of contemporary culture. How hard it was to exist in a society desensitized by drugs, loud music, television, crime, garbage - too angry...I dont want to be too angry.27 In this fourth false start, Allen once again gives the audience a piece of himself from within the character. In a complex series of layers, Allen presents a character relaying his own personal messages in a structured setting he has created. Isaacs need to create some thing important and substantial comes off as angry causing him to begin again. Knowing audiences arent looking for an angry speech, Isaac must focus more closely on presenting his message is a nicely wrapped package rather than bluntly handing it forward.

26 27

Manhattan. Manhattan.


These stunted attempts allow Allen to voice his own concerns and growing fears over his artistic work and subsequent reception. Audiences, looking for some thing to entertain them, do not want the preachy or unnecessarily heavy emotional bits and so Allen guises himself as Isaac delivering segments suggesting just that. Dispelling his feelings and lifting the weight from his own chest, Allen uses Isaac and the continual start and stops of the opening segment to show his struggle in balancing the artistic ambition with audience desire. Both humorous and honest, the spurts give the viewer a sense of difficult within Isaac that resonates beyond the character and in to Allen himself. Isaacs last opening; Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. Oh, I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be.28 As the final words drop from Isaacs tongue, images of New York City fill the screen and the story unfolds, the opening has been successful. The interesting notion behind these lines which finally launch the film forward, is that they are the least like Woody Allen in every sense. The humor comes through nicely using sexuality as a source of comedic relief but the confidence and candor are anti-Allen in many ways. Self awareness and presentation of actuality are crucial for Allen as they have both aided in his success as a filmmaker and an actor. However, here in final opening attempt of Manhattan, Allen steps away from himself and fully in to the character of Isaac in order to develop his larger commentary. Making the statement that art is a




difficult to balance and the artist must often make sacrifices to be successful, Allen offers a facetious vision of his personal situation. Manhattan is a return to comfort for an artist who has had his confidence shaken and thus Isaac is a return to the Woody Allen persona previously visited with Alvy Singer. Philosophically, Isaac acts as a source of questioning - questioning the very fundamentals of art and success. Feeling the critical reception of Interiors, Allen constructs an artist who is unsure of his work and moreover recognizes that audiences are the deciding factor. Poking fun and yet accepting the reality of the situation, Allen presents Isaac as a continuation of the developed persona. Using the persona as a philosophical means, Allen hopes to respond to the questions he has put forth. Is artistic achievement possible in a world driven by commerce and choice? The philosophical ends therefore are met when Isaac uses the most anti-Allen portion to open the film signifying that the artist must abandon themselves to become successful. Drawing upon his immense self taught knowledge in the arts, sciences, comedy and culture - Allen develops a persona in the image of himself exemplifying the worst and best aspects of his own psychology. Relinquishing his fears over success and artistic expression, Allen acts as philosophic auteur delivering a highly personal and intimate message to the audience. The final product of the film is therefore a direct presentation of Allens emotions in a world created to question and seek answers to the problems of his life.


Later in the film Isaac states; Why do you think this is funny? Youre going by audience reaction? This is an audience thats raised on television, their standards have been systematically lowered over the years.29 Reiterating the point that audiences are flawed in their perspectives over what is good artistically, Allen uses Isaac to answer the philosophic questions within himself. As I defined philosophy as the seeking of answers to questions from the philosopher, Allen demonstrates his ability to fill out a philosophical framework through his own question and answering. Using Manhattan as a statement and Isaac as the messenger, Allen is projecting his philosophical understanding that the masses are often wrong as true art is trumped for simplistic pleasures. The film therefore is a response to his personal struggles through the self discovery that Isaac himself goes through within the story. Creating a world in which the artist can find harmony between content and appeal, Allen allows himself to find some peace within the criticisms over his own work. Allens philosophy is a product of his personal life and being such a highly controlling auteur his films therefore become extensions of such philosophical discoveries as Isaacs realization over artistic balance.




IV.) The New York City Jewish Intellectual

Judaism, New York City and intellectualism are so frequently used in Allens films that I often regard them as characters in and of themselves. His lower middle class upbringing in predominately Jewish Flatbush Brooklyn shaped Allens perception of his Jewish heritage. As he developed in to a comedy writer and stand up comedian, Allen drew upon his New York Jewish background for a source of entertainment. Distancing himself from the religion at an early age and rejecting nearly every religious ideology, Allens theological and New York City upbringing play a large role in the overall development of Allens philosophic questioning. Eric Lax, a biographer of Woody Allens life, chronicles Allens feeling regarding his own religious background. I was unmoved by the synagogue, I was not interested in the Seder, I was not interested in Hebrew School, I was not interested in being Jewish. It just didnt mean a thing to me. I was not ashamed of it nor was I proud of it. It was a n o n factor to me. I didnt care about it. It just wasnt my field of interest. I cared about baseball, I cared about movies. To be a Jew was not something I felt Oh, God, Im so lucky or Gee, I wish I were something else. I certainly had no interest in being Catholic or in any of the other Gentile religions. I thought those kids in Catholic school who couldnt see movies because the Legion of Decency wouldnt permit them, or who said their catechism, were sill beyond belief. I thought, what a waste of time. And I felt the same thing in Hebrew School, my mind drifting out the window, not learning anything, just counting the minutes until it was over.30


Lax, Eric. Conversations with Woody Allen. New York: Knopf Publishing, 2007. pg. 30


From this early age Allen had an indifferent approach to his cultural background that his mother had tried so longingly to instill upon him. Growing up in an overwhelmingly Jewish community, Allen had little experience with members of other faiths apart from a few friends whom he made during his public school years. Flatbush was a Jewish community in which the children were raised to respect and practice within the religious traditions. Many Flatbush residents are Hasidic Jews...Over seven years, the Koningsbergs moved more than a dozen times, usually sharing apartments with Netties sister (Woody Allens aunt) or relatives who had fled Europe from Hitler. Jewish culture has blurred so completely into the American-Anglo tradition that it can be difficult to visualize its original alienness but the young Allen was surrounded by its realness.31

It was this upbringing and surrounding that presented Allen with source material for comedy. Viewing religion as a ridiculous notion of security, Allen used his self aware perception of himself to develop his persona around the Jewishness he held. Rejecting his Jewish identity at an early age and refusing to attend services only fanned the flames of his persistent mother and so he used the Jewish aspects of his life for the progression of his comedic act and career. Moving outside of the Jewish confines of Brooklyn, the self conscience and anxiety ridden young Allen was often overcome with feelings of his Jewish heritage. Changing his name, leaving Brooklyn for Manhattan and poking fun at Judaism allowed Allen to again hide himself behind the shield of humor and entertainment. His true


Lax, Eric. Woody Allen: A Biography. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2000. pg. 9


feelings regarding his religious background were those of slight shame and embarrassment, a fear that he was indebted to an ideology he didnt care for caused him to use the source as comedic material. Yet underneath all the anxiety and negation of his young identity, Allen was continually questioning the universe, existence and the notion of a greater power. 32 Allen is consumed with questions of eschatology and a merciful Gods existence; with questions of morality and justice when God may either not care or be absent from worldly life.33 Lax summarizes the stage in Allens life in which the philosophic questioning of the universe began to spring forth. While he had rejected his faith, he still felt a major inkling to understand the greater meaning of the complexities of being. Religion became an exhilarating and intellectually stimulating exercise for Allen as he questioned meaning and purpose attempting to comprehend a response. Religion posed a new series of questions allowing the curious Allen to explore the greater limits of being. Ambitious and progressive, Allen felt bogged down by the religious upbringing and arduous practices in Brooklyn, but also recognized a vast opportunity for branching out in to the thought provoking practice of answering epistemological questions posed by religion. While being Jewish was a part of Allen he

32 33

Lax. 27 Lax. 40 - 41


could not change, he decided use the background as an element of his persona and to examine the notions that Judaism put forth but didnt fully answer. 34 Being highly self aware and in tuned with his audiences and their perceptions of his work and himself as an actor, using his Jewish identity to his advantage payed off. Audiences applauded and related to the humorous neurotic Jew within the Allen persona and so it continually developed. Functioning in primarily New York City settings, the Alvy Singer characters perpetuated the image of the Jewish Woody Allen in his typical New York environment. New York City and Judaism both became elements of his persona that he could not shed and therefore he used them both to his advantage. The trouble with organized religion, and Judaism in particular, was that Allen was skeptical over the reality of fairness, righteousness and an almighty being while he witnessed his father struggle to make ends meet throughout the early years of his childhood. Hoping there was a moral compass to the universe, Allen developed a series of questions pondering the existence and meaning of the universe and the greater powers off in the distance. For all his questioning and agonizing, Woody Allen is a reluctant (he hopes there is a God) but pessimistic (he doubts there is) agnostic who wishes he had been born with religious faith and who believes that even if God is absent, it is important to lead and honest and responsible life. His observations and jokes about God and religion make him a favorite among theologians. Yet Allan Koningsberg was, he says, amoral and impervious. When I say amoral, I think of an incident with my grandfather, who was a kind and sweet man whom I liked very much. I was eleven or so and I found a counterfeit nickel on the street. It was clearly counterfeit. But I suggested fobbing it off on my grandfather, who was old
Blake, Richard. Street Smart: The New York of Lumet, Allen, Scorsese and Lee The Lexington:University Press of Kentucky 2005. pg. 89 - 101


and wouldnt know the difference. Now, this is an amoral act. My Mother caught me later and asked How could you ask for five pennies for a counterfeit nickel? Thats terrible! And I was unfazed by it. The consequences or morality never crossed my mind for a second. He attributes his attitude to his father, for it turns out he was not impervious to influence. Religious faith and tradition may not have rubbed off on him but the rough hand to mouth world [his father] inhabited did.35

Reality and experience were all that mattered for the young Allen. The Jewish concept of a perfect God could never be true in actuality because life it self was so grim and harsh. Watching his father struggle as well as his fathers reluctance over Jewish validity shaped his young life. Interested in baseball and movies, the young Woody Allen struggled to find morality and purpose in a world so amoral and a universe so indifferent. The creation of the Allen persona therefore was the establishment of a vehicle to voice the concerns and philosophical questions underlying his doubts. John Baxter, in a biography of Allens life, points to the battle young Woody Allen fought during his religious upbringing and ending in the formation of the comedic nudging of Judaism. The Koningsbgers were Orthodox, which meant that Allen prayed each morning with phylacteries bound to his arm and forehead, attended temple in a yarmulke, fasted on high holidays and spent part of every Saturday for eight years in Hebrew School. All these merely accentuated his resentment of religion. He was bar mitzvahed in 1948, but mainly he remembers, he says, the movie he saw on the day before...At the party afterwards, he blacked his face and did an imitation of Al Jolson - hardly the act of a devout religionist.36

35 36

Lax. 44 - 45 Lax. 47


During this time Allens mother continued to push religion upon him hoping to instill her values and faith system in him. Her insistence essentially created the opposite affect adding to the resentment Allen held towards religion yet spurred his interest and curiosities in the larger aspects of life and existence. Recognizing that animosity towards his religion would not benefit him, he adapted his views of Judaism in to his act and used them as comedic relief. Where Judaism did strike Allen firmly, was in the searching for some thing greater, some thing beyond the self and some thing philosophic underlining the meaning of being. 37 Using religion the same way he used all subjects he found to be particularly ludicrous, Allen fused religion in to his early comedic films. From his first film, Take The Money And Run, all references to his Jewishness are derisive. In jail, Allens character, Virgil Starkwell, agrees to be a guinea pig for a new drug. It turns him briefly in to a rabbi, and Allen is seen sitting in his cell with rabbinical beard, hat and ringlets, discoursing on the Talmud. Later, meeting other cons in the prison chapel to plan as escape, he makes a clumsy broad sign of the cross before the altar, then kneels in a pew and pretending to pray, falls into the bobbing movement known as hoveling often adopted by older Jews at prayer. Up until Broadway Danny Rose, and also in oddities like Zelig and Shadows and Fog, Allen was to return for easy laughs to Yiddishisms and the use of Hassidic rabbis as joke figures. He uses the references as a means of distancing himself from these stereotypes, in the same way that his physical unattractiveness perversely turned him in to a sex object. Perhaps he thought that overt Jewishness would transform in the mind of his audience into an honorary Gentile...Allen uses Jewish humour the way he uses Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky and Flaubert in his humorous pieces for the New Yorker, not as a medium for humour, but as a subject for parody.38

37 38

Dart, John. Woody Allen, Theologian Christian Century Magazine, no.4 (June 1977) Baxter, John. Woody Allen. Cambridge: De Capo Press: 1999 pg. 28 - 29


Baxters summary of Allens usage of religion as parody supports my claim that Jewishness Allen understood within himself was tiresome unless used for purpose. From a young age Allens parents recall a restless and anxious Woody Allen experiencing early existential crisis. As this same early memory would later serve as a humorous scene in Annie Hall, Allen also portrayed his Jewish background as a means of humor. Playing off of what he knew personally from his experiences, Allen structured his early comedic set ups around the framework of what he readily knew first hand. Young Allens wild imagination and curiosities didnt align well with the calm and structured practices of the Jewish faith. Eric Lax describes; Woody enjoyed his own company and, as well, enjoyed fabricating different roles and identities...One was to be a dreidel hustler.39 At this young stage the humor surrounding his Jewish identity had already begun. Formulating personalities and ideas outside of the accessible self was swirling within him and his with religion as source material he fabricated parodic fantasies. As Allen developed as a comedian later in life, his self education and intellectual curiosity saw him seeking seeking answers to philosophic questions which troubled him. I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going. And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who cant. I do occasionally envy the person who is religious naturally, without being brainwashed into it or suckered into it by all the organized hustles.40

39 40

Baxter. 24 Lax. 33


His resentment and distrust in organized religion spurred his emotions and stimulated his comedic sense when formulating humorous quips about the subject. While this early Allen is a product of his environment, the developing Allen is a curios individual seeking philosophical answers in a universe he believes to be godless. His films support this claim as the early light comedies transitioned in to more mature and dramatic works, Allen saw himself being drawn more closely to philosophic themes. My depression is why Im drawn to philosophy, so acutely interested in Kakfa, Dostoevsky and Ingmar Bergman. I think I have all the symptoms and problems that those people are occupied with: An obsession with death, an obsession with God or the lack of God, the question of why we are here. Answers I want but cant readily obtain.41 Positioning himself along side of the great philosophical thinkers, Allen acknowledges that he is seeking answers to questions he cannot readily access. It is precisely this philosophy background that began to develop within Allen and his close readings of the great thinkers thus influenced his following works. His alienation and feelings of complexities in an utterly purposeless universe turned up frequently in his films along side of a religious crazed world unable to find God. Seeking answers to philosophical questions, Allen again used his film persona to pursue knowledge. With question over the purpose of being, the meaning of life and the existence of God - Allen shifted the focus of his films from simplistic comedies to weighty dramas dealing with these intricate issues. Characters and plot structures shifted towards more heavy substance as subject matter become more significant and less light


Lax. 80


hearted. Yet, through his transitional period in which he found philosophy through his own readings, his Jewish identity remained an underlying presence throughout it all. Simplifying Allen, I assert that he is a New York Jewish filmmaker whose films primarily deal with the difficulty of finding, maintaing and sustaining meaning within relationships. In reality, his films are extensions of himself in to the realm of answering personal troubling philosophical questions. I dont have the same kind of Jewish obsession other writers or artists do. I use my background when its expedient for me in my work.42 states Allen, stressing my point that his Jewishness is simply a technique like his intellectual humor. Deploying his heritage as a tactic for laughs and audience reaction, Allens only real regard of religion are the questions it poses that are unable to be answers. Thus, his Jewishness is ultimately a stimulating facet of a much larger framework of philosophical discourse that he actively partakes in - seeking answers, finding truths and defining himself.


Kapsis, Robert. Woody Allen: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006. pg. 24


V.) Sexuality & The Female Character

Poking fun at his features and figure, establishing himself as the anti-movie star and casting himself along side of beautiful women Woody Allen has long used his sexuality as a source of comedy and meaning. His Jewishness, small frame and neurotic intellectual fumbling of relationships and sexual experiences both entertain audiences and serve a purpose in the development of understanding Woody Allen and his philosophical exploration. Using his strange looks and personality to highlight the absurdity of situations, Allen casts gorgeous female actresses to support his performances. While the females ooze sex appeal, Allen cowers timidly and frantically attempts to handle the ensuing madness. In the larger philosophical framework which I have set forth, I believe that Allens use of sexuality and his ability to both write and direct a female character largely serves his overall philosophical statement.43 Los Angeles Times writer Lynda Gorov states that Allens female characters are; beautiful but neurotic, intimidating but realistic, and more than anything comforting in a familiar sense.44 Portraying idealistic notions, Allen uses his female characters to contrast his persona who continually fails to obtain a meaningful relationship. It becomes clear that relationships and true connection with another human being is not only


Hirsch, Foster. Love, Sex Death and The Meaning of Life: The Films of Woody Allen. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2001. pg. 77

Gorov, Lynda. Whats Up With Woodys Women? ASLE: 2008, http:/? gallery/woodyallenswomen/


extremely important for Allens characters but also a source of purpose and meaning in an otherwise purposeless existence. From Diane Keaton to Penelope Cruz, the relationships in Allens films which prove to be successful are those in which the intimidating women, as referenced above, are able to stimulate and challenge the male counterpart. When the relationships are simply physical they become devoid of necessity and thus are cast off, as in the case of Alvy Singer and Annie Hall.45 These simply physical relationship offer Allen an opportunity to jest and use comedy to entertain the audience, but the underlying question is whether the Allen persona can ever find happiness in a relationship that is meaningful? On the other hand, it must be remembered that Allen is writing and structuring the stories in which these women are interacting with his persona. On some level it suggests a lack of belief in happiness or an inability to find meaning with in the other. However, it also points to the idea that the other is the source of meaning and to touch back upon Annie Halls closing sequence, We all need the eggs.46 My belief then is that Allen believes a true connection and interpersonal relationship with another person gives life meaning. The difficulty thus becomes finding and maintaining that relationship. While certainly an auteur, Allen grants his female actresses great freedom to explore their roles within his given framework. Placing great trust and responsibility on their abilities, Allen believes his female counterparts can properly aid along side his

45 46

Annie Hall. Annie Hall.


persona. Overly feminized, due to the lack of his fathers presence at a young age, Allens major guidance and influence as a young man were his sisters, his mother and his aunts. These early influences played a major role in shaping the phycological approach Allen takes when directing females. Placing his persona next to a beautiful and strong female character which he has written, Allen makes a direct statement about desire and the philosophical seeking of meaning. Desiring another is both sexual and meaningful, a source of both pleasure and purpose. Using sexuality as a balance between desire and reality, the female leads exude a power and control over the persona who longingly seeks them. In turn then, Allen as the persona seeks to obtain a relationship that is ideal in so much as it gives meaning. By finding meaning in relationships, Allen is criticized over idealizing female characters and romantic situations to an outrageous height. Yet, the idealization aligns with the seeking of meaning and the discovery with in the other in a relationship. The emphasis being so great as to suggest the other is the source of purpose, fits with the concept of idealizing. Forging relationships becomes a source of actuality and meaning and thus Allen portrays them in an often overly romanticized fashion purposely crediting their heighten importance. 47 As Allens female leads contrast his persona, he often struggles in balancing the on screen relationship to achieve his ultimate philosophic message. Female characters


Gorov. 2


thrive while non Woody Allen male leads often fall flat48 states film critic John Tartaglia in an overview of Allens career. Philosophically this flaw supports my claim as Allen is able to communicate his philosophic meanings through his own interactions on screen and yet his male characters often miss the sub-contextual meaning beneath the films surface. When Allen himself is in front of the camera he is able to aptly connect with the female characters and use them as a means to a larger ends. In the same way that he deploys his Jewishness, his comedic shield and his neurosis - so too then does he use his female actresses as supporting pieces in a larger construct of his overall philosophy. Sexuality and the desire for another romantically, physically and emotionally are a source of defining the self with actuality and purpose for Allen.49 While sexuality is often used humorously, it is more importantly used to suggest the philosophical implications of his quest for knowledge. Maintaining relationships become a highly complex issue for the Allen persona who more often than not fails to find happiness, purpose or meaning within said relationship. However, the seeking of the other in the eventual hope of finding a connection gives purpose to ones life and therefore fills the void left by the absence of God. Sex in itself also acts as a means to a larger philosophical ends. Allen uses sex and erotic experience to grasp for a defining feature within another - hoping that sexual experiences fulfill an emptiness connecting two beings sharing the human experience.


Tartaglia, John. Woody Allen & Women Film FanFare. ASLE: 2009, staff-notes/the-women-in-woody-allens-films/

Wartenberg, Thomas. The Philosophy of Film. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. pg. 108


Sex acts as the end goal for desire and a meaningful relationship acts as the end goal for substantial sexual experiences. Thus, a relationship is able to connect one being to another in the emptiness of existence while allowing desire to fulfilled and meaning to be found. Allens pessimistic view of existence is therefore negated in the culmination of a meaningful sexual and relationship connection. The bleak and alienated essence of life is shattered and meaning is found as Allens persona recognizes the importance of embracing the other. Sex allows the singular being to become whole with the other and experience beauty unlike any other in sharing the emotion of the human condition. Where Allen differs from other directors is his presence throughout every stage of each film. Written with a specific statement in mind and created with a singular vision, Allen uses his female characters to juxtapose the notions of philosophic worry that plague his thoughts.50 Allowing his inner most self to grasp for meaning and purpose through sexuality and the desire for the female figure, Allen gives an escape from the misery, truth in a mess of falsehood and comforts himself by his persona achieving happiness with another. An honest and accurate approach to developing his female characters, Allen places the actresses in to situations along side of his persona with the overall goal for the seeking and hopeful obtaining of meaning. Allens women excel from the depths of his writing and obsessive attention to detail in character formation as well as they serve a

Petsche, Johanna. Religion, God and the Meaninglessness of it all in Woody Allens Thoughts and Films. San Diego:University of San Diego Press, 2005. pg. 133


crucial role in often tragic seeking of meaning in the other. Therefore, Allens philosophic statement is furthered through his use of sexuality and the female character to illustrate that while life may be devoid of meaning in many regards, finding a purposeful existence in the other offers solace.


VI.) Existence & Meaning

Allens films act in a philosophic manner in so much as they attempt to answer the philosophical questions put forth by Allen the writer through the characters with in the story lines. Even in his earliest films, the light hearted slap stick comedies still had elements of philosophic notions lingering throughout - but the presence developed in to a larger framework which would become nearly obsessive in his middle and later period films. As Allen moved away from the small scale, low budget and simple concept films in to larger and more personally driven projects like Annie Hall and Manhattan, philosophical questions began to litter the dialogues and the scenarios themselves presented philosophic choices. It was during this time that Allen began an immersive self education process in his personal life, falling deeply in to the great thinkers and philosophy writers throughout history. His excitement and over Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Soren Kierkegaard was so overwhelming that Allen began to apply the existential ideologies throughout his writings which transferred in to his films. Finding existentialism acted as a response to the questions he had been tirelessly seeking. Writer Kimball King, in a study of Allens work under a precise philosophic microscope writes; In his serious films as in his earlier comedic work, Allen demonstrates an understanding of the history of Western philosophy which is quite extraordinary for a man whose formal education ended at the age of nineteen when he was ejected from New York University. His early parodies of traditional philosophical


concerns (as in his essays My Philosophy and Mr. Big from his 1977 book, (Getting Even) show that, even then, Allen had read and thought about philosophy. In the first five films he directed, ending with Love and Death, Allen continued to comedically explore such concerns, including, in the last film, parodies of both Tolstoys musings in War and Peace and Ingmar Bergmans obsessions with human mortality in The Seventh Seal. Starting with Annie Hall (1977) Allens first really serious film, elements of his own philosophy appear in ways that are no longer primarily comedic. Structured in the form of a long therapy session, this film begins and ends with Allens persona, Alvy Singer, telling us jokes which are more serious than funny. In this film Allen perfects his technique of using humor to genuinely explore philosophical issues, as opposed to his earlier practice of exploiting traditional philosophical arguments in order to be humorous. Allens distinctive wit is the thread running through all the characters he has played. Allens humor imposes an existential running commentary on all the events in his films, a commentary which proclaims his unique identity and his rebellion against the traditional behavior of others. Whether tearing up his drivers license as he explains to a policeman that he has always had a problem with authority (Annie Hall) or portraying his employer, a successful television producer, as a clone of Mussolini (Crimes and Misdemeanors), Allen uses humor to distance himself from others and proclaim his ultimate autonomy. Yet Allen never suggests that humor can fulfill his characters goals or even uncover the truth. Alvy Singer can only get Annie to return to New York in his fictional play, not in the reality of the film. Alvys obsession with his own mortality, his condemnation of the lax moral values of Los Angeles, and his attempt to create meaning for his life through his destructive relationship with Annie, are all vital elements of the philosophical themes which will haunt Allens work throughout the rest of his career. It is also in this film that Allen first makes reference to a specific text, in this case Ernest Beckers The Denial of Death, as a source for his concerns. Beckers book, a serious study of philosophical and psychological issues from the perspective of such thinkers as Sren Kierkegaard and Otto Rank, sets the parameters of the treatise on mortality which Allen presents in his film.51


King, Kimball. Woody Allen: A Casebook. London: Routledge Publishing, 2001. pg. 43 - 44


These assertions support the claim that Allens immersion in to philosophic study, prompted a tonal shift in his over all work. With Annie Hall as the beginning of the new tradition, Allen shifts from simply mocking philosophy or masking jokes with in a philosophic framework and instead begins delivering serious messages littered with joking sentiments. Devouring the works of classic philosophy, Allen found himself swimming in new possibilities and questions - and thus he used his newer works to portray the emotional stirrings caused by the questionings. Philosopher Daniel Barnes, writing on the influence and affects of philosophy on Allens films, states; Allen once summed up the dilemma faced by all the characters in his films: Youre born and you dont know the script, you suffer tragedy and catastrophe, and then you are wiped out for no offense that you have committed. This is all too reminiscent of Sartres claim that every existent is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness and dies by chance. Allens characters stare into the face of the abyss brooding, vast, threatening and ultimately pointless but they get by, just like we all get by. The trick, these films teach us, is not to expect too much, try a bit harder to be good and to laugh off the worst of it.52 Connecting the theories of Sartre and Kierkegaard, Barnes puts forth the idea that Allens work was not only influenced but also structured by the readings he grew infatuated with. Shaping his dialogue and situational settings, Allen began to place his characters in moral and philosophical scenarios in which choices had to be made in order for an outcome of any resolve. The character began to lack control and struggle against the difficulty in grappling with reality as meaningless. This Sartrean notion of existence as purposeless


Barnes, Daniel. Allens Existentialism WordPress Publishing, ASLE: 2011 http:// existentialism/


haunted Allen and therefore the films presented an opportunity to voice the concerns and place fictional characters in to the situation hoping for a resolve. Barnes continues; Beneath the comedy, there are serious themes running through Allens films: he constantly confronts dissatisfaction and angst, toys with the notion of selfdeception, celebrates the joys and frailties of human freedom, and relentlessly insists that, although we seem to laugh, we actually live in the midst of catastrophe. This makes him one of modern cultures foremost existentialists.53 thus reaffirming that Allens philosophic tone, both in its originality and influential natures, if highly existential. Life for Allen became a series of questions, questions which he sought as a philosopher attempting to find meaning in a vast sea of meaninglessness as proposed by his philosophic teachers. During this initial period of philosophy immersion, Allens obsessions with death, existence and meaning all culminated in the readings of Jean Paul Sartre and Immanuel Kant. Obviously very different philosophic perspective, the two philosophers laid the groundwork for Allen to begin seeking answers to his own questions as well as those put forth by Sartre and Kant. While Sartre stimulated Allens notions of existence and purpose, Kant filled the void Allen had been seeking in terms of morality and universal ethics. The combination of these two theoretical propositions combined within Allen to form an existential moralistic perspective. By existential moralistic, I propose that as Allen fused the philosophies of both thinkers together in to a unison set of ideas that he explored through his following films.
Barnes, Daniel. Allens Existentialism WordPress Publishing, ASLE: 2011 http:// existentialism/


Recalling his readings in existentialism, Allen both enjoyed and panicked over the theories reaching desperately for a stake in ethical and moral action in reality from Kant. Hoping to find solace, Allen became enamored in the moralistic visions of behavior and the actions of human beings with Kants teachings. These ethical visions of moral duty and obligation resonated with Allen and his film Crimes and Misdemeanors presented his difficulty coping with the outcomes.54 Alan Aldas character voices the frustration Allen felt over the resulting belief that the universe is amoral, human action self serving and morally neutral. As the scenario unfolds within the film, Alda is presented with a choice over whether or not to have a past mistress killed before she interferes with the affairs of his marriage and family. Initially racked by guilt and the fear of being caught, Alda is unable to make the decision. Ultimately opting to have her murdered, Alda falls in to a state of brief panic before soon finding peace and assuredness as the murder is blamed on a previous criminal. Allen thus confronts the audience with two moralistic and equally existential questions; does the universe have a moral stance and do human beings act according to a universal moral compass?55 In response to these questions Allen offers little optimism. The bleak ending of the film suggests that the universe is amoral and human beings act according to a self serving end interested and focused on their own well being above all else. Allens films


Crimes and Misdemeanors. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Bill Bernstein. Jack Rollins Productions. 1989

Martin Landau,

Crimes and Misdemeanors.


constantly explore the depths of human freedom as a source of conflict and joy which is summoned from Sartre. Sartre, thinks that all human relationships are characterized by conflict, conflict over the assertion of our freedom within our own lives over others.56 Aldas character exemplifies this assertion of human freedom over others and his amoral behavioral compass furthers the suggestion of a morally neutral existence. What follows from the Sartrean assertion of freedom is Allens questioning over the nature of individual responsibility. Deconstructing Harry is a case in point: this man is plagued by his past, so much so that he has ended up a wreck in the present, but not because things happened to him, but because he made certain choices. He is consumed by regret and insecurity precisely because he cannot try as he might blame anyone else for his predicament. In Annie Hall, we get a man grappling with the responsibilities of love and constantly descending into the impression that he cannot do anything about the situation.57 When these characters are unable to shove off personal accountability on another they grapple with the realization that their actions have little affect on anything outside of themselves. This awakening poses the question of the purpose of an existence in which human action is not only not governed by an outside force, such as God, but also that the actions have little affects on anything outside the self. As these deep and dark questions plague Allen, unable to find answers through his own means of through his characters search - he retreats once again back to the familiarity of his previous comfort in comedy. In a short story in Allens book Without

56 57

Barnes. 1 Barnes. 2


Feathers, a party guest engages in a conversation with his uncle; "Could it not be simply that we are alone and aimless, doomed to wander in an indifferent universe, with no hope of salvation, nor any prospect except misery, death, and the empty reality of eternal nothing? The uncle replies, You wonder why you're not invited to more parties."58 Using comedy as a crutch when the reality over the difficult nature of his questions is unanswerable, Allen resorts to his usual measures for assurance. Comedic relief becomes a shield from which Allen is able to duck behind when the unanswerable questions of the universe become too overwhelming. With Allen easing out of his simplistic comedies in to more dramatically emotional films, the questions posed with in them thus became more philosophical as well. Interiors fell flat as Allen refused to candy coat his philosophic message with humor and Manhattan was a return to form that audiences enjoyed. Stomaching Allens philosophy for audiences meant that it must be layered underneath appealing humor - and so he returned to the comedic devices. The above joke from Without Feathers reiterates the idea that as truth and philosophic discourse become too visceral that humor must be deployed for a sense of relief in the face of the unanswerable. Finding philosophy was both a welcomed joy and a panicked retreat for the previously under educated Allen. I would have liked to have been taught how to read, write and add and been left alone. I regret all the time I spent in school. It was a blessing to be thrown out of college. I read on my own time and made my education a must when I needed it to be a priority. I read Kafka a lot, and Camus, Sartre and Kierkegaard - anyone whos
58 Allen,

Woody. The Complete Prose of Woody Allen. London: Picador Publishing, 17


got a basically hard line drawn. The more you learn about life the more you feel able to challenge what I consider romantic existentialist philosophers. Kafka and Sartre are the best reads though still - they always get to me. Totally and devastatingly.59 Identifying early on with existentialism and progressing on to harder more concrete moral and behavioral philosophies, Allen sought the metaphysical answers put forth from with in himself as well as the writers he engaged with. Tirelessly consuming philosophic writings, Allen transitioned the tone of his films to present the messages which puzzled and challenged his previously held concepts. It was during this self education stage of his life that his philosophic voice took on a new seriousness as his films presented an artistic approach to answering complex philosophic questions. After Annie Hall, Allens films adopted a new tonality when approaching character and scenario situations. The earlier use of comedy as relief lessened as Allen constructed stories around more serious relationship struggles and the characters search for purpose. Normal life and routine activities became viewed as distractions as Franz Kakfa enlightened Allen in the realm of alienation, suffering and misery without the other.60 The subsequent duration of his career would be marked with philosophic pessimism over the impossibility of answering the plaguing questions.

59 60

Kapsis. 104

Weimann, Frank. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Woody Allen. New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1993.


In his 2006 film Scoop, Allens persona states; I dont see the glass half empty. I see it half full...of poison.61 Voicing his growing level of paranoia, anxiety and extreme pessimism. Later in the film the persona states; Life isnt completely sinister...only most of it.62 pointing out the impossibility of perfection or complete recognition of truth yet highlighted with a glimmer of hope. Both humorous and utterly serious, Allen approached philosophic notions the same way he approached all of his endeavors, equally serious and humorously. Philosophy offered Allen a stimulating challenge to find meaning and understanding in a barren landscape he so terribly sought to fill out. Through a partially autobiographical account of his philosophical immersion and heavily accentuated with humor, Allen recalls his philosophic beginnings; The development of my philosophy came about as follows: My wife, inviting me to sample her very first souffl, accidentally dropped a spoonful of it on my foot, fracturing several small bones. Doctors were called in, X-Rays taken and examined, and I was ordered to bed for a month. During this convalescence, I turned to the works of some of Western society's most formidable thinkers -- a stack of books I had laid aside for such an eventuality. Scorning chronological order, I began with Kierkegaard and Sartre, then moved quickly to Spinoza, Hume, Kafka, and Camus. I was not bored, as I had feared I might be; rather, I found myself fascinated by the alacrity with which these great minds unflinchingly attacked morality, art, ethics, life and death. I remember my reaction to a typically luminous observation of Kierkegaard's: "Such a relation which relates itself to its own self (that is to say, a self) must either have constituted itself or have been constituted by another." The concept brought tears to my eyes. My word, I thought, how clever! (I'm a man who has trouble writing two meaningful sentences on "My Day at the Zoo.") True, the passage was totally incomprehensible to me, but what of it as long as Kierkegaard was having fun? Suddenly confident that metaphysics was the work I had always


Scoop. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Jim Dunk, Robert Bathurst, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson. BBC Films in association with Ingenious Films & Phoenix Wiley. 2006.



been meant to do, I took up my pen and began at once to jot down the first of my own musings.63 Littered with reality and filled out with his typical sense of humorous prose, Allen dove in to a study of historical philosophy only to emerge a philosophic thinker himself. With a bleak vision of existence and unanswerable questions swirling throughout his mind, he took solace in his comforting companion of humor.

63 Allen.

98 - 99


VII.) God & Ethics

In a classic scene from Hanna & Her Sisters, Allens character returns home to visit with his parents having converted from Judaism to Catholicism. As his mother locks herself away in a nearby bedroom his father laments the sudden shift in his sons religious values struggling to understand why Jesus Christ is more appealing than his own heritage. Without God I feel that my life has no purpose64 argues Allen as his father bickers back at him. This inability to believe causes Allen to seek meaning in religion outside of his own. Highly reminiscent of his own personal feelings, Allen asserts the philosophical question over the existence of God and meaning of life in a universe perhaps devoid of any such figure. As Allen approaches the bedroom door which his mother has locked herself away in, she screams and sobs questioning his inability to believe. Of course theres a God you idiot!65 she shrieks as Allen frantically searches for his response. If theres a God, simplify it, why were there Nazis?66 Allen replies. This philosophical search for a God willing to allow injustice, violence and the sheer terror of life becomes a resonant position throughout all of Allens work as his philosophical voice grows more distinct.


Hannah & Her Sisters. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, Woody Allen. Orion Pictures & Jack Rollins Productions. 1986.
65 66

Hannah & Her Sisters Hannah & Her Sisters


Here we see Allen, through the means of his persona, unable to believe in God because of a lack in evidence. An immersion in to religious belief requires a leap of faith that Allen is unable and unwilling to take because the rational behind the concept of God in the universe escapes him. More comfortable with rational thought and reasoning as a means of deducing truth, religion poses a terrifying possibility that in order to have faith one must neglect rationale - this is impossible for Allen to accept. To me, there is no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any organized religion. Theyre all equally valid or invalid.67 Allen thus answers his own question that faith in any thing outside of reason is merely delusion. A delusion on the basis of human necessity to find meaning where they may perhaps be none at all. Yet behind this hardened view of organized religion and faith based belief, Allen still relies heavily on ethical, moral and righteousness as a driving factor for his characters. It is precisely his inability to cope with the idea that the universe may in fact be godless that drives him rely heavily on the human rationality to act according to a moral code. Kant was right. The mind imposes order. It also tells you how much to tip.68 Both poking fun and honestly agreeing with Kant, Allen proposes a reliance on ethics and morality to be the guiding force in a morally neutral, godless and haphazard existence.


Hirschfield, Brad. Woody Allen on Faith ASLE:2010 brad_hirschfield/2010/0any_difference_between_religio.html

68 Allen.



His own religious beliefs have been a source of struggle for many years; I wish I could get with it. It would be a big help on those dark nights.69 and yet he is unable to take the necessary leap in order to find such peace. This life long search for answers over the philosophical questions he asks in his own life as well as his characters present a system in which Allen needs to find meaning for himself in order to be happy. The obsession of mortality and purpose plague his thoughts and God offers a chance of happiness and meaning that would put to rest his continual questioning. Yet when he is unable to logically deduct God from his series of thoughts and experiences he once again falls in to the notion that life becomes purposeless with out a God. The consistencies in Allens questions have underlined his theory constantly throughout his career. Each new film presents a set of characters looking to define themselves with in a relationship, with in the search for God or with in the creation of art. When meaning becomes unattainable, Allen retreats to both humor and pessimism regarding the state of being as a pointless and guided merely by ethical decision making with in each individual. This consistency can be seen early on in his 1975 film Love and Death as the search for God is woven throughout the story ultimately resulting in the inability to find such a being. Love and Death implies He doesnt exist, or, if He does exist, He really cant be trusted.70 states Allen, illustrating further his inability not only to find God but also to define meaning.


Itzkoff, David. Woody Allen on Faith and Fortune Tellers ASLE:2010 2010/09/15/movies/15woody.html.
70 Allen,

Woody. A Grim Outlook...or Something. Esquire Magazine 101 (August 1979):



I believe the formation of Allens theological views stem from his early upbringing with in the Jewish community he reveled against. From an early age Allen never found religious services or Jewish traditions to be worthwhile and battled his mother over her insistence. Viewing religion as a delusion, Allen developed a series of philosophical questions hoping to find answers as he entered in to early adulthood. In doing so, his films acted as responses to his discoveries or lack-thereof in regards to God. The people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who cant. Ive experienced that thing where you wake up in the middle of the night and you start to think about your own mortality and envision it.71 The growing fear develops out of his inability to answer his own philosophical questions and therefore his response is terror and utter despair over the eventual outcome of his meaningless life. While God may not exist, moral action is still required and necessary for rational beings and therefore Allen presents characters in moral dilemmas struggling to make decisions in a universe without a God. At the core of Allens existential dilemma in which his intellectual tendency towards atheism conflicts with his emotional need for meaning, objective moral value and justice, all of which he strongly associates with the existence of God.72 In an existence without a God, human beings must therefore seek to define themselves through other means. Philosophically the other means for Allen become relationships as seen in the previous chapter on sexuality and femininity. A

71 72

Itzkoff. Thoughts and

Petsche, Johanna. Religion, God and the Meaninglessness of it all in Woody Allens Films. San Diego:University of San Diego Press, 2005. pg. 49


connection with another human being and the shared presence of another in the human experience defines the self. Aside from relationships, Allen also reaches to art to provide meaning as a source of creation and expression of the self which another can then take in. Art acts in a similar way that a direct relationship does in so much that it allows the self to connect with the other in state of emotional transference. Lastly, Allen presents a world in which morality and reason are the means to a purposeful existence through truth and righteousness. However, he becomes very skeptical over the ability of human beings to be rational and moral beings. In Crimes and Misdemeanors Allen presents a scenario in which ethical and moral choices affect the overall outcome of the film. As Alan Alda eventually agrees to have his mistress killed, he becomes slowly racked by guilt and believes he will never be able to escape the paralyzing fear it has brought upon him. However, Alda soon comes to find peace and comfort as he moves on with his life and the murder is no longer present with in his mind. His work and family prosper from his reinvigorated confidence and Alda himself enjoys his life more than ever before. It is precisely this lack of moral overseer or judge with in the universe demonstrates Allens frustration over his own philosophical answers. I just wanted to illustrate, in an entertaining way, that there is no God.73 Similar to his statement in Hannah & Her Sisters regarding the existence of Nazis in a universe driven forth with a supposed God like figure, Allen uses Crimes and


Schickel, Richard. Woody Allen: A Life in Film. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publishing, 2003. pg. 149


Misdemeanors to present a world in which personal accountability is the only moral compass. Woody Allen presents his persona as founded in reason, rationality and academia unable to take the necessary leap of faith to find God or the ability to immerse the self in trust and confidence in the other. Taking a larger look over the broader view of his body of work as a whole, his philosophical message becomes more and more clear as he continues to produce films. Religious figures for example, those who are closest to God in their daily lives, are never represented favorably. As Rabbi Ben goes blind in Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen symbolically makes the comparison between faith and blindness. The Rabbi not only misses the terrible injustice playing out within his own community but also becomes literally blind during the events. Morality slips past the aging Rabbi and Allen therefore uses Alda to illustrate the sheer injustice of the entire universe as entirely amoral. Rabbi Ben is not only blinded physically but ethically he is blind to his belief that wrongs in life will righted by an almighty power. Without the law its all darkness74 says Rabbi Ben, reiterating Allens point that God is the supposed law of the universe and without his existence the reality of purpose is meaninglessness. Its a fundamental difference in the way we view the world. You see it as harsh and empty of values and pitiless. And I couldnt go on living if I didnt feel it with all my heart a moral structure, with real meaning, and forgiveness and a higher power, otherwise


Crimes and Misdemeanors. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Bill Bernstein. Jack Rollins Productions. 1989


theres no basis to live.75 continues the blinded Rabbi. Here Allen uses the blindness to represent the fact that Rabbi Ben has become entirely reliant on his deluded myth to the point of becoming physically incapable of seeing the injustice of the world around him. For Allen there is no moral code precisely because there is no God overseeing any thing because he does not exist. Allen presents a world in which the best a human being can hope for is that their individual moral compass will guide them justly towards right action but that in the end the reliance is highly individualistic and trust upon others often fails. Rabbi Ben plays a significant and defining role in the development of Allens philosophical findings that morality and justice are dependent upon the individual and that a belief in an overseeing power is merely a blind delusion.


Crimes and Misdemeanors.


IIX.) Conclusion

Through my research I came to the discovery that Woody Allen is a philosopher in that he presents a series of metaphysical and epistemological questions regarding the meaning of life, the existence of God and the moral structure of the universe. As a filmmaker, Allen uses his work to provide the audience with a clear vision of a world in which characters seek answers to such questions and experience situations in which choices must be made with or against morality. Allen is a thought provoking artist who pushes the boundaries of classical philosophy by applying traditional theories to modern settings within the context of his films. Seeking the status of a philosophical artist such as Ingmar Bergman, Allen not only reached international success as a filmmaker but for me is a highly profound philosophic thinker. Early on in my study I came to believe that Allen was in fact a philosopher but that by using film as his medium much of his message must therefore have been lost during the production process. However, my further investigation revealed that Allens work as a highly controlling auteur allows him to present the exact message he is hoping to. Controlling the creative process entirely from writing to editing, Allen delivers a meaningful and very intimate vision that the audience experiences. Being such an intensely controlling and director, Allen therefore uses his films as extensions of his thoughts and as a way in which to have a conversation with his own attempts to answer his philosophical qualms.


Overall Allen brings forth a very philosophical message with each film. Highlighted by obsessions with existence and meaning, Allen immerses the audience in an active exercise of existential thought and the grappling with of morality. This vision and voice is continual, building off previous works and in conversations with other philosophical pieces to culminate in a highly innovative means of philosophical discourse. Concluding that philosophy is a series of questions the philosopher puts forth in the attempt to find truth where previously there had been falsehood, Allen reaches time and again for resolve usually unable to find optimism. As a modern philosopher I found that Allen is ultimately delivering the message that while life may in fact be pointless, harshly guided by self motivated individuals and full of suffering that underneath there are moments of glimmering optimism and beauty. Relationships, art, sex and the intimate connection with another human being allows purpose and life to be given to the otherwise seemingly purposeless being. As if an author building off of previous works, Allen constructs his philosophical point of view around his own evolving experiences and interactions. The distinct voice and inventiveness of the combining terror and humor, fear and relief and pointlessness yet beauty stems from the most sincere depths of his very being. Prying over the life and work of Woody Allen I came to the conclusion that Allens humor as well as his general outlook on life were shaped by his past experiences and the building upon them as he has aged. His films parallel his personal life and through these tumultuous experiences his later films have often dealt with heavier


material than the early years of his young adulthood. Allen is a philosopher because he refuses to accept the systems he deems false; the systematic belief of life as purposeful, the organized religions of the world infringing their social and moral codes based on a God, and the systems of oppression. Allen is a philosopher who seeks to break free from the social constraints and the religious ideological tensions of the world to find a state of enlightenment and purpose. His life is the continuing process of seeking answers through the gaining of knowledge and wisdom through experience, the creation of art and learning. In the end, I believe that Woody Allen is more than merely a filmmaker, more than an artist and tremendous attribute for the world of film; I believe Woody Allen is the human spirit exercising its possibilities through the exercise of philosophy. Now an old man, aging in to his eighties, Allen has long since been the youthful man he was in his early career but the questioning has never ceased. The old age and the experiences have only shaped him in to a more focused, well rounded and determined philosopher set on uncovering all the truth possible before reaching his death. Allen said I dont fear death, I just dont want to be there when it happens76 and I believe him through and through. His fear of death has been over come by his search for knowledge and the purpose within the life he has been given during his short existence. Woody Allen is a source of great inspiration and breath of brilliant fresh air for philosophy and modern thinkers. Combining the most consumable art form of modern

76 Allen,



culture with notions and concepts far above the standard production of typical entertainment, Allen gives audiences a chance to push themselves outside of their ease of comfort, beyond their modes of relaxation and in to a state of great thought and wonderment. I look upon Woody Allen as a philosopher using film to reach his audience in ways that few others have before him and hopefully many others will continue to do long after he is gone. Woody Allen may present a world of bleak possibility, full of short existence and pointlessness but with Woody Allen continuing to ask and ponder the deepest questions of human existence, there are glimmers of optimism.



Allen, Woody. The Complete Prose of Woody Allen. London: Picador Publishing, 1977. Allen, Woody. A Grim Outlook...or Something. Esquire Magazine 101 (August 1979): 101-102 Annie Hall. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Diane Keaton. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1977 Bailey, Peter. The Reluctant Film Art of Woody Allen. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972 Barnes, Daniel. Allens Existentialism WordPress Publishing, ASLE: 2011 Baxter, John. Woody Allen. Cambridge: De Capo Press: 1999 Blake, Richard. Street Smart: The New York of Lumet, Allen, Scorsese and Lee The Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2005 Contributing Blog Writers. Woodys Girls PopMatters, ASLE: 2009 http:// Conrad, Mark. Woody Allen & Philosophy: You Mean My Whole Fallacy Is Wrong?. Chicago: Open Court Press, 2004. Crimes and Misdemeanors. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Bill Bernstein. Jack Rollins Productions. 1989 Dart, John. Woody Allen, Theologian Christian Century Magazine, no.4 (June 1977) Gorov, Lynda. Whats Up With Woodys Women? ASLE: 2008, http:// Hannah & Her Sisters. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, Michael Caine, Woody Allen. Orion Pictures & Jack Rollins Productions. 1986.


Hirsch, Foster. Love, Sex Death and The Meaning of Life: The Films of Woody Allen. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2001. Hirschfield, Brad. Woody Allen on Faith ASLE:2010 2010/0any_difference_between_religio.html Hopp, Glenn. Woody Allen. New York: Taschen, 2009. Itzkoff, David. Woody Allen on Faith and Fortune Tellers ASLE:2010 Jenkins, Tony. The Difference Between A Star and A Legend. Atlanta: Times, 2003. Jewish Media Fund. American Jewish Directors: Three Visions of the American Jewish Experience. ASLE: 2001, course_notes/ajd_web/AJD_Intro.pdf. Kapsis, Robert. Woody Allen: Interviews. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006. King, Kimball. Woody Allen: A Casebook. London: Routledge Publishing, 2001. Lax, Eric. Conversations with Woody Allen. New York: Knopf Publishing, 2007. Lax, Eric. Woody Allen: A Biography. Cambridge: De Capo Press, 2000. Manhattan. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Mariel Hemingway, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Meryl Streep. Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions, 1979. Nichols, Mary. Reconstructing Woody: Art, Love and Life in the Films of Woody Allen. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. Pecorino, Philip. Philosophy As Defined. Boston: Suffolk University Press, 2000. Petsche, Johanna. Religion, God and the Meaninglessness of it all in Woody Allens Thoughts and Films. San Diego:University of San Diego Press, 2005.


Rand, Ayn Philosophy: Who Needs It? The West Point Commencement;West Point, New York March 6, 1974 Schickel, Richard. Woody Allen: A Life in Film. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publishing, 2003. Scoop. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Dir. by Woody Allen. Perf. Jim Dunk, Robert Bathurst, Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson. BBC Films in association with Ingenious Films & Phoenix Wiley. 2006. Stardust Memories. Screenplay by Woody Allen. Directed by Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen, Charolotte Rampling, Jessica Harper. Rollins - Joffe Productions. 1980. Tartaglia, John. Woody Allen & Women Film FanFare. ASLE: 2009, http:// Wartenberg, Thomas. The Philosophy of Film. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. Weimann, Frank. Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Woody Allen. New York: Shapolsky Publishers, 1993.