What to Make of Woody Allen, Hollywood, and Contemporary Culture?


Most of us will never in this life know the truth about the recent allegations of child sexual abuse leveled against Woody Allen by Dylan Farrow.  Only Allen and Farrow absolutely know what happened.  And people within the family, or people who were involved in the original investigation, might be able to have some moral certainty of the truth of the matter.  But the rest of us are getting our information from such a distance that we can’t know.

But, as Elizabeth Yore points out, Allen’s films are completely public and accessible to anybody.  And anybody can see from them that Allen’s cultural influence has been bad in some serious respects.  In Bananas the protagonist makes jokes about child molesting and incest.  In Manhattan the 42 year old protagonist is dating a 17 year old girl.  Elizabeth’s post reminded me of some lines I had read a long time ago in one of William F. Buckley’s columns.  (The column in question can be found in this book.)  I searched for them online, and it turned out they were from the estimable English Catholic writer Hillaire Belloc:


We sit by and watch the Barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence, his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond: and on these faces there is no smile.

Then there is the matter of two of Allen’s most powerful dramas: Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point.  In both films the protagonist is a sexual adventurer who resorts to murder in order to escape the consequences of his deeds.  In the more recent film, Match Point, the protagonist not only kills his partner in adultery, but also kills an innocent bystander in order to make the crime appear to be related to robbery.  And the girlfriend he kills is pregnant, so you could say he kills not one but three people in order to preserve for himself the comfortable and respectable life that he cherishes.  But the key point is this: in both films the protagonist gets away with infidelity and murder, without a guilty conscience.  In Match Point the main character seems untroubled at all by the moral character of his deeds (although he certainly is afraid of getting caught).  In Crimes and Misdemeanors the protagonist is at first distraught by the murder he has procured, but then he later explains to another character that while a murderer might suffer at first from a guilty conscience, it tends to trouble him less and less as time passes.

What does it say about a man that he would want to tell such stories?  What does it tell about an industry–Hollywood–that it would support such films?  What does it say about a culture that it would praise such movies for their artistry, with hardly anybody pointing out that they are morally irresponsible?


The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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