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?




9 thoughts on “What to Make of Woody Allen, Hollywood, and Contemporary Culture?

  1. Mark says:

    defending the foul content reminds me of conversations with my children when they wanted to watch something inappropriate…

    Kid: But it’s not that bad.
    Me: But the are some bad parts right?
    Kid: I guess, but not much at all.
    Me: Then let me make you some cookies with some chocolate chips and some mouse droppings. On the mouse droppings I promise not to use “much at all”…

  2. Eric Johnson says:

    Woody Allen’s movies are not only very funny but also force us to look at our own morality or lack of morality. By choosing not to look at these things does keep us ignorant.

    1. wheaton4prez says:

      The idea that we need movies to force us to reflect on morality is also dubious.

  3. kkdordgirl11 says:

    “By their fruits you shall know them”. So applicable here.

  4. Mary says:

    Kelly, it’s not trying to be all three. It says: “One thought.”

  5. Kelly Greene says:

    This article irritates me….it is neither a news source, a movie review, nor a proper cultural exposé yet it tries to be all three. I’m no Woody Allen expert, and I haven’t seen many of his movies, but I found the point of Manhattan to be illustrating the emptiness of the sexual revolution. Regardless of the Allen’s motivations for including certain content in his films, Catholics need to be careful about dismissing films based solely on objectionable content: it makes them look ignorant.

    1. No, it doesn’t make us ignorant, just wise in choosing what will inform our consciences, which is an educated decision. Allowing that type of garbage masquerading as intertainment into our heads creates an influence we neither desire or will emulate, EVER. Please. How can any of the subject matter mentioned about these particular films edify the soul? Isn’t that the ultimate purpose of art? There is no beauty here.

    2. ofcoursenot says:

      Dear Kelly, Carson is a political scientist and published author , in his related field. The piece above falls right under that catagory. It’s not intended to be “breaking news story” or “movie review” of films that are in some cases more than 40 years ago, (Bananas was released in 1971). What the article above is more likely intended to be is a commentary on the subversive affect Hollywood has in America to the point that no one thought to question the material written and produced by certain individuals simply because it was hailed as “art”. Yet there is that line, historically handed out to authors, “write what you know.” And while none but those directly involved in the alleged sexual assult and overall inappropriate relationship Mr. Allen may or may not have had with anyone it should draw attention to the possibilty that the films he writing and producing were in fact more of a confession of character than art.

    3. Bad12 says:

      Is that your main concern, looking ignorant. Catholicism to the world looks like the bastion of ignorance. You need to reevaluate what is important and what is not.

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