Contempt from The Maestro
Somewhere in the shuffle of things, I totally missed seeing this film. Woody Allen’s move across the Atlantic has resulted in some interesting films but this one might actually take the cake for being decidedly unlike his other films. This film is brimming with a kind of rude contempt for people and their aspirations. Woody Allen has made a lot of films but this one one might stand out as the one film where he decided to be merciless with hi audience.
The usual spoiler warnings.
What’s Good About It
You have to hand it to Woody Allen; this film is devoid of the usual banter. Absent of his comic neurotic motor mouth and instead featuring some solid performances from great actors, this film gracefully works its drama unlike his earlier attempts at more serious drama. The wise ass voice over then becomes deeply ironic in just the right way to couch the deeply disturbing discourse on faith. It’s like Ingmar Bergman turned inside out. It’s a little like he painted a parody of the Scream by Edvard Munch, but the visceral evocation of the scream is as strong as the original.
This films features solid performances from the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts and Josh Brolin. the situation they find themselves in is quite dire, and utterly of our times. Watching the un-ease with which these characters writhe in their discomfort with life is pretty much a Bergman film, except it’s shot through with Woody Allen’s deep misanthropic contempt. Nobody gets a fair go from the director.
In fact, that s what makes this film so intriguing. Where most films (adn even many of Woody Allen’s own films) deliver the ‘wish fulfillment’ ending, this film makes sure that nobody gets what they truly deeply desire.
What’s Bad About It
I worry that Woody Allen is totally immersed in a world of couples splitting up. Of all the film makers in the world, I believe Woody Allen to have the best lines, the best understanding, the best insight on why people break up. The problem with this film is that the ground he is on is so familiar to him, he’s cutting important corners to get to the scenes he wants to show. It’s almost an abrogation of the duties a narrator must commit to, in order to present his narrative.
Instead, Woody Allen charges around to the scenes that have the most un-ease and discomfort when he could perhaps have dealt better to delineate the problems. That being said, it’s a minor quibble. When you make as many films as Woody Allen, you probably don’t want to do the pedestrian work of introducing characters and expositions in delicately couched ways. In this film, he just wants to cut right to the crux.
What’s Interesting About It
The Josh Brolin subplot is a little mean spirited, but perhaps offers the greatest peep into the dark soul of a writer. Woody Allen has made a few jab at the writing profession in his time, and it must seem like an easy sitter to bag out the not-so-successful writers, but this film provides us with one of the more morbid narratives which drips with contempt. Quite simply, Josh Brolin’s writer character cannot produce the work to the standard he desires, but when given the opportunity to steal the work of a fellow writer, he does not hesitate. The comeuppance that happens to him is entirely left to the imagination of the audience at the end, but it is undeniable that he will not survive any of it with his dignity or his friends or his new relationship. Woody Allen dresses this up in a kind of morality play frame work, but actually it seems to be Woody Allen’s great contempt for those who cannot create greatness even if they tried, that is front and centre of this subplot.
The mean-ness extends into the withering contempt the Anthony Hopkins character feels for his younger, ex-prostitute wife who may be carrying the child of her lover and not him. Here, class contempt as well as occupation contempt as well as a kind of nasty disregard for the weak and stupid gets a healthy dose of affirmation. If bleak is what Woody Allen wanted to portray, he’s somehow missed the mark and landed in a brutal terrain of class consciousness.
The most stark contempt might be the moment where Naomi Watts’ character screams at her mother, saying she needs the fucking money now. There’s not much dignity allowed for her character at the end. There’s just this sputtering fury and resentment but what you feel is Woody Allen’s scorn for a certain kind of entitlement.
All thee things paint an extraordinary picture of people who are lost in a fairly vicious maze devised by Woody Allen. It is as if he’s decided what he really wants to do is poke people in the eye with a metaphorical pencil. If you have a certain turn of mind, this is an incredibly funny film, but I imagine this would not go down very well with those who feel certain kinds of moral constraints.