Misdemeanors in 1989, Crimes in 2006

June 1st, 2008 § 0 comments

After a long, unbroken string of depressing foreign films, Army of Shadows, The Battle of Algiers, l’Enfant, we bumped Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors to the top of the queue—hoping for comic relief. I like Allen, and I suppose predictably I am more drawn to his older films, perhaps because they are both better and dated. A quote from my current read stated, “the surrealists were attracted to everything that was out of date”, and I plead guilty to that myself. The general expectation of a Woody Allen film is that it will be funny and quirky, I often notice that I laugh at situations that, when taken out of context, are not quite as funny. For example, his deadpan delivery of, “a strange man defecated on my sister.” Crimes and Misdemeanors is a dark drama disguised as a new york comedy. The plot unfolds stories of a wide range of characters forced to choose between happiness and success, family comfort or an unpredictable mistress. What I found most interesting about the film is how much it seemed to be the precursor to Match Point. They are strikingly similar in plot and general outcome, they both involve murder and a murder for the same reason. Seeing them in the opposite order, I was struck by how different they are in meaning. In seventeen years what changes in society, in people, in morals (to be unavoidably ambiguous)?

The outlook in both films is dark, but 2006 seems darker than 1989. In the 1989 version of human weakness leading to lust, lies, and murder, the characters seem to feel remorse. The doctor is haunted by the memory of his dead mistress even while he takes items out of her apartment while she lies leaking blood on the floor. Happiness is hard to find, someone to kill your lover is not as hard to come by. All of the characters, however, waver for a moment between potentially fulfilling decisions, and those more compromising. Allen’s love interest remains his for a while, but ultimately leaves him for a successful movie director. As for the doctors murder, he got away with it legally without question, but could he manage to overcome it morally? In Crimes and Misdemeanors it is acceptable to kill ones lover for convince, but one ought to feel guilt. This crime lead him back in to his rocky past, and forward into his comfortable and now secure future. I like the suggestion in the title of crime, acts that break the laws of society, and the misdemeanors of foolish decisions and betrayals, of passionless marriages lacking comparability. Allen makes an obvious point of criticizing our tendency to favor fluff over substance, in film as in life.

Fast forwarding to 2006, Match Point takes this same story and turns it into a game. There is no longer the pressure of legal or moral justice placed upon Allen’s characters, this time it is about luck—some people have it, some don’t. The rich and privileged seem to always have just a little more “luck” than the rest of us. The characters are younger, less worried, and instead of being worn out in life, marriage, and carer, they are the fresh players. Most anything in this world can be bought; a husband, a lifestyle, happiness, security. The characters have a kind of Fitzgerald-like nonchalance toward those they interact with and use (Johansson’s character coming to mind). Again there seems to be the suggestion of misdemeanors, the choice between lust (or optimistically love) and a lifestyle neither lust nor love is likely to grant. The killer this time is not some unknown, but the lover himself. He is not haunted by his crime, but by the possibility that he might not have the good fortune to get away with it. He adjusts faster than the aged doctor, and the moral struggle of his 1989 counterpart seems overly dramatic in this world of commodity. Raising his fresh squeezed orange juice in the morning, while reading the headline of his crime, seems more like a toast than regret.

There is a disappointed feeling at the end of Crimes and Misdemeanors, characters that could have done differently didn’t, even when they came so close. The dead ends of their decisions echo Austen’s “it could have all turned out differently, I suppose, but it didn’t.” While the film itself was a deeper exploration than Match Point into the idea of what a person can do, for what, under what circumstances, and to what emotional outcome, it required less of me as a viewer. I watched their quandaries without feeling either excited or angry. Match Point, on the other hand, seemed to twist me into a variety of emotions and expectations, I could see the end coming yet was still unsure of the outcome. I wanted our tennis pro to get away with his crime, but I wanted him to get caught. Then again, what would be the point of getting caught, when the crime was already done? If there is no justice, why should they catch him? It is disturbing to notice the differences between the two films, I think they are dependent on the 17 year separation, and reflective of the changes occurring between. One reflects a society I seem to know better, and the other suggests the evolution of how it came to be.

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