crimes and misdemeanors

Sander lee:

"…Allen’s investigation of the moral decline of society had been limited to acts which, while clearly immoral, were rarely illegal. In Crimes and Misdemeanors…the main character, Judah Rosenthal, comes to ‘see’ that in a world devoid of divine presence, all acts are permissible, even murder.

"The apparent philosophical despair of this film, in which the most moral individual, Ben, is shown gradually going blind, has been taken by many to symbolize Allen’s ultimate sense of hopelessness. All of the supposedly virtuous characters are shown wearing glasses because of their inability to see the true nature of the world. As the film progresses, one character, Halley, is apparently able to discard her glasses only after she has also discarded her values by agreeing to marry an arrogant, pompous but successful TV producer Lester. Allen’s character, Cliff Stern, is punished for his commitment to his beliefs as we see him lose everything he cared for: his love, his work, and even his spiritual mentor, the philosophy professor Louis Levy who, like Primo Levi, survived the Holocaust but responds to the petty immoralities of eveytday life by killing himself.

“Most ominously, Judah, who bears the name of one of the greatest fighters for traditional Jewish values and heritage, betrays the faith of his father Sol by not only committing a murder, but also renouncing the consequenses of his guilt in a universe which he declares to be indifferent to our actions.”

Actually, Woody Allen blinked in this film by rationalizing the murder. In two ways:

1] He clearly portrays the murdered mistress, Dolores, as a neurotic demon from hell bent on destroying his marriage by exposing their relationship to Judah’s wife. He tries to escape the noose by talking her out of it first…but she won’t go along with him.

2] He clearly shows the moral agony Judah endured as he genuinely wrestled with the searing ambivalence of hiring someone to kill the woman.

Suppose, instead, the mistress was nothing like that at all? Suppose she was an enormously appealing woman? Suppose he wanted her dead for a far less weighty reason? He just got tired of her and had her killed so there was never any possibility at all of this wife finding out. And, in turn, suppose he reacted to her death as he might react to a mere inconvenience in his life? Suppose her death didn’t bother him at all?

In other words, it is still the same Godless universe in both scenarios…one where all human behaviors are essentially interchangable in the end. Now that is something most folks find particularly unnerving, right?

More Lee:

From the film Crimes and Misdemeaners:


'Our entire adult lives you and I have been having this same converstation in one form or another.


‘Yes, I know. It’s a fundamental difference in how we view the world. You see it as harsh and empty of vaules and pitiless, and I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t feel it with all my heart a moral structure, with real meaning, and forgivenesss, and some kind of higher power, otherwise there’s no basis to know how live!’

“When Ben says that they have moved from ‘a small infidelity to the meaning of existence’, he suggests an interpretation of both the film’s title and the interrelationship between its two plotlines. How one acts to deal with ‘a small infidelity’ determines one’s position on the very ‘meaning of existence’. The distance between such small misdemeanors and unforgivable crimes is much shorter than normally thought, once one has rejected all notions of values and responsibilty.”

This is the way the world actually functions, in my view. Once God is gone, all is permitted. But that does not mean we are not compelled to come up with our own moral compass. We are and most do. It suggests only that whichever one we do come up with is merely an existential reflection of how we choose to live. There is no Right or Wrong way. And it is, in my opinion, the visercal psychological repugnance that many feel trying to imagine a world like that [the world as it really is] that motivates psychological defense mechanisms to kick in in order to rescue us from an essentially absurd and meaningless world. God thus is simply the mother of all psychological defense mechanisms. We embrace God because, among other things, God stands for Divine Justice.

And for some who cannot believe in God, there is Reason. But there is no more or less ratioanl or logical manner in which to differentiate moral from immoral behavior in a Godless universe. How could there be when the vantage point of a mere mortal is inherently existential?