Thursday, January 17, 2008

Woody Allen and the Meaning of Life

I have a strange sort of appreciation for Woody Allen, though I can't say that I've ever seen a single one of his many films. My entire sympathy for Allen rests in the interviews and comments that I read about him from time to time. Some day, I may have a Woody Allen film fest to get to know him a little better.

Today I read another interview/excerpt about Woody Allen, and it did a good job of expressing his hopeless world view. Here is a quote for you to get the feel of his philosophy, "The fact that there is no god and that we're alone in the universe makes it more important than ever to act decently, but people don't, very frequently." Allen believes that there is no God at all, and yet he persistently and stubbornly insists that people ought to "act decently." The natural response to that is, "Why, Woody, should we act decently then?" It seems that it is precisely this sort of question that has driven his most recent films.

His latest film, "Cassandra's Dream," demonstrates Allen's struggle with this very question. He says, "I've always felt that the worst kind of crimes and sometimes not the worst crimes often go unpunished. Everyday, from genocide in the political spectrum to street crime, people do terrible things and get away with it." If there is no God, then Allen is precisely right, which again begs the question of why people ought to "act decently." Allen has no good answer for that.

Eventually, this sort of reasoning must lead one to ponder why to live at all, which is another thing that Allen ponders. What, exactly, is the point of life. Here's Allen again, "I feel the trick is to try and find, not meaning, because there is no meaning, but to try and find some enjoyment in that context and know that it's meaningless, short, nasty, brutal, and still, you know, find a modicum of enjoyment, get what you can get out of it, which is not a lot." Can you see the connection between believing that there is no God to the inevitable conclusion that there is no meaning to life? Once God is erased from the equation, one is left with a meaningless existence in which the best one can hope for is to scratch a "modicum of enjoyment" out of life.

This leads to the final Allen quote in the article. His philosophy of life eventually cause people to ask him the ultimate question. Here he answers in his own words, "People say, `Well, why go on at all?' Camus' question, why choose life? And the only answer I can ever give to that is we seem to be hard-wired to. The brain asks the questions, but the blood says live. So if a guy comes in here with a gun, you do everything you can to get it away from him. You do whatever you can to live. You bargain, you lie, you jump on top of him.

"You're hard-wired for self-preservation, but when you think about it cerebrally, why, to what end, what am I savoring here? And you can't really think of a good answer, so you give up and say, `I can't think of an answer, but my body fights to live, so I'm not going to resist that. I'm going to go along and trust the impulse toward life."

I find Woody Allen interesting because his reasoning is sound. He is right to say that if there is no God, then art and life and love and everything here is meaningless. I like reading about him because he is clearly uncomfortable, or so it seems, with this dismal outlook. His philosophy forces him to admit that horrible crimes will ultimately go unpunished, and that truly, there is no reason to go on living because life is both meaningless and without purpose. In his films, he struggles with this Godless reality. I grieve for him and for others like him who can have no hope for any meaning beyond fleeting, worldly pleasures.

Perhaps you wonder why I find this interesting at all and not simply morbid. I find it interesting because Woody Allen displays the inherent hopelessness of a godless universe and the bleak truth that without God, there truly is no purpose in the anything. That explanation will never satisfy one made in the image of God. Fallen as we are, we still long for something more than that. I hope that Woody Allen can find mercy in Jesus Christ, in whom we find purpose and justice and meaning for life.


Norma said...

He's an odd duck to talk about decency. Marrying your wife/SO's daughter offends most people. (not sure he was legally married)

Mike Johnson said...

Woody Allen's bleakness may be tied to his own views of the existence of god, but don't assume that means people who actually believe in God are somehow correct. Allen is a logician who is also hopeless. This does not mean that because of his hopelessness his ideas about god have something to do with yours. He would laugh at you. Or at least, just despondently rub his hand across his eyes.

Everette Hatcher said...

Great article and I really enjoyed it.