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Woody Allen was born on December 1, 1935. He is an actor, director, screenwriter, playwright, author, and comedian. He focuses most of his work on middleclass life in New York City. He wrote a number of works that deal with life and death, specifically in the two I will focus on: Death Knocks and Whatever Works. Woody Allen depicts certain themes constantly throughout his works. Many of his characters change their values dramatically, which they held dearly before to adapt to their current situation. This was apparent in his movie, Whatever Works. He also shows the degradation of human society in his film through the perspective of the main character, Boris. Woody Allen s view on life and death is shown in his movies and books as changing, but also depressing and sometimes scary because of the way he writes.
Woody Allen was born to a middleclass Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. He always wanted to be a playwright and started stand-up comedy while in school. He was a writer for television shows, which helped him gain access to the entertainment industry. Eventually, he began writing, directing and acting in his plays and films. He has won Oscars for his films and has become a successful comedian. He has put a lot of himself in his films. Many of his characters have been older men with younger woman, such as the relationship between Boris and Melody in Whatever Works. Woody Allen had a relationship with his ex-wife s adopted daughter, who he later married.
Woody Allen is the writer and director of Whatever Works, a film in which he depicts his views on life through the main character, Boris. For Allen, filmmaking is an art that, he says, “distracts me from the uncertainty of life, the inevitability of aging and death and death of loved ones; mass killings and starvation, from holocausts not just man-made carnage, but the existential position you’re in.” Allen has portrayed his characters as a self-projection that began in his earlier movies. In Stardust Memories (1980), Allen presented a portrait of a man who is intended to appear just as depraved as Allen s critics have accused him of being (Lee 115-116). Thus, in Whatever Works, Allen again projects himself on to Boris. Boris believes that life is a horror show and that is completely overwhelming. He believes that life s aspirations eventually conform with age to whatever works. Whatever Works opening scene depicts the main character, Boris , outlook on life. The movie s first scene talks about the failures of ideologies because they all rely on the fact that people are fundamentally decent, which he believes is untrue. Boris claims life is a nightmare without people in it and that people should take whatever pleasure they can get in this house of nightmares. He has a completely cynical and negative view of life.
In an interview, Woody Allen expressed his views of life and his life as a filmmaker. After Whatever Works, the broadcaster asked Woody about his reoccurring theme life being hard and painful. Allen responded, All the important writers and all the important philosophers have, in one form or another, come to the conclusion, the obvious conclusion, that you know, life is a terrible trial and very harsh and very full of suffering, and so whatever you can do with the stipulation that you don’t hurt anybody without, you know, ruining a life here or there or causing any damage, there’s nothing wrong with it (Will the Real Woody Allen). This provides insight into his philosophy of life and how it impacts his work. Like Boris, Woody says that real problems distract him from his work, like facing the harsh realities of life and facing death. He says that what distracts him is:
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the uncertainty of life and inevitability of aging and death, and death of loved ones, and mass killings and starvations and holocausts, and not just the manmade carnage but the existential position that you’re in, you know, being in a world where you have no idea what’s going on, why you’re here or what possible meaning your life can have and the conclusion that you come to after a while, that there is really no meaning to it, and it’s just a random, meaningless event, and these are pretty depressing thoughts. And if you spend much time thinking about them, not only can’t you resolve them, but you sit frozen in your seat (Will the Real Woody Allen).
This shows how much Woody puts his thoughts into those of his characters. Woody Allen was influenced by many American and European influences, such as Ingmar Bergman, Dostoevsky, Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and more. Allen distrusts and satirizes formal education which he explicitly voices through Melody, when she tells Boris that he told her the American education system has failed (Woody Allen).
In Whatever Works, Woody Allen tells the story of Boris. He is an old man and a genius. He divorces his first wife after a failed suicide attempt when he realizes they are perfect on paper but incompatible in real life. Then one day, after hanging out with his friends, he meets Melody, a young woman from Mississippi. She convinces him to let her stay with him temporarily. She is na ve and appreciates his outlook on life and eventually, falls in love with his genius mind. She believes she is lucky because a girl of her intelligence found a man with his genius, a physicist who claims he almost won the Nobel Peace Prize. Boris imposes his ideologies upon Melody.
Woody Allen s views on beliefs are strongly shown as adapting to current situations. This can be seen in the movie Whatever Works through Woody Allen s depiction of Melody s parents. They are both blue-collar stereotypical religious Midwestern Americans. When Melody s mother first arrives, she faints after seeing that Melody is married to a man like Boris, believing that he is either holding or hostage or has brainwashed her. Prior to arriving in New York City, Melody s mother was a housewife who had only been with one man, her husband. After he cheated on her, they got a divorce and she came to her daughter. Eventually, she settles into a life in New York City. After a few weeks, she becomes an artist and takes in a lover and then another lover. She lives with two men and creates nude collages. Her husband is similar in his change. He is also a blue blooded American. When he comes to New York to get his wife back, he has a self-realization that he is a homosexual and lives with a male lover. Woody Allen shows how one s aspirations in life change to whatever works .
In the movie, Woody Allen s view of life is cynical and his view of death is comical. Each time the character Boris s marriage fails; he attempts suicide by jumping out the window. After the first time, Boris land on a canopy develops a limp and divorces his wife. He believes they were the perfect couple on paper but that it no longer worked . He realized this after an anxiety attack in the middle of the night when he realized he was dying. He was referring to dying slowly each day and that one day, he will die. The second time Boris attempted suicide after his wife, Melody, tells him she is in love with another man and wants to love life and interact with others, and not be cynical anymore. He tells her he expected this day to come but when he goes home, he jumps out the window again. This time, he lands on a woman and breaks her leg. They eventually become a couple. Death is seen as way out of the hardship of life, however, for Boris, when one chapter closed, another opened. Life for him was always worth living, even if he did not believe so at the time. He also tried to commit suicide on a rash whim. It was never planned but an immediate action without thinking.
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Woody Allen has parodied suicide in many of his films prior to Whatever Works, including What s New, Pussycat? (1965). Throughout his works, Allen asks fundamental questions about human life that includes, Is it possible to create a deeply satisfying romantic relationship with just one person? Is there one set of absolutely true moral principles, or is ethics simply a matter of opinion? Is there God? And what will happen after death? (Lee 46). In Whatever Works (2009), Woody Allen has finally come to a conclusion for many of his philosophical questions that he asked in his earlier films. Woody Allen is definitive in claiming there is no God as Boris and Melody mock Melody s father for praying. Melody outright tells her father that he is praying to nothing just air. Thus, faced with a meaningless universe and no way to prove the existence of God, his character contemplates suicide is something many of Allen s characters face (Blake 61). It was also apparent that romantic relationships are not with just one person because each of the characters had numerous relationships. Melody s mom had two lovers at the same time. None of the characters abided by a deep-rooted moral code either. Boris repeatedly claimed morals changed to whatever works .
Death Knocks is a play about fooling death and putting it off. In the play, there are only two characters Nat Ackerman and Death. Death comes to Nat because it is his time to go. Nat refuses to believe him and plays Death in a game of Gin Rummy for an extra twenty-four hours to live and for some money. Death loses. In the play, Death claims there is a specific Death for each person and that it resembles them. Nat refuses to believe Death and eventually kicks him out of his house. This short play symbolizes Woody Allen s refusal to come to terms with death, shrugging it off and not coming to terms with it. The play shows Allen trying to come to terms with understanding what death is. However, in the play, Nat does not die.
Many of his characters are obsessed with death. From Alvy in Annie Hall (1977) to Boris in Whatever Works (2009), the characters are obsessed with abstract considerations about the anguish of living and the terrors of death (Lee 61). Especially since, death is rarely far from Allen s thoughts or images (Blake 69). Woody Allen believes that life is synonymous with suffering. Thus, he takes a position of showing a thin line between choosing life and death for his characters, who are afraid to live and afraid to die.
Thus, a repeated theme Woody Allen depicts is when a person comes to realize emotionally as well as intellectually that he will eventually die, he becomes filled with dread, which can be seen in works like Annie Hall and Manhattan (Lee 123). Boris had this epiphany that Nat Ackerson did not. Thus, the reactions of both characters for death were completely different.
Woody Allen has led a successful career. He has made many films and written many plays. He is a man who thinks he is an existentialist, trying to see the big picture. He is scared of death and attempts to not think about death by working hard in his films and plays. In Whatever Works and Death Knocks, you get a sense of Woody Allen and how he puts himself into his characters, especially seeing what he says about life and death.
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Lee, Sander H. Eighteen Woody Allen Films Analyzed: Anguish, God and Existentialism. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 1998. Print.
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McCaffrey, Donald W. “Allen, Woody.” International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers. Ed. Sara Pendergast and Tom Pendergast. 4th ed. Vol. 3: Actors and Actresses. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000. 11-14. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 12 Jan. 2011.
“Will The Real Woody Allen Please Stand Up? [REBROADCAST].” Fresh Air 29 Dec. 2009. Literature Resource Center. Web. 18 Jan. 2011.
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“Woody Allen On Life, Films And ‘Whatever Works’ : NPR.” NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. 15 June 2009. Web. 13 Jan. 2011.
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