Woody Allen’s Latest Prayer for Fantasy

Throughout all his productive years, Woody Allen has so far – in one way or another – glorified depressive patterns of thought and behaviour. It is no wonder, then, that Magic in the Moonlight (2014), becomes a portrayal of his dream-world of lust and irrationality. Obsessed with these themes, he sketches a mixture of English and French folks of mostly upper middle-class lifestyle, embarking on journeys of romance-ridden lunacy. Mixed within the plot, Americans find themselves, rather abruptly, in the midst of charming Europeans and magnificent settings in the continental zone. Woody Allen is not shy of indulging in demonstrating “the young American” in search of beauty and love. However, as unfortunate as it is for him, these folks do not come across as much romantic or rational as he wishes them to be. Neither the culture, nor the language, and not even the settings achieve his goal of portraying the wise American, for a number of explicit reasons.

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In recent years, his chosen titles and contexts usually refer to the lunar relation to insanity, often filled with a hint of fancy or far worse, fantasy. In so doing, he enjoys focusing on night scenes by sensualising and uplifting the audience, while pouring in a clear starry sky and moonlight. He sacrifices the utter beauty of summer joy or holiday fun that are almost directly at the centre of his movies, by ignoring the real light achieved in his chosen settings. As opportunistic as it sounds, he derives pleasurable visual fancy, much desired in romantic comedies, by means of exhaustive sunshine and heart-warming scenery. But, once he has these elements in place, he starts his depressive engagement with moonlight and night sky. This shift, in light and darkness, is so quick that one loses sight of the night, before even settling for the moonlight.

Dreaming of making “befitting” matches under this so-called magic of the night, he comes up with perverted versions of love, which in Magic in the Moonlight (2014) have culminated in the “unbefitting age-gap and class-gap,” which throws itself, like an unwelcome flying seagull in search of food, at the sight of the audience – sitting calmly in the cinema, some young ones munching on bucket-sized containers of popcorn, while an old man snored in the back throughout and his wife giggled every now and again.

Up front, to achieve certain charm, is Stanley (Colin Firth), an English man of rationality, with a sweet wise aunt, Vanessa, who knows how to deal with his little quirks and hidden desires, sometimes by mocking him and clearly once in the end by using reverse psychology on him. Apparently, Stanley has found himself an intellectual woman, close to his age and class (Olivia, Catherine McCormack), to suit him in love. Yet, as certain as he is about this match in his mind, his irrationality rules in the end, when he changes his love-skin for the little American girl, Sophie (Emma Stone), who does everything she can to attract him, be it even directly asking him to see her “as a woman” beyond a magician or spiritualist.

Artful Sophie and her spiteful mother, have arrived from America at the beautiful continent – out of nowhere – to catch the eyes of continental men, to empty their pockets. At this point, you almost certainly know that the portrayal is nothing about love or beauty, but about riches in the battle of the sexes. If you want to have your visual pleasure further injured, keep watching, as Stanley implies that it has not been him who proposed love to the woman he has left behind (Olivia), but that she had done so, meaning that a proposing woman is rather irrational and unbecoming. Why does Woody Allen not recognize how faulty the party scene is, then, where Sophie does nearly the same thing by dressing up – perhaps borrowing all her costume from kind continental folks – throwing herself “as a woman” on Stanley’s love-starved melancholic mind?

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It is rather questionable how Woody Allen portrays the wise old and the silly young. One can see how he has not thought out whether the older experienced man is anything different from the younger inexperienced one, Brice, who is smitten with this crafty girl (Sophie), while she truly has no love for him, but only to secure her future fun through materialistic comfort.

If you are lucky enough, not to lose your enthusiasm by this point, you go on watching, but Woody Allen’s portrayal of love and beauty does not satisfy a rational mind. It is beyond ridiculous that in one of his interviews, he concludes that the movie ends with rationality! One wonders, why would an older man of rationality be charmed by a far younger scandalous girl, who does not fit in his class, intellectuality, or surrounding beauty. In fact, Woody Allen should have checked marriage statistics in England, especially when it comes to “nationality and class,” before making this film. It comes across as a beautifully designed moving image, only because of the beauty of the continent and its charming sweet actors, but the plot is altogether faulty and the ending is chaotic in a way that one can lose interest in watching beyond Stanley’s prayer scene.

What Woody Allen tries to achieve, is a portrayal of masculine rationality and genius, but his glorification of melancholy and perversion, is nothing of the kind you can read in “the birth of the modern notion of genius,” which “can be traced to Florentine Neoplatonism” (Radden, p. 13). His idea of melancholy beauty and masculine rationality is altogether thwarted and his view of women, either agrees with or often conflicts with his Freudian pursuits. The movie, in reaching the pinnacle of success – if any at all, will owe much to the setting and to English middle-class lifestyle, but most of all, to the brilliant acting of Colin Firth and Eileen Atkins.

I would not imagine Woody Allen could ever make a movie, portraying the true nuances of melancholy, beauty, and genius, in the working-class society. He is thoroughly hopeless in achieving a realistic view of different types of lifestyle, as he registers, similar attributes as many American girls in search of romance pursue in England. Think, for example, especially of those who tried to go to St Andrews to be near Prince William, or those who try to reach Prince Harry. This game, the so-called game of love, in Woody Allen’s portrayal of England is rather irrational, showing the extent to which fantasy leads his way, unlike what he wishes to show. This, to me, sounds exactly like many so-called American feminist girls come across, when they run after men in different European countries. I would love to watch a movie that shows how feminist American women can live on their own two feet, without running after men in a dream-ridden Hollywood style! If feminism is about rationality, why not try to live alone and be strong?! Why not try to portray that feminine and masculine strengths have nothing to do with deceiving someone in the game of so-called love?

Doris Lessing offers a wholesome advice: “What’s terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better.” And for young adults watching this and similar movies, reading similar books, remember this:

“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag-and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.”

Do what is right with a clear conscience, as the saying goes; right rather than what is easy and if, especially, there are girls out there wishing to read more on a relevant theme, read my previous take on the “current hysteria of marriage”: https://erasandareas.com/2014/02/27/from-seventeenth-century-harlots-housewives-and-heroines-to-current-hysteria-of-marriage/

References: Lessing, D. (1962) The Golden Notebook. 2nd Ed. (1999). Harper Perennial Modern Classics. Radden, J. (2000) The Nature of Melancholy, From Aristotle to Kristeva. Oxford University Press.


Maryam Farahani is co-director of Texts and Embodiments in Perspective, an interdisciplinary research group at the University of Liverpool. Lecturing in University of Liverpool Centre for Lifelong Learning and a research fellow in the School of Arts, she has expertise in women’s post-Enlightenment literature, focusing on encounters of Oriental and Occidental Romanticism. She tweets from @farahani_maryam Creative Commons Licence This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Contact for permission: (Maryam.Farahani@Erasandareas.com)

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