Woody Allen’s movies are about Woody Allen.
Allen’s leading man is sometimes a college professor or a writer, but always an intellectual, a neurotic older man in sweaters and khakis. In Allen’s early films, the leading man is played by Allen himself (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Stardust Memories), but those parts are now more often played by actors standing in for him—Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, Jason Biggs in Anything Else, Larry David in Whatever Works. The Allen leading man is, without fail, accompanied by a young and beautiful leading lady.
These women are always young—in Manhattan, a film released in 1979, the object of Allen’s character’s lust is an actual teenage girl. This week, Page Six reported that A Rainy Day in New York, a film Allen is currently finishing, features another joke about a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old and a 40-year-old. When I tried to find the largest age gap between two Allen onscreen romantic pairings (it’s Juliette Lewis and Allen in Husbands and Wives with a 38-year gap, released the year Lewis was 19), I noticed that Evan Rachel Wood and Larry David (romantic leads in Whatever Works) were actually born the same years as myself and my father, respectively.
Allen is a prolific filmmaker—he’s directed a film a year since 1982—and his films often return to themes that reflect Allen’s image of himself. One of them is the extraordinary man theory, popularized in the 1866 Russian novel Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky’s question is: Can a man commit a brutal crime and live with the guilt? Raskolnikov, the protagonist, believes that some men are extraordinary, superior to most others, and therefore imbued with the right to commit crimes against the ordinary, no matter how horrific. You might have also heard of this extraordinary man as Nietzsche’s Übermensch—the “over man”—a figure that Nazis are fond of as well.
Raskolnikov murders two women to test his theory only to realize that he is not the Übermensch—he slips into feverish dreams, haunted by ghosts of the women, and eventually confesses to the murders.
In Allen’s film Match Point, the protagonist, who kills his girlfriend and her neighbor, is actually shown reading Crime and Punishment. Another film, Crimes and Misdemeanors, is a fairly obvious allusion. The theory is also explored in Cassandra’s Dream and Irrational Man. But unlike Raskolnikov, Allen’s characters can live with what they’ve done. Can a man commit a brutal crime and live with the guilt? Over and over, Allen’s characters answer “yes.”
And unlike Raskonikov, who ultimately succumbs to the guilt of his crimes, or the cold-blooded killers, who simply go on with their lives despite their crimes, Allen loves to show us his sins; his films have paraded his perversities in front of an international audience for decades.
Allegations that Allen sexually assaulted his daughter, Dylan Farrow, were first reported in 1992 when she was 7 years old. In 2014, she was still asking to be believed as her father was nominated for his 24th Academy Award. Both Dylan Farrow and her brother, Ronan Farrow (the journalist who wrote the New Yorker’s damning coverage of Harvey Weinstein) have written about their father’s inappropriate relationship with their sister, Soon-Yi Previn, who Allen met at age 44 when he began dating the mother of all three, Mia Farrow. Allen began a years-long secret sexual relationship with Previn when she was approximately 19 years old and the two later married in 1997. Just this month, the New York Times published two op-eds explicitly calling Allen out as a sexual abuser. And if you think that’s just left-wing media witch hunts, when I was growing up in red-state Kansas, I didn’t know another sixth grader who didn’t know that Allen had married his daughter—not his real daughter, everyone loves to protest. No, not his biological daughter, just the sibling of his children that he’d known since she was 9 years old.
Allen’s films are revered in Hollywood and around the world. He’s been awarded the Honorary Palme d’Or and the Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award. But the films he is revered for reveal the fucked-up pedophiliac syntax of his creative authority. Jokes about child molestation, incest, and sexual assault litter his filmography, like this one written by Allen, delivered by Allen, in a film directed by Allen, Manhattan:
But she’s 17. I’m 42 and she’s 17. I’m older than her father. Do you believe that? I’m dating a girl wherein I can beat up her father. That’s the first time that phenomenon ever occurred in my life.
Woody Allen brags about his crimes because he thinks he has gotten away with them—and he has, for decades. He has confessed and he has been rewarded with accolades. He has already told us that he can live with the guilt of what he’s done.
Allen let us know, in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein, to be careful that this doesn’t turn into a witch hunt (Weinstein helped keep Allen’s career alive in the early 90s when he was facing public allegations of sexual assault against Farrow and the PR fallout from his marriage to Previn). He said the same thing when responding to Dylan Farrow in 2014: “No one wants to discourage abuse victims from speaking out, but one must bear in mind that sometimes there are people who are falsely accused and that is also a terribly destructive thing.”
Allen, now 81, is dangerously close to making it out without consequence. Last week, Lindy West wrote to predatory men, “The witches are coming, but not for your life. We’re coming for your legacy.” Having spent the last 40 years of his life making films about the abuse he commits in his personal life, Allen’s career is a surreal metric for the lengths Hollywood will go to in order to protect its male auteur darlings. Allen is afraid of a witch hunt coming for him, but he’s laid out bread crumbs for us the whole way.