My wife and I recently watched “Crimes and Misdemeanors”, a Woody Allen film. Below I’ve left some things I’ve noted as they relate to God and ethics. I found the film hilarious at times, heartbreaking at others, and insightful throughout. Sadly, what Allen needs most, Allen misses most.


The plot alternates between two Jewish men, Woody Allen and Martin Landau playing Clifford Stern and Judah Rosenthal respectively. Clif is a struggling, idealistic, documentary film maker while Judah is a successful, philandering, opthamalogist. The film follows thier seperate exploits concluding with them attending the same party and a dialogue recapping Judah’s struggles – as a pitch for a new film. Like I said, interesting and challenging, and probably due for another viewing in a few years. So here are my random thoughts (topics marked by ‘~’.)

~One of Clif’s brothers-in-law is a rabbi who argueably has the most biblical worldview in the picture. But he goes blind. Is Allen saying in some hamfisted way that the rabbi is blind to reality? Is Allen saying that the rabbi is the one who really sees – showing spiritual insight through physical seperation? I’m given to think the former, judging by the rest of the film. Regardless, an interesting presentation.

~Immorality blooms in the fields of self focus and rationalization (relativism.) Incredibly Clif asks a collegue to marry him while he is struggling through the last throws of his current unhappy marriage. Everybody is meeting somebody and giving up on thier marriages it seems – aside from Judah who from self-preservation orders the murder of his mistress to keep his wife in the dark. Repeatedly throughout the film I found myself thinking: “If you didn’t have an affair in the first place, you wouldn’t be in this crisis.” The little decisions set the course for the tectonic shifts! It is not crazy then for me to think in my own life, but it is very real. The little things matter.

~In the midst of Judah’s soul searching (following his realized sins), he goes to his boyhood home. Judah then enters a conversation at a past Seder, in which his aunt stresses the relative nature of morality and the absence of god (as illustrated by the holocaust – clearly there is no justice in the world…) The religious Rosenthal patriarch argues that even if there is no god, it is still better to pursue him and live according to his statues so that one has some moral ground to stand on. That is, apart from a revealed diety, life is meaningless. Allen draws out the dialogue to the point that the elder Rosenthal is forced to say “Yes, if required I will choose god over the truth.”

Meanwhile the struggling Judah hears both sides that replay in his head from childhood. The conversation concludes with the father stressing that the wicked will be punished. This really looses it’s punch with Allen constantly suggesting that god is our intellectual and emotional placebo.

The resolution later in the film is that Judah shows he is dead to the god without, and only worships the god within. He can live with the murder of his mistress, he is the center of the universe. Clif laments “I don’t think anyone could live with that.” Judah goes on living with it, claims “this is reality”, and it looks like the happily ever after.

~Taking in the sum of available arguements on morality and God, the film left me in the gloom of a false dichotomy between truth and God. But the startling fact was that while Jesus’ name was on everybody’s lips as an expression of surprise or dissent, no-one recognized him. The fact that changes everything, that dominates the landscape of the discussion, is that the Son has been lifted up and illumines the truth of God, which is the truth. But the film presented the Jewish soul as lost between God’s denial (in the face of Holocaust induced doubt and suffering) on the one hand, and pandering to empty traditions on the other. You’re either right and hopeless or happy and thoughtless. This reminds me of something Tim Keller recently said at the DG conference: “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is both intellectually credible and existentially satisfying.” Amen.

The answer for the athiest Jew or the “faithful” Jew is found in Christ. What the Jews have missed for a time, and (professing) athiests dismiss, and christians too quickly forget, is that Christ is risen and is Supreme in all things.

Advertisements