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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

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Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)
Written and Directed by Woody Allen Nominated for several Academy Awards
Somewhere in the 1980’s in New York City a crime is about to be committed. But the movie isn’t about the crime. It’s about what comes before and after. Judah (Martin Landau) is an eye doctor whose comfortable and successful life is about to be turned upside down by his scorned mistress (Angelica Huston). Hurt and angry, she threatens to confront his wife. He agonizes over what to do. What would the moral thing be? What would the prudent thing be? What would the easy thing be? Is the eye of God on us?
The other story line concerns two filmmakers (Woody Allen and Alan Alda), connected by marriage, but utterly opposite in terms of personality and purpose. Here we have questions about the eye of the camera and what it sees.

Woody Allen uses the two intersecting story lines to consider what morality can mean in a world where God might be blind (or even dead). Influenced by the German philosopher, Nietzsche, Allen probes the sources of our moral world view. Possible answers are suggested by a blind rabbi, by an existential philosopher, by a brother with mafia connections and by Judah’s father and aunt in conversation around a long-gone family dinner table.

Speaking to Judah, Rabbi Ben states the two key moral positions of the movie: “It’s a fundamental difference in the way we view the world. You see it as harsh and empty of values and pitiless. And I couldn’t go on living if I didn’t feel it with all my heart… a moral structure, with real meaning, and forgiveness, and a higher power, otherwise there’s no basis to live.”
At a long-gone but newly-imagined Passover dinner, an uncle asks Judah’s father, “And if all your faith is wrong, Saul, I mean just what if?” The father answers, “Then I’ll still have a better life than all those that doubt.” The aunt asks, “Do you mean that you prefer God to the truth?” The father responds, “If necessary I will always choose God over truth.”

Questions we want to ask:

  • What is the relationship between God, faith and justice?

  • Crimes and Misdemeanors takes a serious and entertaining look at ethics and morality.” How does the ‘entertaining’ affect the ‘serious’?

  • What is meant by “we are the sum total of our choices”?

  • The choices made by the characters here change everyone’s lives irrevocably. What responsibility do we have beyond our own self-interest? How can we know? Who can know?

  • Why does Judah turn away from the “luxury” of religion towards moral relativism?

  • Has God abandoned us or have we abandoned God?

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