Debating Woody Allen On Super Bowl Sunday


The only thing I can infer with absolute certainty from the anguished letter Dylan Farrow has written to the New York Times is that she is expressing incandescent rage. I cannot know from a distance what exactly is the reason for that rage, but she hates her former step-father adoptive father, Woody Allen, with an intensity completely compatible with child abuse, and hard to explain away entirely without it. You can see how truly she hates him from her opening and closing lines. These are sentences designed to do as much harm to Allen as he allegedly did to her – to pin the crime of child-rape onto every movie he has ever made, to obliterate his legacy as an artist by insisting that his entire oeuvre be viewed through the prism of his monstrousness. I can fully understand the impulse. Can’t you?

At first you think this is melodrama, but then you realize she is simply wielding the most lethal weapon she has:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.

I’m not sure how, especially after reviewing the evidence Maureen Orth collected over twenty years ago, you manage not to believe Dylan Farrow – even though in every hugely dysfunctional family, there is more than one side. But the fact that Mia Farrow may be a few sandwiches short of a picnic doesn’t prove that Woody Allen isn’t a monster. And Farrow’s anguished yet vicious letter makes a lot of emotional sense coming after the Golden Globes’ celebration of Allen’s lifetime of achievement. Then there’s what we already know of Farrow’s behavior as a child:

Several times …  while Woody was visiting in Connecticut, Dylan locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out for hours. Once, one of the baby-sitters had to use a coat hanger to pick the lock. Dylan often complained of stomachaches and headaches when Woody visited: she would have to lie down. When he left, the symptoms would disappear. At times Dylan became so withdrawn when her father was around that she would not speak normally, but would pretend to be an animal.

These are classic indicators of abuse – along with plenty of other eye-witnesses to Allen’s creepy behavior around the girl.

And yet Dylan Farrow will, I’m afraid, fail in this case.

Not entirely. Re-reading that Orth piece and absorbing that letter definitely impacts my view of Allen as a whole. It reminds me again of who this man is. Like when we’re watching a Polanski or a Gibson movie, there will always be, for most of us, a tinge of guilt, even distant complicity, in admiring the craft of a man whose predilection for relationships was with women utterly under his totalitarian control. But the brutal truth is: we will move on. His art and his craft is so extraordinary in its range and scope and creative integrity that it escapes the twisted psyche that gave birth to it. It does things for us as viewers and as human beings that can eclipse the reality Dylan Farrow wants smack-dab in front of our eyes.

In some ways, I wish this weren’t so. It would be a less fallen and compromised world. But the human mind can, alas, live quite fully in places where the practical moral conscience seems irrelevant. And so it is essential to understand Heidegger’s foul complicity in the Third Reich but impossible to reduce his world-historical genius to it. That T.S Eliot was a rancid anti-Semite does not, frustratingly, dilute the perfection of the Four Quartets, nor does Philip Larkin’s racism alter the triumph of Aubade. Jefferson’s thought and career, for that matter, will always elude the facts of his ownership of human beings and intercourse with some of them. Perhaps with less essential talents, the sins may more adequately define the artist. But that, in many ways, only makes the injustice worse. Those with the greatest gifts can get away with the greatest crimes.

We can and should rail against this, while surely also be realistically resigned to it. It struck me, for example, rather apposite that as the blogosphere is debating whether to boycott Woody Allen’s films in the future because of this horrifying story, exponentially more people are tuning into the Super Bowl to watch a game we now know will render many of its players mentally incapacitated in their middle ages and beyond. We know that this spectacle is based on the premise of brain damage for many of its participants, but we watch anyway. Reforms in the game that might change the number of concussions are resisted by the fans as ferociously as by the owners. And in the excitement of the game, such things are so easy to obliterate from our minds. We forget that this massive industry knew full well what they were doing and yet subjected human beings to this fate for years. They abused people’s bodies and minds for money – and now we are required to celebrate their entire cult en masse for one night.

I imagine the family of a former football player whose brain was turned into swiss cheese by this organization might find it as painful to watch the Super Bowl as Dylan Farrow did to witness the Golden Globes. But we will watch anyway.

Humankind cannot bear very much reality. Or only so much. And only so often.

(Photo: Director Woody Allen is seen on February 1, 2014 in New York City. By NCP/Star Max/GC Images via Getty.)