Monday, 28 December 2015

Crime and Punishment vs Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point

Match Point and (1 of the 2 plots of) Crimes and Misdemeanors have a similar story: a man has an affair and, when threatened with exposure, chooses to keep his life of privilege and comfort by murdering his mistress and then gets away with it. It is as though in the last scene of Crimes and Misdemeanors, Judah Rosenthal indirectly confesses his murder by telling a murder story to the film director Clifford Stern and Cliff takes the idea to create Match Point. The themes are also the same: both start from the premise "What if there is no God?"; if there is no God, anything is possible and there is not always punishment for bad deeds.
If we compare the 2 films, C&M has 2 plots, MP has 1; C&M has philosophical debates and insight into the psychology of the murderer, MP tells the story in a straightforward manner and is hardly more than a crime thriller; C&M is more like a Woody Allen work, MP not only lacks a Woody Allen character but also lacks humour, witty dialogue and one-liners and is set in London. In both films, the man, Judah Rosenthal and Chris Wilton respectively, is married, but if Judah has a happy 25-year marriage with Miriam, Chris doesn't really love Chloe. In both films, there is a mistress, but Nola in MP is a lot younger and more sexually attractive than Dolores Paley in C&M. In both films, Judah and Chris choose murder because they place their own interests above all else and have to cover up the affair, but if the former doesn't want to lose everything after a long life of success and respect, Chris doesn't want to lose the life of privilege that has just begun for him. In both films, they don't say anything to their wives, but in MP, Chris tries once and fails. In both films, they get away with murder and have some remorse though they don't turn themselves in, but if Judah moves on and lives normally 4 months later, Chris seems to be haunted still 9 months afterwards, though there's an impression that he might have a few bad moments but goes unpunished too.
A question now arises: which death is more necessary? Dolores? Because she threatens to expose Judah as a cheating husband and an embezzler? Because she wants to destroy his 25-year marriage and long career and reputation? Because she's hysterical and irrational, expecting him to choose a 2-year affair over everything else? Or Nola? Because she is pregnant and the pressure is strong? Because Chris knows well that he doesn't have talent and only leans on his father-in-law, and to lose that is to lose everything? Of course the answer is neither. The danger of these 2 films is that we may root for Judah and Chris- seeing the women act hysterically and irrationally, we may, for a brief moment perhaps, think a small affair isn't worth it and shout in our heads "Kill her!" like it's the answer, like there is no other choice. Of course they have a choice, we all do, they don't see it simply because they aren't willing to give up anything, because they are basically selfish, because they want always to gain and never to lose, because they don't want to face the consequences of their own decisions and actions. Chris even has greater freedom, because the marriage hasn't been long, Chloe has difficulty getting pregnant, he doesn't fear trouble with the law as Judah does on account of his embezzlements and, considering how diffident, foolish and subservient Chloe is, she's more likely to accept his infidelity than Miriam to deal with Judah's affair.
That leads to another question: between the 2 men, who is worse? Is it Chris, because we follow the whole affair from the start and see him actively pursue and seduce Nola, who is reluctant at 1st, (at some point he tells Nola "Maybe I will [leave Chloe]") and he must pay for his own actions? Or is it Judah, because 4 months after the murder, he happily moves on and comfortably talks about his crime whereas Chris doesn't seem to have got over it after 9 months? Or is it Chris, because Judah doesn't do the killing himself and it becomes an abstraction, whereas Chris makes an elaborate plan, cold-heartedly looks at Nola in the face when killing her, and not only so, kills an unborn baby and an old woman, and right afterwards goes to a musical? In a sense, Judah's killing is defensive- he wants the trouble to go away and everything to stay the way it is, Chris's is offensive- he's a social climber that does everything to get what he wants, and gets rid of anything that is in the way. Or is the worse one after all Judah, who might not be so cold-hearted but who is more hypocritical? Dolores's instability and unreasonableness, as well as Judah's talks, may fool us into thinking that he's pushed into evil, unlike Chris, but before he has embezzled simply because he can't go down after "a long life of hard work" and now does it again. He's just hypocritical. His speech is full of self-justifications ("I was flattered, vulnerable") and self-defences ("I promised nothing", "I prevented nothing", "Moving funds is not stealing"); he asks what choice he has and asks if what Dolores does to him is just, thinking of nothing but himself; he contacts Jack, knowing well what kind of person his brother is, but pretends to say "I don't know" and feigns shock at Jack's suggestion of getting rid of the lover; he only thinks that by getting Dolores killed, he can sleep again, without thinking that he's talking about a human being; he wants her dead but doesn't do it himself since, as Jack says, he doesn't want to get his own hands dirty; he says "I'm shocked" after the act is done and shows some bad conscience but retains enough clear-headedness to go back to her place and get everything that may lead to him; he later thinks of confessing to the police just because he has trouble sleeping and again thinks of himself; and in the end, loses nothing and puts it all behind him. Even worse, he has been brought up a religious boy. The what-should-I-do conversations in the 2 films also mark an important difference: Chris's friend says he can get another job at another firm but at the same time remarks that he doesn't love the other woman enough to give up everything for her, whilst Judah talks to a rabbi and hears about God, moral choice, ethics, forgiveness and love, and yet still goes on with his actions.
Compared to C&M, MP doesn't have the same philosophical depth: the discussions are fewer and shorter, the story is told in a more straightforward manner, the film doesn't dig as deep into the mind of the man. Yet both films are Woody Allen's debate with Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment: for C&M, the allusion is right in the title, for MP, Chris is seen as reading Dostoyevsky and said to have an interesting conversation about the Russian author with Chloe's father. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky expands on his arguments earlier expressed in Notes from Underground- Western ideas in general and utilitarianism in particular are not only unrealistic and inapplicable because human beings are irrational and want to act on free will, they are also dangerous. Raskolnikov, embodying these ideas, shows us the dangers. To Dostoyevsky, the answer, the better alternative, is religion, God. Woody Allen plays with these ideas and responds to them by asking: well what if there is no God? Some people say the endings, especially that of MP, mean that Woody Allen sides with the privileged and the immoral, makes us root for them, and lets them win. Some people go further, connecting the films with the director's personal life, they say he's a nihilist, and whilst it doesn't mean he necessarily commits immoral actions, it means he lacks a compelling reason not to do so. To think that way is to misunderstand the films. What Woody Allen does is to have a debate with Dostoyevsky: both C&M and MP can have the subtitle "Crime and No Punishment". That's how life is: not all crimes are solved, not all criminals are caught, not everyone who does wrong has to pay for their actions. A person may be bothered by bad conscience, but not everyone has a conscience. If a man isn't found out, if he's not punished by the law, nor by some higher power, nor by his own sense of right and wrong, doesn't that mean he's free and can happily live his life? He may have to face judgement after death, but what if there is nothing after death? Woody Allen draws attention to 1 point in Dostoyevsky's ideas: right, that's very well, but what if there is no God? Or what if there is a God that doesn't care? To raise these questions is not to say murder is OK; he just provokes thoughts, and that shows his cynical outlook on life- that there are in fact such people who do terrible things and go unpunished, that life isn't fair, that "Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly. Human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation".
Recycling his own material, Woody Allen develops the same story in a different direction. C&M focuses on moral choice and God's indifference: God turns the blind eye on evil. The eye is the motif of C&M: Judah is an ophthalmologist, "The eyes of God are on us always", Dolores talks about eyes as windows to the soul, Judah sees her corpse and looks into her open eyes and sees nothing there, Ben the rabbi goes blind in the end... The later film focuses on greed and lust and luck. The role of luck is stressed right from the beginning: the scene is of a tennis ball flying towards the net, with the voice-over of Chris talking of that moment in a game when the ball, if you are lucky, flies over the net, or it doesn't. A mirror of the scene appears near the end of the film with the wedding ring replacing the tennis ball and the railing replacing the tennis net. There is a talk about luck, in which Chris says it is important, whereas Chloe and her brother Tom, not realising that being born to wealth is a kind of luck, say they don't believe in it, only in hard work. This is where MP is inferior to C&M- because the concept of luck dominates and drives the film, there are too many instances of Chris's good luck that might be seen as contrived and unconvincing: Chloe doesn't open the tennis bag with the gun inside; of all things, it's the ring with inscriptions that knocks against the railing and falls back on the pavement to be found; of all people, it's a drug addict that finds the ring and then is killed, which fits perfectly with the scene of a staged drug-related robbery; the detectives find the diary and suspect Chris because he has motive but still dismiss the case and don't bother to check if Chris has a shotgun; the drug addict that has the ring is killed before 1 of the detectives officially sees Chris as a suspect. It seems contrived, even though it's not impossible in real life.
Strangely enough, even though in the end Judah returns to his normal life and Chris turns his back on others with a faintly haunted look on his face, I somehow see MP as a bleaker film. 1, MP, as Roger Ebert puts it, "is a thriller not about good versus evil, but about various species of evil engaged in a struggle for survival of the fittest- or, as the movie makes clear, the luckiest". Tom is egoistic- he just leaves Nola at home and goes to the cinema when she has a headache, for example, and later we're told that he earlier tells her to get an abortion. Nola gets into a relationship with Tom though she doesn't really love him- she's "overwhelmed with attention". Sweet Chloe basically has her dad buy Chris for her. C&M has a balance of selfish, cold-hearted people and good, honest people. 2, C&M ends with professor Levy: "... Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more." That's a positive note at the end of the film. One may say that if there is no God, life has no meaning, but we and our capacity to love give meaning to life. On the 1 hand, we see that "[t]he evil are rewarded, the blameless are punished, and the rabbi goes blind." On the other hand, there is a sense that even if there is no God, even if life isn't always fair, even if it's foolish, life goes on and people keep trying and can find joy in the little things in life. The fact that the professor commits suicide doesn't necessarily turn that quote into an irony. MP has nothing that saves it from bleakness and cynicism. C&M isn't like that. We give meaning to life.

Roger Ebert's reviews:

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