Crimes and Misdemeanors

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“Open Your Eyes”

For the past fifty years, director and actor Woody Allen has evoked much laughter from his neurotic-style comedies. Less recognized, however, is his fascinating ability in utilizing both his stunning, humorous wit along with several philosophical concepts. Such a combination creates an engaged and thoroughly entertained audience, as well as a mentally-stimulated one. In his movie “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the philosophical concepts Allen touches upon deal with ethical and moral issues. What does 'do the right thing' really entail; why not do the opposite if it leads to one's personal success? In the absence of a God, who's to say whether the choices we make are right or wrong? Answering these questions say much about the way one sees the world. This movie investigates such questions by intertwining two separate, parallel plots: the tragic story of Judah, and the comedic story led by Cliff Stern .There are two key moral positions that underlie the entire movie: Those with faith in God perceive the world as morally structured, forgiving, and full of true meaning. Those who do not believe in a God see the world as empty, pitiless, and devoid of meaning. After watching this movie for the third time, a consistent metaphor that integrates these positions revealed itself. Throughout the movie, nearly every scene visually and verbally involves the use of 'eyes' to symbolize our perceptions on how we see the world, and how people do not see themselves and events the way others may see it. Although there are several elements, characters, and events worthy of an individual analysis, this paper will concentrate on how Allen's film represents eyes to unveil hidden truths. To illustrate the use of 'eyes' in this film I will investigate its role in the lives of Judah, Cliff, and Rabbi Ben. Keep in mind that all four of these characters each wear over-emphasized glasses.

Within the first few minutes of the film, Judah reveals he makes his living as an ophthalmologist. Judah's occupation certainly comes as no coincidence, for it stems from his religious past. During a speech at a charity dinner, Judah relates to the audience this past: “I'm a man of science. I've always been a skeptic, but I was raised quite religiously, and while I challenged it even as a child, some of that feeling must have stuck with me.” He continues to say that his father once told him, “the eyes of God are on us always.” Although he revokes his religious background, it's apparent that this 'feeling that stuck with him' manifested itself in his occupation; in order to fill a void which religion would fill. With the removal of “God's eyes,” Judah made the, perhaps unconscious, decision to take up a job that deals with seeing... thus assuming the role of God. He rhetorically asks the audience, “What were God's eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes I assumed.” Judah's relationship with his father left him with a sense of awe and fear of these “intense eyes” that could see past his deceitful acts. So, his concern with vision arises from his compulsion to hide the blemishes of his character.

It's evident that Judah sees himself as a moral man: wealth, success, and a valuable role in the community are reinforced by images of him wearing a tuxedo as he's accompanied by his family. This “family man” portrayal describes Judah's external appearance. Wouldn't a man blessed with this amount of success persisted in doing “the right thing” all along? Judah's morality is put into question once his mistress sends a letter to his wife, exposing Judah's devious actions (Judah destroys the letter immediately before his wife sees it). Judah saw no troubles in fooling around, for his efforts made him happy and he was never caught (there is no God to see his immoral choices). The letter breaks Judah's illusions of this fantasy world he's been living. Judah says “it's as if I've awaken from a dream,” to reinforce how he must now face reality....
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