Magic in the Moonlight


"You're born, you commit no crime, and then you're sentenced to death." — Stanley, "Magic in the Moonlight"

When you think Woody Allen, you don't usually think about films about faith. But "Magic in the Moonlight," his film released in 2014, very much focuses on that aspect. And it does so in a fascinating way.

That's interesting when you consider Allen. He’s been nominated for countless awards and many of his films have become American classics. He’s been nominated for 24 Academy Awards and won four, three for writing and one for directing “Annie Hall.” But in a way, it’s impossible to separate the films from the man because so much of himself is in the characters in his films. That came, initially, from the fact he was often a lead in his films. But even in later years as he’s focused more on his work behind the camera, pieces of Woody are in his films.

So what does that mean? Well, for one thing Woody Allen is incredible neurotic. He’s reportedly spent more than 37 years in psychoanalysis. He suffers from a long list of phobias, including arachnophobia (spiders), entomophobia (insects), heliophobia (sunshine), cynophobia (dogs), altophobia (heights), demophobia (crowds), carcinophobia (cancer), thanatophobia (death), misophobia (germs). He admits to being terrified of hotel bathrooms.

Those who’ve studied Allen’s work have found that his time spent in therapy — which ended several years ago — heavily influenced a lot of his early work. Some of his films, such as Antz, jokingly include references to psychoanalysis. Moment Magazine says, "It drove his self-absorbed work." Allen biographer John Baxter, wrote, "Allen obviously found analysis stimulating, even exciting." It also seems to have influenced his view of the world. Allen once famously described himself as a militant Freudian Atheist.

Allen said this of his worldview, “I had a line in one of my movies - 'Everyone knows the same truth.' Our lives consist of how we choose to distort it. One person will distort it with a kind of wishful thinking like religion, someone else will distort it by thinking political solutions are going to do something, someone else will think a life of sensuality is going to do it, someone else will think art transcends. Art for me has always been the Catholicism of the intellectuals. There is no afterlife for the Catholics really, and there's no afterlife for the arts. 'Your painting lived on after you' - well, that doesn't really do it. That's not what you want. Even if your painting does have some longevity, eventually that's going to go. There won't be any works of William Shakespeare or Ludwig van Beethoven, or any theatre to see them in, or air or light. I've always felt you've got to live your life within the context of this worst-case scenario. Which is true; the worst-case scenario is here.”

But you can't help but wonder if some of his views on life are changing a bit. His films are still, first and foremost, romances. But often unconventional romances. In his personal life, Allen has been married three times and been in several other long-term affairs. He seems to have been seeking love in his life, and that comes through in his films. He has said of love, “The heart wants what it wants. There's no logic to those things. You meet someone and you fall in love, and that's that.” You see in his films that often, what the heart wants is something other than what it has at the time. That is a theme we again see explored again in tonight’s movie, “Magic in the Moonlight.”

In addition, it's a movie about seeking. Allen's films are frequently marked by some sort of transformation — or in the case of "Blue Jasmine" a character that's unable to transform, and gets left behind. That's true in this film, too.

Stanley (Colin Firth) is a grump who doesn't believe in much of anything. But he wants to believe. In one of the most fascinating scenes Sofie (Emma Stone) challenges Stanley, saying he doesn't want her abilities to be real because it would mean everything he believed about God and life was wrong. Stanley says he desperately wants her to be real, despite what might mean for his reputation, but he knows in his heart he's right.

Of course, throughout the course of the film we see his skepticism proven correct, but it's interesting to see Allen even asking the questions. It sort of makes you wonder, since Stanley hews so close to Allen's personality and views, if his words don't represent Allen's view toward spirituality as he grows older. He's skeptical, but he wants to believe. Somehow, that feels like progress.

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