For me, Woody Allen was one of the first film directors to make the audience think. To make us really think about the way we act as human beings and how we react to each other.

From a young age, Woody Allen was greatly influenced by Swedish film director, Ingmar Bergman, even saying that he had an “immediate personal connection” with his films. Bergman made films based around faith, philosophy and death, themes which Woody Allen later used in many of his films.

Woody Allen’s 1989 hit, Crimes and Misdemeanors, centred on all of these themes. The film follows the life of a wealthy optician, Judah (played by Martin Landau). At the start of the film, he is faced with the problem of Dolores, his mistress who is threatening to tell his wife about their affair. Judah turns to his brother Jack, who says that “she can be gotten rid of”. The film follows the moral implications of such an act, and Judah’s struggle with this.

If you’ve seen the film, before, you may not have picked up on a few of the messages Allen is trying to portray. The movie’s heavy dialogue (a common trait of Woody Allen films) can be hard to keep up with, but what the director is trying to show us is that there is an evil and dark side to human nature, one that he believes exists everywhere. Landau’s character is quite the opposite of this on the surface; gentle, well dressed and softly spoken. Allen shows us that not everything is how it looks.

Crimes and Misdemeanors touches on the mob mentality theory. This theory suggests that if society deems something evil as being acceptable, people will commit the evil act. A good example of this is the Nazi’s.

During the war, it was considered normal to become an SS officer. Killing Jews was not seen as immoral in the eyes of normal German citizens, and therefore, they did this without thinking twice. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, nobody stops Judah when he commits an immoral crime. This makes the guilt disappear for him.

The link above shows a clip from the film. Judah has a flashback from his childhood. This is a key point in the film, showing the two sides to different moral beliefs.

This film is often compared to the Russian author, Dostoyesky’s book, Crime and Punishment. They both ask us the question; can someone live with doing something bad? Is there a moral balance in the world, or is it ok if you don’t get caught?

If you are watching any Woody Allen films, I advise that you look out for the subtle ways he portrays the theme of the film, even if it means watching it twice.

What are your favourite Woody Allen films? Do you notice the themes he is trying to portray?

Written by Laura Stark