Breaking the Eyes
“I remember my father telling me, ‘The eyes of God are on us always.’ The eyes of God. What a phrase to a young boy. What were God’s eyes like? Unimaginably penetrating, intense eyes, I assumed,” says Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau) in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
There’s a good deal of reason why Judah should be pondering about God’s surveillant eyes. Despite being a married man, the respected ophthalmologist is having an affair with a flight attendant (Anjelica Huston). Now, the tormented mistress is threatening to divulge the affair to his wife. What does Judah do? Even if he knows what he wants (a quiet mistress), it gets complicated at the thought that God is watching.
On a separate storyline, the movie also eyes on Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), a struggling filmmaker who’s assigned to document his nemesis: a successful and pompous TV producer who also happens to be his brother-in-law (Alan Alda). The story shapes into a triangle when both Cliff and his brother-in-law pines for a producer (Mia Farrow) involved with the documentary. And guess what? Cliff is also a married man, although this time, he really wants to ditch the wife.
On first impression, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is about two married men committing infidelity. But the end result is an exceptional film brimming with wisdom. It reminded me of the best Linklater’s films (“Before Sunrise,” “Before Sunset,” and “Waking Life”) because it ignites intellectual discussions about life: How come life seems unfair? Is there really a God watching over us? If He is, is He a participatory viewer or an aloof voyeur? How can you account for wicked men getting away with things? Does guilt eventually catch up with them? But ah, what if they have no guilt, have they succeeded in breaking away from the eyes of God?
By posing questions, the movie succeeds in the daunting trick of mimicking reality (in cinema, anyway). Regular movies tend to shift focus on whether its story will “twist” towards a good or bad ending. In “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the film seems to walk in the same pace as the viewers, unaware of the future and questioning the outcome. To me, that’s life – a calculated walk in the moment while thoughts run with doubt.
It’s really incredible how Woody Allen develops this movie. As usual, he peppers the film with witty remarks, but the core drama surprised me with its aching depth. I’m fascinated by movies that deal with morality. Situations of moral dilemmas are powerful enough to alter anything from one’s sense of identity to perception of God. “Crimes and Misdemeanors” is about two altered men and their stories can possibly alter you. Hmmm… I wonder what God thought when He watched this movie. It must play out like a comedy to Him.
Martin Landau, Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Claire Bloom, Joanna Gleason, Sam Waterston, and Jerry OrbachScreenplay by