Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

In Crimes and Misdemeanors, we have a story about morality, guilt, and the human condition. It tells the story of Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), an accomplished ophthalmologist and community leader. He runs in the same circles with the rich, and sometimes even the famous. He is widely respected, adored by his wife and children, having seemingly anything a man could want. This is, of course, the perfect set-up for his downfall. For, in fact, everything is not well. He has been unfaithful for going on two years now. And having just ended the relationship, his old flame Dolores (Anjelica Huston) now wants to get even. She wants to tell his wife. She wants to blackmail him to leave his wife for her. She is quite emotional, and takes to disrupting his “regular” life more and more often. To what lengths will he go to keep her quiet? What will a man do to protect his reputation and the comfortable life he has been living? If he goes too far, does that old life even exist for him any longer?These are the questions that plague Judah’s experience throughout the film. As the film moves along, and things progress, that final question grows in importance. Finally, when he has Dolores killed, we see the significant consequences this has on his life, his conscience, and what it will have on his family. Surely, now, he will confess. But he doesn’t, and time passes, and feelings dull, and we see the rationalization take place that we all know too well. We know it because we do it. Maybe it’s not for a murder, but it takes place in our lives every day in the smallest of ways. This film is pinpoint accurate in its depiction of the human condition. If left to our impulses, we will make every effort to save ourselves regardless of the claims of justice on our lives. How do we live with ourselves? We forget.

Writer/director Woody Allen is focused in this effort. He does not allow his character (Cliff) to dominate the proceedings with his self-absorbed, self-loathing introspection. But he does this great thing with his character of Cliff at the end of the film. As he sits there, contradicting Judah’s story and arguing for the happy ending that leads to justice, writer and director Allen is telling us just the opposite – that no, injustice takes place all the time. Rationalization takes place all the time. We humans just can’t see straight. Even those of us with the power to help people see clearly can’t see clearly ourselves. It’s significant that the touchstone in this film is the blind rabbi. He does not rely on his earthly sight to get through life. He has something deeper, more significant, and more reliable than that. He has faith – which is just the thing that Judah lacks.

This is such a well-written, well-acted piece that is filled with truth. Go see it now.

2 thoughts on “Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

  1. I find Woody Allen a whiney, boring character (both on film and in real life). And that is to say nothing of his moral bankruptcy manifested in sleeping with the daughter of his lover. Thus, I was shocked by the power of this excellent film. This is not just my favorite Woody Allen film (how’s that for damning with faint praise?!), it is one of my favorite movies. It is one of the most profound treatments of the human condition ever put on the screen. The dialog is outstanding and the motif of blindness and sight is used skillfully to make a profoundly important point. The role of faith is honored and respected. Everyone should see this film.

  2. Haha, why don’t you just say what you really think of the guy! Agreed with your comments on all counts. I expect this film to offer greater riches on a second viewing. Hopefully, that bears itself out.

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