Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Women

I'm always a little chagrined when I like Woody Allen's new film.

I don't even know why I see them.  It's always at the back of my mind, and I can never fully enjoy them.   Here he is, one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, and every film he makes is colored by what he did. 

It's because, of course, I can't forget about his personal choices. The man married his adoptive stepdaughter, for chrissakes.  Yes, I know, they're not blood relations, but he was her father.   

This latest film, "Vicky Christina Barcelona," is a prime example.  How to describe it?  It's a film about the multifaceted complexities of love.  And it's good.  The characters were finely drawn, the acting strong (especially Penelope Cruz), and the story compelling.  

There's this love quintrangle, you see.  A pair of girls goes to Spain for the summer and two of them become attached to the same man.  One of them is engaged, so she can't pursue her attraction, and the other can.  After she moves in, the man's ex-wife returns to the scene and they embark on a threesome, all of them making love to each other.  Then, it falls apart and he returns to the original girl, the engaged one, and it, too, explodes in their faces.

It sounds like a soap opera, but it's really quite good.

You could argue that the man in the middle of all of this is preying on two American tourists, or you can argue that he was simply so personally compelling that these two beautiful women couldn't help but fall for him, not to mention the wife that couldn't let him go.  It doesn't hurt that he's played by Javier Bardem and he's about the hottest thing on two legs, either.  You could argue that he set all of them up for heartbreak and he somehow got off on it.  You could argue that the first one, the attached one, got what she deserved because she cheated on her relationship.  You could argue a lot of things.  That's what makes this movie good.  There's a lot of white space for you to fill in your thoughts.

A few things bothered me about the film, and so I did what I always do when I'm thinking about something: I brought it up with Matt, my trainer.  I gave him a basic overview of the plot, and when I told him about how Vicky, the engaged girl, was treated at the end, his opinion was that she got what she deserved.  "She was a whore," he said.

And the other one?  "Not a whore, because she was a free spirit who made her own choices.  She wasn't with anybody so she didn't hurt anybody."

Okay, yes.  But I take umbrage with calling anybody a whore.  People go through things inside their heads all the time.  They do stupid things.  Those are called mistakes.  Making a mistake does not make a person a whore.

"I disagree," he said.  "Taking off your shirt?  That's a mistake.  Taking off your pants?  Another mistake.  That's easy to correct, too.  You just put them back on and go home.  But taking off your shirt and your pants and your shoes and your ..."

I got it.  But that doesn't make a person a whore.  And making a mistake in love, especially when you're unhappy with the person you're with, doesn't make you a bad person.  I don't think that somebody who cheats is necessarily a bad person.  An unhappy one, maybe, but not a whore.  Vicky didn't get what she deserved because she was led into it by one hell of a player.

"I disagree," he said.  "The guy just took her at her word.  One night, then it's over.  She said so herself.  Why should he drag it out?  It would have ended badly anyway."

And here we have a difference in perspective -- I look at these characters and whereas he sees a whore and a logical fellow, I see a confused girl and a seducer.  Women get led down the garden path all the time.  For brief moments, we believe.  In what, I don't know.

I liked the film.  I liked it more, in fact, than any other movie he's made since "Melinda and Melinda."   

I hate that this fine film was made by Woody Allen. 

His work should be able to stand on his own.  But I can't.  I can't separate the art from the artist.  And maybe I shouldn't, because like his film, his life reads like a soap opera.  Although Soon-Yi Previn, Woody Allen's current wife, claims that she was not his adoptive daughter (in fact, Mia Farrow adopted her during an earlier relationship with Andre Previn), the fact is that she was 22 when this came out.  Allen and Farrow were together for ten years; that would have made Soon-Yi twelve when Allen first came into her life.  Allen may have waited for her to grow up before he took the naked pictures that blew this whole thing wide open, but the fact is that he embarked upon a relationship with a young girl in his care.

By the way, she's not the first adolescent girl he's had a relationship with.  There's been at least two others.

Whenever I think of that relationship, my mind automatically jumps to the next famous scandal of the nineties: Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky.

It always amazes me when this subject comes up, because the first thing people do is lampoon Monica.  They call her fat and they call her a whore and a million other things in between.  What they don't call her is what she is: a victim.

Monica Lewinsky was twenty-two when her relationship with Bill Clinton began.  Twenty-two.  I know this because I was the exact same age at the time.  When news of the scandal broke and I did the math, all I could think was: how could he?  Not how could she, because that of course was obvious.  I remember what I was like at twenty-two, all of the stupid romantic choices that I made that luckily didn't involve the president of the United States.  Everybody remembers what twenty-two is like.  That's why you don't touch twenty-two.  After you reach a certain age, you realize that twenty-two is not grown up.  It's not.

Maybe I have a different perspective on this than others because I'm a teacher, but I know how desperate young adults are for approval from an older generation.  They seek it in stupid ways.  It is up to us, the adults, to recognize that adolescent stupidity and to guide them around it.  If we don't, then we are at fault.

It galls me every time someone blames her for what happened.  Two people were involved, one the most powerful man in the world.  He did something terrible that colors all the good that he did in his presidency.

People have no trouble labeling this kind of thing when it happens to someone much younger.  Look at Mary Kay Letourneau and her child bridegroom.  I don't care if that boy has hit twenty-one; he is a victim of abuse, and clearly they should have kept her in jail for it longer.

I have kids come in my classroom all the time looking for attention, much like Monica did with Bill or Soon-Yi did with Woody.  As adults, we have a choice: do I take the worship this child clearly feels for me and help him or her reach out for something positive, or do I prey upon this young person?

Because that's what it is.  Preying. 

I was standing outside my classroom door between bells the other day, watching one of our senior boys eyeing one of our freshman girls.  No, I said to him.

"Why not?" he said.  "She's fine."

But that wasn't the point, I told him.  And there were a lot of beautiful girls his age walking around these halls.  That one was too young for him.  She'd probably follow him, sure, but was she ready to go where he led?

"She looks grown enough," he said to me.

But no, I said.  She may look grown, but think of yourself at fourteen.  Think of yourself now.  Is she ready for you?

He looked at me a long time, nodded, and said, "I get you, Miss Baader.  I get you."

If an eighteen-year-old boy could get that point, why couldn't Bill Clinton?

Perhaps I see this more clearly than people who aren't around young people all the time, but we as adults have a duty to our youth to lead them to good things.  

Bill Clinton did a lot of good in his tenure.   He won't be remembered for any of that.

Woody Allen made one hell of a movie.  He won't be remembered for that, either.

And neither should he.  They.  Either of them.


Rachel Burton said...

Great post. Woody Allen has always squicked me out for that very reason. And yes, sometimes I inadvertantly catch myself enjoying his films anyway.

GC SMITH said...

Ah to seperate the art from the artist (cinematic or political). It's hard, but Allen is a great film-maker, Clinton a great politico. Each flawed. Each capable of dispicable acts. But, aren't we all, especially we menfolk.

Amelia said...

I agree that what they did is disgusting, I loved what you wrote about leading the youth to better things instead of taking advantage. However, Woody Allen makes great movies... Plain and simple. And Bill Clinton was a great president. The reality is they will both be remembered by many for different reasons. And most likely by the youth for the more despicable reasons. Because that's what we tell them about the most.