Monday, June 27, 2005

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)

Orion Pictures
Written and directed by Woody Allen
107 minutes

Describing his intentions in Crimes and Misdemeanors Woody Allen tells Richard Schickel, “I just wanted to illustrate, in an entertaining way, that there is no God, that we’re alone in the universe, and that there is nobody out there to punish you, that there’s not going to be any kind of Hollywood ending to your life in any way, that your morality is strictly up to you.” (Schickel, 149) The film is indeed entertaining, but it also thoughtfully approaches the serious question about the nature of morality in the absence of God.

Two plots, which come together explicitly only at the end of the movie, are used to present the central themes. The first is about Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a successful ophthalmologist with a loving family and philanthropic interests. He has been having an affair with a former airline stewardess, Delores (Angelica Houston), and though he is trying to end the relationship, she is threatening to reveal the affair to Judah’s wife, Miriam. Judah seeks advice from both Ben, a rabbi who is both friend and patient to Judah, and Jack (Jerry Orbach), Judah’s brother with underworld connections. Rejecting the rabbi’s recommendation that he confess to Miriam and hope for forgiveness, Judah takes up Jack’s offer to have Delores “gotten rid of.” Immediately following the murder, Judah suffers pangs of guilt and considers turning himself in, but later the guilt subsides and he returns to a happy and successful life.

In the second plot narrative Cliff Stern(Woody Allen) is an unsuccessful documentary filmmaker in a failing marriage. His wife has arranged for him to direct a PBS documentary about her brother, Lester (Alan Alda), who is an arrogant but award winning television producer. Cliff despises him, but agrees to take the job anyway. While filming Cliff meets the recently divorced Associate Producer of the documentary series, Haley (Mia Farrow), and falls in love. He shares with Haley his recent pet project: a documentary about a philosopher named Louis Levy (Martin Bergmann). Having survived the Holocaust, Levy suggests the universe is without moral structure and that humans are left to create their own morality, and thus define themselves by their choices and actions. Unfortunately for Cliff, Lester also falls for Haley and in the end wins her heart. To make matter worse, Louis Levy, the subject of Cliff’s unfinished biographical documentary and his source of inspiration, commits suicide.

These two plot lines set side by side now force the observation: Only in a world lacking a moral structure could a man guilty of a crime as serious as murder end up unpunished and guilt-free while an apparently well-intentioned person with admirable goals, guilty of only misdemeanors at best, would lead a life of continuing disappointment and rejection.

In such a world what is one to do? Allen’s movie suggests that one can, and many do, continue to act as though there is a moral structure, perhaps imposed by a just and loving god, with all the misplaced hopes and demands of a religious world-view, This view reflects the position of supernaturalism, in which it is claimed that an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect divine being provides the ultimate ground for a moral framework and also guarantees that the good will be rewarded and the wicked will be punished. The rabbi Ben and Judah’s father Sol serve to illustrate this perspective. As Judah confesses his affair to Ben, the rabbi responds that “I couldn’t go on living if I did not feel it with all my heart a moral structure with real meaning and forgiveness and some kind of higher power. Otherwise there is no basis to know how to live.” And in a scene that flashes back to Judah’s youth, Sol tells young Judah that “the eyes of God see all. … there is absolutely nothing that escapes his sight. He sees the righteous and he sees the wicked and the righteous will be rewarded, but the wicked will be punished for eternity.” Allen presents both of the advocates of supernaturalism as psychologically dependent on an illusory world-view: Ben “couldn’t go on living” without it and Sol, we find out later in another flashback scene when he confronted with the possibility that his faith might be wrong, admits that “if necessary, I will always choose God over the truth.” Although he rejects supernaturalism as a ground for moral structure, Allen seems to acknowledge some utility in accepting is as a world-view and guide for action.

Rejecting supernaturalism and the possibility of any moral structure, we seem to be left with nihilism. During an important discussion at a Passover Seder dinner Aunt May, an atheist, argues with Sol about the basis of morality, suggesting that “might makes right” and that “history is written by the winners.” At first glance this view seems cold and harsh, leaving us with morality as the invention of individuals or societies, inviting some variety of relativism, individuals driven only by self-interest, and perhaps the fear of moral or social chaos. What if Hitler had won the second world war? Could that qualify as good, or right, or just? And what if everyone chooses as Judah does? Could individuals be considered moral under such conditions? Could a society of such individuals be considered just? A world without an inherent moral structure seems to be not just amoral, but chaotic and immoral.

Either God exists and the universe has a moral structure, as supernaturalism states, or nihilism obtains and there is no god and no moral structure by which we can judge the acts of Judah and Cliff. This stark contrast, however, provides a framework in which we can explore alternative approaches. Might one reject supernaturalism, for example, without sliding completely into the chaotic and relativistic world of nihilism that may seems to endorse?

A slightly more nuanced and sophisticated approach comes from the philosopher Louis Levy, who reminds us that “the universe is a pretty cold place,” and that “it’s we who invest it with our feelings.” The idea seems to be that acts become moral as they are chosen. This brand of existentialism can be found in the work of philosophers like Sartre. There is no human nature or essence that proscribes the correct moral behavior, or that provides us with a pre-established purpose or meaning. Instead we are left to create our own essence, defining our character by the choices we make for ourselves. It is important, says the existentialist Sartre, to recognize honestly this dilemma. There are no external moral authorities or structures that impose prescriptions upon us. And we must understand that we when we chose we are expressing our values and setting a model for all people. We must be prepared for others to chose similarly.

Levy’s own brand of existentialism recognizes the absence of God and lack of an independent moral structure. It encourages us to seek meaning and value in loving relationships we find that we have with each other. Levy’s final soliloquy is instructive and for many commentators reflects Allen’s own conclusion.
We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions—moral choices. Some are on a grand scale; most of these choices are on lesser points. But, we define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are in fact, the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation. It is only we, with out capacity to love, that gives meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying and even to find joy from simple things, like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.

These loving relationships are illustrated throughout the movie, but nowhere more evident than in the strand of plot that eventuates in the wedding that plays out behind Levy's soliloquy presented above. We also see it plainly, however, in the caring and mentoring relationship between Cliff and his niece, Jenny--an obligation born out of a promise to her dying father. Notice also the strong family ties that Judah enjoys both as a child and as an adult (which he has carelessly jeopardized with his illicit romance with Delores). Oddly enough we also see in Jack's underworld "family" relationships. Though we may see Jack as an immoral person because he is willing to engineer the death of Delores, there exists within his gangster family a code by which members are obligated to keep promises and pay their debts. The absence of these significant interpersonal relationships is portrayed in the failing marriage of Cliff and Wendy, and in the few scenes in which Cliff's sister, Barbara, voices her pain in not finding a loving and trusting companion.

Mary Nichols writes that Levy’s position as an alternative to the moral dichotomy that Allen presents. We do not need to choose merely between the religious world-view in which a God creates and presides over a moral structure in the universe or the godless and nihilistic universe that leads to relativism and chaos. Instead we can opt to take responsibility for our own values and define ourselves by our choices. But it is unclear how this view of moral acts as determined by individual choices can avoid a vicious form of relativism. And as Joseph Westfall points out, Professor Levy’s inability to find meaning and his subsequent suicide suggests that even Allen may believe this strategy may be ultimately flawed.

Westfall contrasts the vertical morality defined by the special relationship the moral agent has with a God (a single-directional form of communication, which is disparaged in Crimes and Misdemeanors) with a kind of horizontal morality that emerges from the relationships humans have with each other. Westfall suggests we focus on the metaphor of listening in addition to that of seeing. Those who listen to each other are in a closer, more loving relationship with each other than those who are engaged in one-way communication. Cliff and Jenny communicate meaningfully with each other, which is in stark contrast to the relationship of Cliff to his wife. It is this healthy communication that reflects the loving relationships that Levy is so thoughtfully espousing in his soliloquy. Values are created for both individuals and groups. Oddly enough, shared values can arise in the midst of religious communities as well, though not because they are imposed by a divine authority, as presumed by the believers, but because of the relationships the believers bear to each other.

What Louis Levy presents us with is an alternative to the possibility of extreme nihilism that seems to come with the rejection of supernaturalism. But it may be possible to account for shared moral values in other ways. Non-natural accounts of morality would claim that even in the absence of a God there could be a moral structure to the universe. Plato seems to hold such a view, placing moral truths among the Forms, and in the early twentieth century G. E. Moore argued that moral or normative truths cannot be reduced to descriptive facts. The questions arise for this non-naturalistic view, however, as to what sort of facts moral facts are (if not physical or mental) and how it is that we might come to know what is morally permissible and what is not. Moore and others have suggested that we have a special intuition about moral truths; Plato thought all such knowledge was innate.

One view not pursued in the film, but which can be illustrated by many elements in the film, is a naturalistic approach to ethics. In addition to the views of supernaturalism (that a moral structure is commanded by God), or non-naturalism (that there is a moral structure to the universe independent of a God), or nihilism (that there is no moral structure at all, only moral chaos and relativism), there is the possibility that ethical principles and values can be accounted for in terms of natural properties and processes. Such an account might look toward the evolution of a moral sense in humans (perhaps prototypically found also in non-human primates). This genetically grounded moral sense might include a set of tendencies or behavioral dispositions to cooperate with others, to reciprocate favors, to seek retribution, elevate the importance of trust, and to care about the welfare of others as well as themselves.

Certain kinds of behavior strategies might have adaptive value for social animals like ourselves. Not just any set of behavioral strategies will lead to a stable social structure. The fear of the existentialist position is that there might be many or mostly Judahs, Lesters, and Jacks, strong enough to have their way in the world and who choose to act only in their self-interest. And it may seem that weaker members of society--the Cliffs and Deloreses of the world--might be at a disadvantage. But there is good reason to believe that in a competition for resources a society in which most agents were cheaters would not survive: cheating is not an evolutionary stable strategy. Nor is a purely altruistic strategy. Cooperation and reciprocity do prove to belong to a stronger strategy, however, in the presence of cheaters and suckers. Loyalty, trust, and a notion of obligation are also important. Jack's underworld family illustrates the natural bonds and obligations that arise in order to maintain strength and stability in the small social network.

Despite his simple dichotomy of supernaturalism versus nihilism, Allen clearly acknowledges the complexity of moral psychology. As the title of the film suggests, the slide from misdemeanors to crimes--from what we would be willing to concede and rationalize and feel comfortable with to something more serious--presents us with no obvious point of transition. Is there a difference in degree underlying what appears to be a difference in kind? We can normally feel comfortable rationalizing out “white lies” as Judah does with his adultery and embezzling and as Cliff does with Halley (though he is still married) or “selling out” his standards by filming Lester. Even Ben is willing to suggest that confessing to Miriam might bring about forgiveness (a “small infidelity” he calls the adultery). Allen (in Schickel) says of Judah: “he’s scared at first…he’s nervous…but once it passes, it passes—and just like the thousands or millions of crimes that committed all the time in the world, there’s no retribution for it, and no justice done. And…and so I was merely saying, there’s no God and no justice.”

Judah was himself unsure whether he had done anything wrong before the crime. When Ben’s specter asks “did you make promises to her?” Judah replies, with little confidence, “No—maybe I led here on more than I realize.” Later, he asks Delores, “Moving money around isn’t a crime, is it?” Is his question rhetorical? “Not that I stole, but I was indiscrete.”


Throughout the film references to eyes and eyeglasses prove to be useful devices for underscoring Allen’s themes. Though many critics have objected that the eye metaphor is exhausted, we find that references to the eyes and the use of glasses serve to emphasize critical distinctions and open up important questions.

It has often been said that the eyes are windows to the soul. Allen plays on this theme several times in the movie. Upon arriving back a Delores’ apartment, Judah and Delores have the following exchange:
Delores: My mother said that I should go to the doctor because I was, you know, my eyes weren’t so good. You’re an ophthalmologist. Do you agree: the eyes are the windows of the soul?

Judah: Well, I believe that they are windows. I’m not so sure it’s a soul I see.

Delores: My mother taught me that I have a soul, and I will [have it even after] I am gone. And if you look deeply enough in my eyes you can see it.

The scene clearly portrays Judah as the scientist, refusing to acknowledge the religious world-view that includes souls, and perhaps even failing to recognize in Delores any special morally relevant qualities that might be thought to belong to other people. Perhaps this is why, in the end, he can decide to have her killed. Delores’ viewpoint, on the other hand, is presented as naïve and childlike. She is rather inarticulate when describing the medical problem, saying only “my eyes weren’t so good.” The cold hard gaze of Judah’s scientific mind seems so distance from values, while Delores’ belief in a soul seems so simplistic and romantic—as romantic as her desire to have Judah look deeply into her eyes, or to leave his wife for her. This theme emerged again when Judah returns to the murder scene to collect any of his belongings that might implicate him in the affair. As he parks his car, the camera focuses on the headlights going out, and inside the apartment the camera pans from Judah’s eyes, which stare in horror at corpse on the floor, to the empty eyes of Delores’ lifeless body, for which he is responsible. “I saw her there,” he later says, “just staring up as an inert object. There was nothing in behind her eyes. When you looked into them all you saw was a black void.”

From the perspective of a naturalized ethics the ability to "read" the character of another individual with whom we have no record of experience serves an important adaptive role. What kind of moral character does the other person have? Can I trust him? We often use the eyes (along with facial expressions and body language) to make such estimates of character on the fly.

We can also think of perception—in this case vision—as a source of moral constraint; a reason to behave morally. The film presents to us the same kind of situation we find in Plato’s Republic when Glaucon poses the thought experiment in which two people possess rings that would make them invisible. The rings permits the owners to avoid detection from any moral authority and so from the fear of punishment or of a damaged reputation. The unjust man would take advantage of the situation for personal gain at the expense of others, yet find a way to retain his just appearance. The just man would not misuse the power and yet would be thought ridiculous because he failed to take advantage of the opportunity. Glaucon aims to show that all men are inclined toward self-interest and that justice for its own sake is an unreasonable expectation.

The supernaturalist's response to the Ring scenario places an all knowing God in the role of the watchful moral manager. Sol expresses this view when he address the young Judah:
I say it once again: the eyes of God see all. Listen to me Judah, there is absolutely nothing that escapes his sight. He sees the righteous and he sees the wicked and the righteous will be rewarded but the wicked will be punished for eternity.

Though Judah thinks of eyes as a scientist might and though he seems to have grown out of his religious moral education, he does show signs of guilt after the murder is committed. As he sits alone in the dark late at night reflecting on his crime, the phone rings. It appears to be a wrong number, but the fact that no one speaks leaves Judah in fear that he has been observed. Even during his affair with Delores, Judah displays some sense of quilt when he and Delores run on the beach and stop to kiss: “You know, I don’t think we should do this here.” Delores: “Why not, we’re all alone.” Judah: “I don’t know. I’m feeling a little self-conscious.”

The Ring of Gyges is an important reference for Allen’s film. Pappas suggests that Lester would not profit from the ring because he is already powerful, but Cliff would benefit though we would not likely use it, he is mischievous not malicious. For Lester, Cliff’s camera plays the role of the eyes of God when filming Lester: “I was lurking around the corner with my camera…” Though Lester is powerful, he is powerful because he is able to control, for the most part, his own press coverage and his reputation. Cliff’s camera present a threat to Lester’s security. Whether Cliff would use the power such a ring could provide is unclear, though one suspects that it is his timidity and suspicion would keep him from using the ring rather, than his commitment to moral principles. Cliff has not bought into the religious ground for morality, nor has he worked out an intellectual system like Levy.

Consider also the idea that eyes can be thought of as tools for gaining both moral insight and scientific knowledge. Judah’s study of the eyes (as an ophthalmologist) is scientific not spiritual. He opines in speech during the opening scene that the suggestion that “The eyes of God are always on us” may be what led him into ophthalmology; he is a scientist and a skeptic. “What a phrase to a young boy,” he muses, highlighting the fact that childhood innocence appreciates such wonder. But he asks, “What were God’s eyes like?” as a scientist might query: his question doesn’t have the moral or religious force that it does for others like Ben or Sol. Throughout his childhood Judah was immersed in religious and moral teaching, but his true calling, and his real point of reference, lies in science.

Glasses are also used as metaphorical devices. Glasses might be used to indicate closer inspection (scientific knowledge) or, alternatively, they can also imply a weakness in sight. Judah seems to wear glasses only when reading or working in office with patient. Perhaps he really needs glasses, but neglects to wear them as often as he should. Wearing them to read or in the office certainly reflects his scientific and intellectual proclivities. But given his moral dilemma and the conflicting alternatives with which he struggles, we see him as someone who lacks the kind of moral insight required to make the kind of decision he is forced to make. Ben, on the other hand, like the father Sol, wears glasses to represent not the close scrutiny of a scientist, nor to represent a special kind of moral insight, which Allen rejects, but to show the limitation of his moral vision. Here we might better think of “rose colored glasses” which filter, if not impair, one’s vision. Perhaps glasses even function as a barrier between the potential knower and the world as it really is. Ben goes blind at the end of the movie. He is completely cut off from the real world visually. According to Sanders Lee this reflects “Allen’s ultimate sense of hopelessness.”

Cliff as well wears glasses. If religious faith provides a kind of useful illusion for the religious, then for Cliff movies allow his to escape from the realities of a failed marriage, the frustration of an arrogant brother in law, and lack of accomplishment in his chosen career. Cliff, in the company of his niece Jenny (thus-far protected from difficult moral decisions), loves the tuxes and gowns of the Hitchcock film Mr. and Mrs. Smith and, upon leaving the theater, finds the rainy day outside “awful.” He is more comfortable in the world of film, either working on a documentary, or when viewing his copy of Singing in the Rain. In Cliff’s case, glasses serve to distance him from his failures and frustrations and, like the lens of the movie camera, present him with the fantasy that life can be like a Hollywood movie.

At the end Cliff, having been rejected by Haley for Lester, is sitting alone suffering his disappointment. As Judah approaches and Cliff claims to be plotting the perfect murder—of Lester we can only imagine. Judah sits down next to him and asks whether it is a movie plot he is thinking about; Cliff asks “movie?” The irony here is that Cliff has lived in the movie world and now confronts reality; Judah has been involved in a real murder plot, but his life has turned movie-like. Of course, if Cliff were to murder Lester, he would, if his own recommendation is honest, turn himself in to make for tragedy. Cliff is driven by ideals or Hollywood-like plot structures.

Another important bespectacled character is Louis Levy, the existentialist philosopher. Does Levy wear glasses because, as a philosopher or intellectual, he is able to closely inspect the real nature of the universe or because even his world view (nihilist as it is) is illusory and too rosy or optimistic. He does commit suicide in the end, after all? Allen says (in Schickel) “You can intellectualize all the time and you can have ideas about things and discuss things, but finally in your heart there’s an empty feeling about existence that no amount of existence and not amount of conversation and literature and learning ever really fills.” (152)

Lee notes also that all virtuous characters wear glasses except Haley, who “is apparently able to discard her values by agreeing to marry the arrogant, pompous but successful TV producer Lester….” But it is not clear how virtuous Halley is. She takes off her glasses twice in the film, once when considering the prospect of working on Cliff’s film about Levy and at the end of the movie when she has agreed to marry Lester. We must note that Haley presents herself as ambitious and opportunistic: she is interested in the documentary on levy, not in a relationship with Cliff; she leaves for London to take advantage of some business opportunities; and she marries Lester for caviar (and presumably for additional career opportunities).

In conjunction we must discuss the characters who do not wear glasses: Miriam, Jack, Lester, Aunt May, Jenny, and Cliff’s sister Barbara. Jenny represents a youthful innocence and provides a contrast to the intellectual Levy. Jack, Lester, Aunt May, and Barbara are all characters that live in the “real world.” This dichotomy between the real and the ideal worlds presents another important theme in the film. If glasses represent Ben’s and Sol’s placement in the illusory world proscribed by religious doctrine, Cliff’s escape behind the Hollywood movie, and Levy’s overly intellectual response to the lack of real moral structure, then Jack, Barbara and Aunt May can be understood to confront directly the harsh realities of the world they live with all the implications of a godless universe.

Of those who are not wearing glasses, Aunt May presents the most philosophical response to the theme of a godless world. She does not present the intellectual existential response of a Louis Levy, but boldly frames the issues in terms of a world in which “might makes right.” At the Passover Seder dinner May reacts to Sol’s opening prayer by asking him to stop his “mumbo-jumbo” and not to fill the heads of children with “superstition.” For May the realities of the world dictate against the truth of a religious account of morality and the world. “Oh come on, Sol. Open up your eyes,” she says. And then, referring to the atrocities of the Nazi regime she adds, “Six million Jews and millions of others and they got off with nothing.” May then denies that the world has a moral structure, and, in response to the guest who asks, “Do you not find human impulse is basically decent?” she adds that “It is basically nothing.” Her response to Judah’s situation, in which a man commits murder, is straightforward: “if he can do it and get away with it and he chooses not to be bothered by the ethics, then he is home free. Remember, history is written by the winners. And if the Nazis has won, future generations would understand the story of World War II quite differently.”

Throughout the dinner May is accused of being a nihilist, a cynic, an intellectual, and even a Leninist. Sol suggests that she is “a brilliant woman” but that “she has led a very unhappy life.” But her position is consistent and her realist approach to the issues is rooted in her observations about historical atrocities and her refusal to accept matters of faith over facts that have been born out in her experiences.

Jack and Barbara represent those who must regularly confront a world that permits the worst of injustice. Their responses are less thoughtful, but familiar nonetheless. Cliff’s sister Barbara is a single mother and has difficulty meeting men; she has recently gone through a terrifying situation dating a man she has met through the singles’ ads. Jack is Judah’s brother with gangland connections. He helps Judah by arranging the murder of Delores, but not because of some ideal sense of brotherly love; rather, Judah has helped him in the past, which invokes an obligation according to the “law of the jungle” that applies to the underworld culture of which Jack is a member. Contrast this with Cliff’s promise to his brother-in-law to help raise Jenny. Jack is keenly aware of how his world differs from Judah’s: “You’re not aware of what does on in this world. I mean, you sit up here with your four acres and your country club and your rich friends and there in the real world there’s a whole different story.” The idea is that real-world problems call for real-world solutions that may not be permissible according to ideal standards of morality.


This contrast between the ideal world of Ben’s religious conviction and Jack’s real world is evident throughout the film. The careful viewer will have noticed that the hair salon next to Delores’s apartment building is called “Jacks” and it is open Sundays. No concern for the Sabbath there. But more significantly, while Judah is reflecting on whether he should accept Jack’s solution to eliminate Delores, he imagines the following discussion with Ben:
Ben: “It’s a human life. You don’t think God sees?”
Judah: “God is a luxury I can’t afford.”
Ben: “Now you’re talking like your brother Jack.”
Judah: “Jack lives in the real world. You live in the kingdom of heaven. I managed to keep free of the real world, but suddenly it found me.”

Lester presents a more complex case. He is not realistic about his own pompous and shallow personality; in fact, he believes the hype that he is a great man and worthy as the subject of the documentary. But his shallowness and self-serving attitude do cause him to ignore both the intellectual and the religious world-views that lead others to posit humility, genuine concern for others, and an appreciation for moral conduct. Lester lives in the real world in the sense that he prospers in a world that Allen depicts as favoring the successful and powerful and as blind to good intentions.

The distinction between the real and ideal worlds reveals more than a difference between two views on the source of and commitment to moral structures. The film also illustrates the fact that abstract principles and rules of morality that seem to be recommended by the idealized moral systems we find in religion are often difficult to apply precisely to real situations.

Ben’s advice to Judah—that he confess and ask Miriam for forgiveness—represents a simplistic understanding of the situation Judah faces, though to be fair Judah has not presented the case in full to Ben. In fact Judah must contend with his future relationship with his wife and family, the impact of past financial indiscretions upon his future relationships with his philanthropic interests, his credibility before his patients, the repercussions in his social circle, and the perhaps long-term continuing threat from Delores, who does not seem to be someone who would step aside quietly even if Marian found out about the affair. We don’t need to agree with Judah’s final solution to appreciate his serious predicament.

Cliff’s predicament is also complicated, though less serious than Judah’s. Does he take the job of directing the documentary about the brother-in-law that he detests? He believes the subject matter is beneath and he must recognize that taking the job only serves to highlight his own failures to achieve success. Does he swallow his pride to please his wife, with whom he shares a failing marriage? And should he have an affair with Halley? He is married but the marriage is clearly falling apart. What moral force does a marriage vow in this context? Though ideal moral systems offer what seem to be clear rules of conduct, real-world situations often present ambiguous contexts for application.


Allen presents contrast between supernaturalism and nihilism, but there are intermediate views that can also be discussed in the context of the film: non-naturalism (intuitionism) and naturalism are examples. The parallel plot lines and the rich tableau of characters provide background for serious meta-ethical discussions surrounding the possibility of being good without God.


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Vigliotti, Robert. “Woody Allen’s Ring of Gyges and the Virtue of Despair.” Film and Philosophy (July 2000): 154-162.

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DRAFT: RLG 6/27/05


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