Matchpoint

Erotic Thriller. A middle class Englishman falls in love and marries a woman from a wealthy family, but continues in a passionate adulterous affair with an American actress that results in dire consequences.

This is virtually a remake of Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors from 16 years ago. The acting of all, especially Jonathan Rhys Meyers (as Chris) and Scarlett Johansson (as Nola), is superb. Allen’s capture of the spirit of adultery and obsession is profoundly revelatory, surely a result of his real life mirroring his movies, or shall we say, his movies are obviously expressions of his own experience.

In some ways, this movie explores redundant territory, but in some ways, it depicts the destructive nature of unfaithful obsession. It is the classic “boring kind wife versus passionate unstable mistress” story. But I gotta say, I was not enticed. Scarlett’s character was sufficiently realistic in her competing exclusivity to make this a lesson in consequences for those of us tempted to be unfaithful. Nola, unlike so many stupid women who actually think the adulterer is going to leave his wife, becomes jealous and demanding of more attention. This is more like the internal tension that most likely occurs in affairs, unless of course, both participants are pure hedonistic nihilists. But the point is that the temptation of adultery would be much easier to avoid if one would take the time to think through the kind of consequences and what one would lose if one did so. That is the power of these kind of movies, they play it through so we can receive an imprint in our minds of the consequences, which should come to mind whenever we might be tempted.

Unfortunately, this is a Woody Allen movie, and Allen is a Nietzschean nihilist, so the movie does not end well. Chris realizes that if Nola reveals the adultery to Chris’s family, he would lose his entire life of wealth and comfort and live in poverty with his passionate mistress. So he takes the only way out for a pragmatic nihilist: kill the mistress and return to normal life. Chris is shown early on, reading Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, which is about Raskolnikov, a student who kills someone as an expression of his belief in the Overman of Nietzsche, the man who is “above society’s petty constructed moralities.” So, back to the movie, after Chris kills Nola and successfully makes it look like a drug killing, he muses to himself that “you learn to push the guilt under the rug. The innocent are slain to make way for a grander scheme.” In the beginning of the movie, Chris says, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” And he ends up “luckily” avoiding being caught for his crime.

What is so important about this film is that it marks a deeper comittment to Nietzschean nihilism than his previous existential film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Crimes is about a “good” Jewish doctor who hires a killer to kill his obsessive mistress to protect his comfort and image, just like Match Point. But there is a significant change here. In Crimes, the hero wrestles with his Jewish religious heritage and concludes that religious guilt is mere convention that can be overcome with time. In Matchpoint, there is but one reference in the movie to religion and that is scorned by the aristocratic class as the “despair of faith being the path of least resistance.” So, in this movie, God is truly dead in not even being part of the conversation, he is assumed to be dead, whereas in Crimes, Allen tried to prove he was dead. In Crimes, he has the “hero” hire a killer to do the dirty work, in Match Point, the “hero” does it himself. This is important because it marks a logical step in that if there is no morality that is truly binding on us, then we ourselves should not feel guilty in killing those who are in our way. In hiring a killer, you are still admitting a measure of guilt by having someone else do the dirty work. But here, Allen is saying we should be able to kill with our own hands and get over it.

A very interesting thematic exploration is going on in this movie between luck and purpose, chance and determination. Throughout the film, the characters argue over whether it is all luck and chance or purpose. The dominant view seems to be, as one character concludes, “All existence is blind chance, no purpose, no design.” As a Nietzschean, this is exactly what Woody Allen believes. And the character appeals to the indeterminism of Quantum physics to justify the worldview. Allen uses a very clever metaphor at the very beginning of the movie for his belief in chance. He uses the experience of tennis players, when the ball hits the net and there is a moment when you don’t know if it is going to fall on either side of the net. He freeze frames on an actual ball at that moment. Very ingenius. Anyway, this is a beautiful real world example of an actual Quantum Physics “slit” experiment of alleged indeterminism where light is shown through a slit and supposedly there is no way to know if a photon will go to one side or the other of the split. Allen has always had a brilliant ability to translate his philosophical concepts into real world dramatic experiences and metaphors.

I say, “alleged indeterminism” because not only do Quantum physicists say that what happens on a quantum microlevel does not necessarily apply to the macrolevel that we live in, but also that the philosophical conclusion of indeterminacy from this scientific experiment is indicative not of ontological reality but of man’s finite epistemic knowledge. To suggest that our inability to determine reality with our crude measuring tools or finite and impaired observations is somehow the nature of reality itself is pure prejudice and imperialism. Just because WE cannot determine reality does not necessarily mean reality is indeterminable. That is placing our pathetically inadequate finite capacity as observers at the center of the universe, the now-discredited superstitious ignorance of Enlightenment modernity.

Anyway, the hero/killer stole jewels to make it look like a drug robbery. So at the end, when the hero/killer throws the jewels into the Thames we see a ring fly through the air and hit the rail by the river, just like the tennis ball in the beginning, and fall on the ground instead. It is this ring that frees the killer because just when the detective figures out the crime, they find a drug criminal with the ring in his pocket proving it was a drug crime, but really the criminal found the ring on the ground.

So the hero/killer muses at the end that “it would be fitting if I were apprehended, it would give a sense of purpose,” but alas he is not apprehended, because according to this view, there is no purpose in life. This a clear monologue to the audience telling us that our desire to see the criminal pay for his crime affirms in us the mythology that there is purpose in the universe, and that evil will be punished. So because it is not, he is thumbing his nose in our face. This is a very dark evil worldview but in a way, it is also a very clear admission of the logical conclusion of such thinking. If you believe that morality is mere social convention, then “getting people out of our way” which amounts to killing them if we have to, is ultimately justified. And it is the superior men, the overmen, who live above society’s morality and are “brave” enough to defy it. They carry the future with them, according to this depraved worldview. Odd, this is exactly how the Nazis thought, and would have cremated Allen himself were he around Germany at the time. Also interesting that Allen had to determinedly craft a story with his purpose and predestination of his characters trying to prove there is no determination, purpose or predestiny. Kinda makes him a bit hypocritical don’tya think?

Boy, I would not want to be one of Allen’s friends. No telling what manner of action he might take would he consider you in the way of his career or conscience.

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