Karma in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”

310710_oriCrimes and Misdemeanors is a 1989 film directed by, written by, and starring Woody Allen.It starts a powerful cast and, like many other Allen films, follows multiple storylines. On one hand there is Dr. Judah Rosenthal – portrayed by Martin Landau in an Oscar-nominated performance. Dr. Rosenthal organizes the murder of his former mistress following threatens she made to reveal their affair to his wife as well as several monetary sins he is guilty of. He finds himself questioning his previously agnostic state of mind as he is confronted by his childhood faith. In a far more lighthearted story we follow Cliff Stern (Woody Allen), a married man whose love life is nonexistent, and his affair with Halley Reed (Mia Farrow). Both stories remain, for the most part, separate until the final few minutes when Judah sits down beside Cliff discussing his “idea” for a “murder film.” It is here that the parallels between the two mens’ stories become apparent, and really make this movie stand out.

I kept expecting some big reveal to occur where Stern accidentally caught Rosenthal on video leaving the scene of the crime (he went there after the act was done) or where he would fully admit to his sin but he never did. Instead he goes off with his wife, happier at that moment than ever before. With such good luck, Allen makes the us in the audience question the existence of a moral structure where bad people face justice. For all of his wrongdoing, for all of his constant fear that karma would eventually catch up with him, Rosenthal remains rich, free, and happy right up until the credits roll.

Oddly enough, I found this ending to be reminiscent of No Country for Old Men which, though a far different story, murkily ended with the “villain” getting away. Another film that had a similarly bleak ending was Gone Girl, though oddly enough I felt that its ending was not effective in the way that Crimes and Misdemeanors and No Country for Old Men’s was. It is an ending that will leave many audiences uneasy, and for that reason it is effective. Landau proclaims “he choses to live in reality.” In Allen’s story reality is a place where bad people can get away with bad things. It is sad, but it is true. I do enjoy happy endings, but their constant use can take some enjoyment out of films by giving them too much predictability. For this reason it is always nice to get an ending with a touch of ambiguity without failing to provide some sort of closure.

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“Crimes and Misdemeanors” imdb page

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