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May 13, 2009

Woody Allen - Post-Modern Prophet

In his movie “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” Woody Allen explores and explodes post-modern morality.

In the character of Vicky, Allen offers socially accepted, conventional morality. Vicky does not understand why it is important to follow traditional moral standards but is determined she must. The only rationale she can produce for playing by the rules is that she is afraid to abandon the social expectations with which she was raised.

Cristina accepts none of the social conventions that shape her friend’s life. Cristina is the perfect post-modern icon. She is a complete blank. She has no boundaries, no parameters capable of defining any sort of acceptable behaviour. In Cristina every moral code has been completely deconstructed. She is open to whatever happens, willing to follow wherever her sense of momentary gratification might seem to lead. She embraces the unconventional with absolute abandon. Cristina has no moral compass; the universe is a random series of more or less happy events.

On the surface, Vicky’s ethic seems to hold out nothing but a dull life of endless drudgery and meaningless duty tied to her dud fiancé Doug. Cristina’s life appears to offer an Eden of passionate self-expression and sensual delight in the arms of both Juan Antonio and Maria Elena. But, for Woody Allen, the picture is not so simple.

There is something genuinely decent and authentic in the man to whom Vicky has pledged her life and something deeply unsatisfying in Cristina’s choice.

At the end of the film Vicky is unsure if she wants to merely conform to traditional expectation and Cristina is certain that, while she knows what she does not want, she is unclear what she does want.

Traditional demands to follow conventional morality simply because that is what has always been done no longer work. But simply abandoning any moral guide and any sense of boundary is an equally barren alternative. Woody Allen does not offer a simple solution.

Perhaps he might consult the ancient prophet Jeremiah through whom God spoke saying that the day will come when, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jeremiah 31:33) The answer to the dead convention of a moral system based only on external social mores is not no law. The answer to meaningless legalism is to recognize that the laws of God are written on the human heart.

There is a way the universe works. We can live in tune with the operating principles of existence; or we can live against them. One way leads to life, the other to chaos. We do know the difference. If we listen deeply we will find that it is not either Vicky or Cristina. The truth lies deeper than both, in that place within ourselves where God is known. The truth of God’s Spirit will guide the heart that is willing to listen.

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