What Woody Allen Taught Me about Sin

1991This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

I have never had occasion to write about a film in this space. To me, movies that are not excessively violent or blatantly offensive are generally banal.

But there is one I have rented three times now, even bribing family members and neighbors with popcorn in order to have them watch one of the most powerful commentaries on sin, guilt, and conscience that I know: Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The film’s central figure is Judah Rosenthal, successful ophthalmologist, loving husband and father, and respected community leader. His pleasant life seems perfect—until one day he opens a letter meant for his wife. It is from his mistress, and it threatens to expose the good doctor’s darker side.

Judah isn’t a religious man, but in his panic he asks a rabbi friend for advice. The rabbi urges him to confess to his wife and to God, and to hope for understanding. But Judah won’t take that risk. God, he says, is a luxury he cannot afford; he has to live in the real world.

Besides, Judah is not looking for forgiveness. He is looking for an escape, particularly as his mistress’s demands escalate into blackmail. Remembering the teachings of his Jewish childhood, Judah fears the all-seeing eye of God, but his fear of disrupting his well-ordered life is stronger. He finally decides to risk the possible wrath of a distant God rather than the certain fury of his wife.

Judah confides in his mobster brother, who offers a shocking solution. For a price, he says, the woman can be killed.

Judah agonizes. But as the woman’s pressures continue, he finally agrees. She must be silenced.

Judah’s brother’s call comes one night while he is entertaining guests: His mistress has been shot while opening the door for a delivery man. As his guests clink cocktail ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Subscribe to CT and get one year free.
More from this IssueRead This Issue
Read These Next
  • From the Magazine
    I Befriended Bart Ehrman by Debating Him
    I Befriended Bart Ehrman by Debating HimSubscriber Access Only
    I’ve been blessed by my friendships with debate opponents, despite strong disagreements.
  • Related
    The Book of Eli
    The Book of EliSubscriber Access Only
    Its brutal content is not for all tastes, but this thoughtful action movie finds Denzel Washington protecting the last copy of a very important book: the Bible.
  • Editor's Pick
    Put Not Your Trust in Credentials
    Put Not Your Trust in Credentials
    Chris Arnade’s moving account of “back-row America” made me reconsider my own definition of success.