For decades, Woody has intertwined several basic themes: love and its yearnings. Faith. Talent and success. Human evil and the absence of God in the universe. And he does that thing that humor does: takes pain and fear, turns them inside out and makes us laugh. But behind the laughter has always been an extraordinarily keen mind and a troubled spirit.
Most of us agree that his marriage to his own step-daughter was a sign of a damaged psyche. Of course, hed been warning us for decades that he was damaged goods, hadnt he? It wasnt until Bullets Over Broadway in which a murderous hit-man is revealed as a theatrical genius, did it finally hit me that he was obsessed with the question of why evil is not punished in the universe. Why, in fact, success seems to have no connection to the purity of the soul.
In Crimes and Misdemeaners he went further, encouraging us to empathize with a man capable of a terrible act but that film sat on the fence, allowing us to argue about the right and wrong of things, rather than focusing us on the core question which has obviously chewed at his heart and mind since childhood.
But to skip over all further plot details to address this theme, I think its something of an Easter Egg. Look deeper, and the question is not merely one of luck, but one that asks: Is there a God in the Universe? If so, what is His nature, and why is he silent on the presence of evil?
I cant help but think that Woody is asking the wrong question. If, as I suspect, on one level he believes human beings are shallow and evil, and that he himself has achieved massive wealth and fame while deeply flawed and (he suspects) evil in his personal life, then where is the justice in the universe?
Secondly, I think that the key is not in why are the wicked not punished but the question what is the nature of a good, successful life? He has taken a perfectly reasonable approach: a beautiful spouse, wealth, health, public acclaim are a good life. That evil men and women can achieve this must be deeply troubling to him.
And troubles me not at all. It is possible of course that it is MY philosophy that is shallow, and his that cuts deep. I wont be self-congratulatory, or dogmatic enough to pat myself on the back, but I must stake out a position.
So here it is. I think that external measurements of success are wonderful, but ultimately satisfying only if they match our internal values. And from the cradle, we crave connection to love, to warmth, to that total acceptance we felt from our mothers, in the womb if nowhere else. And that this craving is totally unconscious, and that we spend the rest of our lives attempting to regain it.
When we sense that our own values and actions could be replicated by the entire world, to its benefit, I think that there is a sense of peace that simply cannot be put into words, a state of grace, of joy that those who have not experienced simply cannot believe inas sociopaths cannot believe that human beings genuinely experience love and caring for one another. Such poor souls circle in the outer darkness. Say I love you to them, and they think if only you knew what I really was, you wouldnt say that. Or worse, they think poor, deluded fool, to feel such trivial, false emotions.
Of COURSE it is possible to achieve acclaim, and fame, and health, and hot sex and be evil. Evil is a judgment about things on a spiritual level, not on the level of business (although in general, honesty pays in business) or marriage contracts (you can lie and cheat, and your mate may never discover it) or fitness/health (Ive known tremendously fit and long-lived people who were monsters).
Yet and still, Lifewriting asks us to embrace these three qualities as markers of inner worth. Why? Because they are the best, simplest external markers I know of. They are not infallible.
On a personal level, I believe that when our inner values and our outer actions are in alignment, and when those actions and values are transparent, so that we would stand before all mankind and say: this is who I am. And I would want my children, and your children to be the same, and I am prepared to stand before the universe and say that I would be willing and happy to be treated as I have treated others that there is a simple peace that comes from this that cannot be replaced by money, or sex, or even life itself.
Those who have been abused, neglected, uncherished, often do not develop the spiritual sensory equipment to find their way to this place. The armies of lethal children found in inner cities around the third world (and sometimes the first world) attest to this: they have not experienced love, and therefore have no ability to empathize, or care about much beyond survival and simple pleasures.