Woody Allen Movies and Existential Despair

I read a quote from Edward Lear

” I see life as basically tragic and futile and the only thing that matter is making little jokes.”

The quote is found in an out of print book Inventing Wonderland by Jackie Wullschlager.

I was able to draw a connection between that quote and two early movies by Woody Allen Annie Hall 1977 (we need the eggs), Manhattan 1979, and Hannah and Her Sisters 1986. In the movie Hannah and Her Sisters, the character played by Woody Allen, whom I will refer as Woody Allen, wants to kill himself, because he does not know what happens in the afterlife. He reasons life is not worth living because we don’t know what the point of life is without knowing if there is an afterlife and if so what happens in the afterlife? He tries several religions, but they all fail him. He is ready to kill himself, but then he is cheered up by watching a Marx Brother’s Movie. In Manhattan 1979 he realizes what matters to him is not the sophisticated woman played by Diane Keaton, but the younger girl played by Mariel Hemingway. This was clearly the foreshadowing of worse thing to come. But, it was an Existential Crisis that caused Woody Allen to change his mind about which woman he wanted.

I recalled reading that Woody Allen studied things on his own beyond college, so he could impress women whom he was picking up. I thought this was rather crass, so I filed it away in my memory until later. Woody Allen complained in the movie Stardust Memories that everyone wanted him to just make more funny movies, but he could not due to his Existential Despair. There are a whole series of his funny movies that he made such as Take The Money And Run, Bananas, Sleeper, and Love and Death. But, his more profound movies will be more remembered Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters.

The Existential Despair concept is hardly original, but at the time when I watched these movies it made accessible to me someone who had not studied much classical literature in spite of a liberal arts education.  In college, each professor picks the works he wants his students to read and study. Clearly there are some huge gaps in my education. Why did none of them ever touch on Edward Lear? How could have lived more than 50 years knowing only the poem The Owl and the Pussycat which I assumed was a Mother Goose? The Owl and the Pussycat was written to cheer up a sick child, but after The Owl and the Pussycat Edward Lear poems take a sliding into some very depressing topics. “They went to sea in a Sieve” in the poem The Jumblies is about a huge family or group of people suffering from over population, but they don’t mind or notice or take any actions to correct this misfortune. Lear was said to come from a very large family of 21 children.

I do appreciate Woody Allen placing Existential Despair into his movies, even he copied them. For those people who did not go to college or somehow missed it, Woody Allen introduces the topic of Existential Despair. There are more reasons to consider Existential Despair than topic itself. Existential Despair is the best argument against materialism and endlessly striving to have more possessions while completely ignoring realities like aging, death and the death of our loved ones. No amount of material wealth or personal success can overcome the question of the afterlife. In the current state with of affairs with over population and climate change, we can’t just go on ignoring the diminishing environment we live in. But, one person can’t do anything about fossil fuels or the over use of plastics. This contributes to the dread of Existential Despair, because we know that future generations may have worse life than ourselves. In Victorian times people did not know these future truths. The invention of antibiotics in the 1920s changed the world for the better. People thought that each generation of children would become happier and better off with all the new medical sciences and technologies.

The point of education not to memorize facts, which you can look up online, but to have an overall structure of how to organize and process the information in such a way to make it useful. There should be a survey class in college for literature similar to the way art history is taught. An introductory art history course mentions all the big names, and then if one finds particular artists appearing they can go research them later on. The worst part about college is the pressure for time and the expense of college. Most people work part-time, and there is no time for the pursuit of further knowledge. You learn enough to pass each test, and then move on the next exam.  Just keeping up with the classes is all one has time for. Things really need to change.

“Thought I’d something more to say” Time by Pink Floyd

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