Friday, April 9, 2010

Woody the Egoist

It is undeniably evident that Woody Allen experiences his very existence through the dichotomy between his real life and those of his works. He embodies his actual self in almost every single character he plays. As a man who has gone through over 30 years of intense Freudian psychoanalysis one can only expect that the man himself is truly an egoist. It can be argued that a person who spends so much time trying to figure themselves out through therapy practices could essentially be obsessed with their own identity. Deconstructing this idea could only suggest that Allen is constantly talking or thinking about himself in both movies that he stars in and real life. It is always he, he, he and more he (and that’s not just because he is “he-he” funny). Some people use humor and an escape mechanism from living the reality of their everyday lives. However, humor is not the only avenue of escapism for individuals. Sometimes people seek relief from negative opportunities that come their way such as drugs, violence or sex. Not saying that sex is a negative avenue only that it can be looked upon in that light if you are using it as a form of extreme distraction. Most of the time Allen escapes through sex and humor throughout his films. We see these two ideas converge together to create many of his ever so famous storylines. For instance, in the 1977 motion picture Annie Hall Allen plays Alvy, an insecure Jewish comedian who completely mimics Allen’s personality. Alvy embodies all of Allen’s traits such as his personal peculiarity, occupation and even location where the movie takes place. Alvy has problems with relationships (sex/love). In fact, if I had not known better this movie could be very close to what Allen’s own documentary may look like by simply adding in a few twists and turns. In Annie Hall Alvy says, “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” It is honestly hard to distinguish the actor from the protagonist himself. After all Allen once said, “My one regret in life is that I am not someone else.” Both quotes sound very similar.
In order to completely understand the male egoist’s way of thinking one must not think outside of the box, but rather think inside of the box as this is what an egoist does naturally. Man may maximize the attempt to appeal his or her selfishness, but in actuality the motives are altruistically apparent by the goaded action. A person’s body language may make individuals unaware that he or she is egocentric, but when one gets deep underneath their external shell may see the “hidden motives” that lie burrowed in the ever-sinking hole of haughty superiority. Never in this world until now did I think Allen was this complex until reading more about his life and studying his works. Then again in a way I am just getting to know him. Every person has a story even if they don’t seem they do. Some people say in life seeing is believing, but that is where an egoist can trick everyone. Nobody can ever physically see a person’s true soul, but we know it’s there. It’s the science of our genetic makeup that makes us have so many complexities and disorders, but it is also what brings us together making us individuals of originality, like Woody Allen himself. On the other hand all of those complexities can make us frightening human beings as well. Take the film American Psycho for instance. The main character Patrick Bateman is a serial killer who could make any person feel a tingle down their spine. Bateman and Allen are two different types of “into themselves personalities.” Allen is more of the warm-hearted funny egoist who is selfish but wouldn’t hurt a fly. He voluntarily motivates his personal dealings in order to desire the welfare that he craves. Then there is Bateman who is more of a narcissist than an egoist. Bateman does not only desire his own welfare, but he attains and achieves it no matter how unethical the task or atrocious its consequence it may be. Woody Allen is more of a pessimist whereas Bateman appears worry free. One of the main differences between an egoist and a narcissist is an egoist thinks highly of their own characteristics and wants to serve only the self and yet is still emotionally tied to the world in one way or another. A narcissist, like Bateman for example, is constantly in search for fulfillment and feels totally disconnected to the world around him. He acts as if he is end all be all in this world; almost as if he is an entity rather than a human. The following quote from the film explains exactly why I reached this conclusion: “There is an idea of Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gave, and you can shake my hand and feel the flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there” (IMDB quotes).
People are known to act differently when they are not in the spotlight. For example, when individuals are being watched they are much more likely to behave then people who don’t have a vigilant eye on them. English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham designed a prison called a panopticon to cater to this very idea. Bentham believed that laws are panoptic and the specially designed jail would help to maintain order and power through citizens who control citizens. Bentham’s idea to create a controlled environment for prisoners goes beyond the walls of jail. It’s a fact of everyday life. People will always act differently when they know they are not under surveillance. It’s psychology! In Woody Allen’s 1972 film Play It Again Sam he plays Allan, a film critic who gets dumped by his wife and has a hard time building up his ego when it comes to women. Allan’s friends try to get him more comfortable in the dating world, but he still feels extremely insecure with the opposite sex. He cares how women will view him or what they will think when they see him. The idea of being watched makes Allan nervous which makes him act less confident then he usually would. So in order to fire up his game when he is home and nobody is watching he talks to his imaginary alter ego Humphrey Bogart. Allan tries to channel in his film idol’s charm in hopes it will build his confidence with the ladies. However, it seems no matter how hard he tries to be like Bogart he just ends up looking clumsy. Many believe that the Darwinian conception of the survival of the fittest provides the foundation of egoism. People try to fit into the norm and this is part of why we have egos in the first place; to be above all others or to constantly be the center of attention. Which brings up an interesting point about egoism. Just because one is an egoist doesn’t necessarily mean they are confident or have a “big ego” per say. An egoist like Allen, is extremely insecure, but is overly self reliant on what decisions will keep him safe or free from criticism. Which is ironic because Allen holds an occupation of a “critic” in most of his movies. It is almost as if he baths his ego in self-pity.
Woody Allen never seems satisfied with the path of life he chooses. Like Sigmund Freud writes in Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious “A favorite definition of joking has been the ability to find similarity between dissimilar things- that is, hidden similarities (pg.7). Allen is a master at this. He hides through his humor, yet people admire him for his genius. Just because Woody Allen is an egoist doesn’t mean he is a “bad” person. He is just human. We know him by his ego, hilarity, absurdity and his black-framed glasses. I remember talking to an ABC 7 Eyewitness News reporter about Allen and he told me the star didn’t like doing interviews in big markets like Los Angeles or Chicago because he didn’t want to be able to turn on the television and hear himself talk. Instead he would talk to smaller markets so he wouldn’t hear the interviews. To me, this makes him one of the most interesting egoists in America. A man who doesn’t like to hear himself talk, but is still self-obsessed. Allen could best be described as a piece of sushi. He is tightly wrapped, but inside he is a combination of raw talent and saucy individuality. Mr. Allen not like any other fish in the sea.

American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale. Lion Gate Films, 2000. DVD.

"American Psycho." The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Web. 09 Apr. 2010. .

Annie Hall. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. United Artists Corporation, 1977. DVD.

Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. New York: Norton, 1960. Print.

"PANOPTICON." CARTOME. Web. 09 Apr. 2010.

Play It Again, Sam. Dir. Herbert Ross. Perf. Woody Allen. 1972. DVD.