Illusion, Medicine and Reality: Woody Allen’s Gospel

Sometimes the illusions work better than the medicine. –Woody Allen

Over the past month or so when I go to the Red Box to pick out a movie for the night, I have noticed a Woody Allen film that came out last year called You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger. Well, last night I was in just the mood to hang out with the modern genius so I laid my dollar down. I can definitely say I got my money’s worth on this one.

The story is centered on a sixty-plus year old man named Alfie (Anthony Hopkins) who decides to leave his wife of more than forty years. As he pathetically tries his hand at dating women his daughter’s age, his wife, Helena (Gemma Jones), tries to end her life with a bottle of sleeping pills. When Sally (Naomi Watts) intervenes to help her mother, she recommends a spiritual fix, so she sends her to a friendly fortune-teller for hope. In the meantime, Sally’s husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), is a struggling writer with an academic training in medicine. Roy, an intellectually driven jaded skeptic, is against his mother-in-law’s new psychic friend and demands she stop seeing the charlatan.

As the story unfolds, we see Alfie’s foolish choices resulting in embarrassment rather than empowerment. We also see Sally’s true motives as the fortune-teller’s visions start to go against her own plans. At the same time, the desperate, bitter Roy finds a younger, less demanding version of his wife and begins to carry to conclusion his need for immediate, measurable solutions for the problems of life.

Only Helena, through the help of her soothsayer seems to find solace in a world spinning out of control. The story ends in disaster for all but Helena, who has fallen in love with a fellow-believer in the mysterious “great beyond”.

The characters in this sordid tale see only two options for living life. We can either numb out the pain of life (It would be easy to miss the deep sense of loss that drives this story but look for it, it is definitely there) by taking medicine or we can numb out the pain of life by escaping into fantasy. Two options. Either we can take the pill to escape or we can take the advice of a Tarot to escape. Do you see what these two options have in common? They assume a common solution- escape. The only discrepancy is on how to get out of this world.

What if there really was more? What if we could lean into our pain? What if we could live- not just survive in this world?

Just this past week we have been reminded of the fact that we, as believers in Jesus, have a really hard time navigating the world we have been given. Somebody makes a prediction about Jesus coming back to end the world and we either cancel our appointments for the weekend to sit by the phone or we laugh the guy off, assuming that Jesus would not come at such an unexpected hour.

There is this theme we get with Jesus, though, that theologians call the “already but not yet”. We do look forward to Jesus coming back for his people. That does not mean, however, that we stop living in this world. We are not escapists. We are realists.

The option our characters could not see was reality. It just could be that Jesus could show us how to live life and put one foot in front of another. We do wait in eager anticipation of the redemption of our bodies but at the same time we ask our Lord for the courage to live in this world as his sons and daughters.

Too often we settle for medicine and illusion, desperate to escape the life we have deemed “un-live-able” when all along Christ, who is our life, offers us himself- here and now. I wonder what Alfie’s life would have looked like if he “manned-up”, so to speak, and dealt with life as it came to him. I wonder the same for Helena; for Roy and Sally.

More so, I wonder what our lives would look like if we took the life Jesus offers.

Here and now.

4 thoughts on “Illusion, Medicine and Reality: Woody Allen’s Gospel

  1. Wow. Such an awesome word you have shared with us. I work with women (in a faith based drug/alcohol program) who have lived life NUMB. I have the privilege to share Jesus and His Reality with them on a daily basis. Love your writing.

  2. So I should pray every day for a greater grasp of this reality. :] I am challenged. Hopeful too, wow, we need Jesus so much, not because He’s a fix but because He’s true and has life to the full. x :] xx

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