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Woody Allen: “The whole thing is tragic”

July 20, 2012

Mr. Allen, do you truly believe that happiness in life is impossible?

This is my perspective and has always been my perspective on life. I have a very grim, pessimistic view of it. I always have since I was a little boy; it hasn’t gotten worse with age or anything. I do feel that’s it’s a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.

I think it’s safe to say that most people would disagree.

But I am not the first person to say this or even the most articulate person. It was said by Nietzsche, it was said by Freud, it was said by Eugene O’Neill. One must have one’s delusions to live. If you look at life too honestly and clearly, life becomes unbearable because it’s a pretty grim enterprise, you will admit.

I have a hard time imagining Woody Allen having such a hard life…

I have been very lucky and I have made my talent a very productive life for me, but everything else I am not good at. I am not good getting through life, even the simplest things. These things that are a child’s play for most people are a trauma for me.

Can you give me an example?

Checking in at an airport or at hotel, handling my relationships with other people, going for a walk, exchanging things in a store… I’ve been working on the same Olympus Typewriter since I was sixteen – and it still looks like new. All of my films were written on that typewriter, but until recently I couldn’t even change the color ribbon myself. There were times when I would invite people over to dinner just so they would change the ribbon. It’s a tragedy.

Do you distrust the good things in life?

Life is full of moments that are good – winning a lottery, seeing a beautiful woman, a great dinner – but the whole thing is tragic. It’s an oasis that is very pleasant. Take a film like Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. This is a film of great tragedy, but there is a moment when he is sitting with the children and drinking milk and eating wild strawberries. But then that wonderful moment passes and you come back to what existence really is.

Are you equally pessimistic about love?

You are much more dependent on luck than you think. People say if you want to have a good relationship, you have to work at it. But you never hear it about anything you really like, about sailing or going to soccer games. You never say: I have to work at it. You just love it. You can’t work at a relationship; you can’t control it. You have to be lucky and go through your life. If you are not lucky you have to be prepared for some degree of suffering. That’s why most relationships are very difficult and have some degree of pain. People stay together because of inertia, they don’t have the energy. Because they are frightened of being lonely, or they have children.

Can a man love two women at the same time?

More than two. (Laughs) I think you can. That’s why romance is a very difficult and painful thing, a very hard, very complicated thing. You can be with your wife, very happily married, and then you meet some woman and you love her. But you love your wife, too. And you also love that one. Or if she’s met some man and she loves the man and she loves you. And then you meet somebody else and now there are three of you. (Laughs) Why only one person?

Things might get a bit tricky if one were to follow your advice…

It’s important to control yourself because life gets too complicated if you don’t, but the impulse is often there for people. Some say society should be more open. That doesn’t work either. I think it’s a lose-lose situation. If you pursue the other woman, it’s a losing situation and it’s not good for your relationship or your marriage. If your marriage is open and you’re allowed to, that’s no good either. There’s no way, really in the end, to be happy unless you get very lucky.

Do you ever cry?

I cry in the cinema all the time. It’s probably one of the only places I ever cry, because I have trouble crying. In Hannah and Her Sisters there was a scene where I was supposed to cry, and they tried everything, but it was impossible. They blew the stuff in my eyes and I couldn’t cry, but in the cinema I weep. It’s like magic. I see the end of Bicycle Thieves or City Lights. It’s the only place – never in the theater and almost never in life.

You used to star in almost all of your films, but in recent years you’ve been in less and less of them. Why?

Only because there is no good part. For years I played the romantic lead and then I couldn’t play it anymore because I got too old. It’s just no fun not playing the guy who gets the girl. You can imagine how frustrating it is when I do these movies with Scarlett Johansson and Naomi Watts and the other guys get them and I am the director. I am that old guy over there that is the director. I don’t like that. I like to be the one that sits opposite them in the restaurant, looks in their eyes and lies to them. So if I can’t do that it’s not much fun to play in the movies.

What’s your take on getting older?

I find it a lousy deal. There is no advantage getting older. You don’t get smarter, you don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t get more kindly, nothing good happens. Your back hurts more, you get more indigestion, your eyesight isn’t as good, you need a hearing aid. It’s a bad business getting old and I would advise you not to do it if you can avoid it. It doesn’t have a romantic quality.

Will you ever stop making films?

I simply enjoy working. Where else could I develop ambition? As an artist, you are always striving toward an ultimate achievement but never seem to reach it. You shoot a film, and the result could have always been better. You try again, and fail once more. In some ways I find it enjoyable. You never lose sight of your goal. I don’t do my job to make money or to break box office records, I simply try things out. What would happen if I were to achieve perfection at some point? What would I do then?

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Short Profile

Name: Allan Stewart Konigsberg
DOB: 1 December 1935
Place of Birth: New York, New York, USA
Occupation: Director

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40 Responses to this Interview

  1. there is just no one like him is there…..the greatest and most original of them all…….:)

  2. So good!

  3. I’m sorry that Woody Allen when asked about his movie-making didn’t repeat the line of his I love: “I make movies the way people in institutions weave baskets.”

  4. Woody Allen, my hero! *swoon* ….truly one-of-a-kind

  5. “There is no advantage getting older. You don’t get smarter, you don’t get wiser, you don’t get more mellow, you don’t get more kindly, nothing good happens. ”

    He speaks for himself. It may not be saying much in my case, but I’ve done what he says he can’t, with age. Don’t believe him: changing yourself is up to you.

    • I hope agree with you when I get old too…..

    • That’s only a correlation. There’s no causation that getting older changes that stuff. Time allows you to change things but it’s ultimately your decision–not your body’s aging

  6. “Happiness” was an invention of the French “Age of Reason.” I was a ruse under the cover of egalitarianism to make the lower classes believe that their misery was their choice. One could be happy, no matter his lot in life, if only he willed it. No doubt WA has detected this and has journeyed to Paris, in part, to explore this great unhappiness.

  7. Daniel F Katz Sydney Australia

    As talented as he is I find Woody a depressing prick who I suspect suffers from Aspbergers Syndrome.All that whinging and whining has become rather tiresome for me. Watch his movies but ignore his interviews. They are all the same.

    • “Depressing prick” about covers it. This man talks about “self control” in relationships? About half his movies are tedious or trite. But he’s a master of self-deprecating ironic Jewish humor.

  8. Maybe he wouldn’t be so miserable if he hadn’t made morally reprehensible life choices, such as marrying his step-daughter. Now he has to live with the consequences — the guilt, the world’s justifiable disgust, the alienation from his biological son, etc.

  9. I love Woody Allen and his work! But I’d have to argue that he has not “look{ed} at life…honestly and clearly…” because when you do, you break through one’s personal life being an “unbearable grim enterprise” and see that Being itself is radically good and beautiful. Not that pain ends, but this knowledge and experience changes the whole ride.

  10. Well, he is an idealist alright. And yes i looked up to him..his movies are all great. But totally gonna disagree with all his “grim, impossible-never-happen* kind of thoughts. I mean i think he has some serious psychological problems…but then again…this man is original, yeah..

  11. What a wonderful philosophy – I subscribe to it (almost) 100%

  12. getting old is definitely no good in all aspects but be able to watch Allen’s new movies is another thing to be expected.

  13. Grumpy old man

  14. one of the people who doesn’t tell lies to the media. An honest man . I applaud.

  15. I think what makes Woody amazing is that he sees life differently, through another prism. He’s not in the matrix.

  16. Woody, you already reached perfection

  17. Happiness needn’t be the sin qua non of life, especially when you consider that brain chemistry, more than anything, determines our level of happiness.
    What about honor? At least that’s something we can control to a far greater degree.
    Perhaps contentment is possible without abundant happiness.

  18. Such a depressing interview! I am surprised that someone as successful as Mr. Allen can have such a grim view of life. There can be couple of reasons. Either he hasn’t earned it or he has failed to realize how wonderful the stay on earth can be. I hardly possess the standard of living that Mr. Allen might be enjoying, but of one thing I am sure – my sense of life is far richer than his! What a shame!

  19. Woody Allen has ruined people’s lives with his quest for fame and desire to be involved in an intriguing international scandal. You should have stuck with what you seemed to be commissioned to do, be an ugly little man in Manhattan trying to make it with naïve goy women with a guilt complex instead of making films in Europe. Now you’ve got more than you bargained for.

  20. I’ve always admired Woody Allen’s films for their originality and quirky sense of humour.
    I feel Allen’s take on life is his business and we get to know about it only because he chooses to share it with the rest of the world.
    Who are we to approve or disapprove?

    • Filip Thomas Cornel

      One shouldn’t use Woody Allen’s life events in order to legitimate or sanction his beliefs. Nobody asks them to employ the confidence in their own judgements when considering someone else’s experience. Each being is coherent when allowed the freedom to be so.

  21. mayra fuenmayor

    <3 All his movie

  22. The Oldman talks

  23. it is excellent

  24. I’d disagree with his last comment and say that in my opinion, his movie Annie Hall was ‘perfection’

  25. In response to some of these negative comments:
    It is ok to listen or read and get amused by someones opinion until you can resist being judgmental. Let him be whatever he wants and try to enjoy artwork he created. Nevertheless, I am nearly always amused how some people just can not resist disseminating negativity.

  26. This is not just an Interview but more of a mirror being shown to us.
    Yes we do lie to each other to make our self happy. I love his lines where he says “Life is full of moments that are good, winning a lottery, seeing a beautiful woman, a great dinner, but the whole thing is tragic”

    Woody Allen you are a genius and I love you for that. This whole lines makes sense to so many things in life. haha

  27. You’re a magician!!!Love you so much..<3

  28. after reading this…. wouldn’t like to be him… #sad

  29. I met Mr. Allen and his very sweet wife during a late Sunday afternoon stroll down a virtually empty street in New York City near Central Park in front of a jewelry store about 12 years ago. I stopped to admire the jewelry in the window display and when I glanced up to my right there they were, also looking at a window display from the same store, about 100 ft away from where I was. He was absolutely warm and wonderful. I had watched one of my favorite Woody Allen films the night before our paths crossed and it had cheered me up so much. It was so thrilling to have the chance to thank him in person less than 24 hrs after later. He asked me which movie I had just watched and we discussed the film. He then asked about my work and writing. He even asked if I had anything with me that he could read! He was incredibly encouraging to me and told me to keep writing. It was an unforgettable interaction I’ll always cherish. I don’t think he’s as awkward as he imagines himself to be. Thanks for this interview! I love you Woody.

  30. The other night I watched “Bananas” again for the first time since the 70’s and one line stood out, Woody Allen as Pseudo-Guerilla Fielding Mellish says to his jury “There was a farmer who was having incestuous relations with both his daughters simultaneously”…
    This came out of Allen’s mind, onto the keys of his fabled Olympus, into his character’s mouth and then wind up in the headlines with Soon Yee Previn.

  31. His sense of humor which is often seen in most of his movies, hasn’t disappeared in this piece of interview. It’s just barely there in terms of satire.
    Woody is one of all time best director in pop culture. I find his movie so amusing and lovely somehow

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