Friday, September 17, 2010

Under The Influence

Another Woman is Woody Allen's Ron Howard film. It features one of Allen's dramatic obsessions -- supposedly smart people making bad choices and paying dearly for them -- but unlike his other films (with the dark exception of Martin Landau in Crimes and Misdemeanors), Another Woman's main character learns her lesson and starts on a fresh path at story's end. She smiles and feels whole. Happy Days seem a brisk walk away.

Gena Rowlands plays Marion Post, a cold intellectual who teaches philosophy. Marion is revered and respected, but not really loved, not by those who matter or should matter, her underachieving brother most especially. She's married to Ken, an equally cold doctor, rigidly played by Ian Holm. They may as well be crash test dummies for all the emotion they share. Their intellect serves as a Berlin Wall against deeper feeling.

Marion once had a loving option: Larry (Gene Hackman), a novelist who better balances intelligence and passion. He's the only man to penetrate Marion's bunker mentality, her raw emotions reflected in Larry's warm eyes. This frightens her; the Wall shoots back up. Larry pleads with her, his reasoning too perceptive to deny. Marion pretends not to understand, doing an intellectual version of plugging her ears and drowning Larry out with "Can't hear you! Can't hear you! La la la la la!"

While renting a room to write a book, Marion discovers that she can overhear patients in a therapist's office through a vent. She's transfixed by the story of Hope (Mia Farrow), a pregnant woman whose inability to know true love reminds Marion of herself. Marion gets to know Hope somewhat before she terminates her therapy and disappears without a trace. In a sense, Hope never really existed. She's a projection of Marion's inner-desire and fear, her pregnancy symbolic of Marion's rebirth and a reminder of Marion's decision to not have children, which included an abortion while in college.

It's with Hope that Marion learns of Ken's affair with one of her friends. The combination of Hope's openness, the stress of suppressing emotion, the resentment shown by those close to her, and her husband's infidelity tears down Marion's Wall, exposing her to light for the first time since childhood. She leaves Ken, reaches out to her brother, and begins to mend other fences. Marion's only remaining loss is Larry, who married and moved to New Mexico. Marion finally reads his novel where she is portrayed in a loving, wistful way. Looking up from the text, Marion is at peace.

Another Woman has its problems, as do most of Allen's dramas. And there are the requisite Bergmanesque close-ups and silences. But this is minor compared to overall power of the film, which is largely sentimental. It's the only Allen film other than Manhattan's opening and ending that's made me tear up. Watching it again recently, these feelings were compounded by the present state of my marriage.

Nan and I aren't anything like Marion and Ken, though I do see aspects of us in Marion's remoteness and Larry's desire to break through it. We've each played both parts throughout the past 16 years. When we connected, it was beautiful and fun. But too often one of us was walled off, the other shut out, pounding on the door.

It could be worse: what if I found parallels in Fight Club? Apart from Nan slinging the massive Evergreen Review Reader at my head, Tyler Durden is nowhere in our marriage, Project Mayhem reserved for the night club stage.