«Michal Kuz, Political Science Department, Louisiana State University. 1 Abstract The issue of justice is crucial to Dostoevsky's oeuvre. The Russian ...»
7 Even Mary Nichols (2000, 162-163), who overally tries to defend Allen against the accusation of nihilism, admits that perhaps the only consolation, he offers to the viewers of Crimes and Misdemeanors is the vision of "singing in the rain," which is tantamount to reacting with laughter to the absurdities and cruelties of reality. With the words of professor Levy ‒ the Jewish philosopher, who kills himself: "Without the laugh it's all darkness." Nevertheless, Nichols' theory of metaphysical laughter, becomes less plausible when applied to Allen's latter movie (Match Point) which explores the same crime-and-punishment theme borrowed from Dostoevsky. And this picture is not to be overlooked as Woody Allem himself deemed it the "be best film he has ever made" (Schembri 2009).
Match Point (Allen, 2005) is a story of a young tennis instructor (formerly a professional player) ‒ Chris who becomes engaged to a cultured, young woman from a wealthy English family ‒ Chloe. However, already during the engagement Chris starts a clandestine relationship with an aspiring, American actress - Nola. The relationship continues even after Chris' marriage. The protagonist wants both the prestige and material security of marrying into an influential family and the sexual satisfaction offered by a very attractive lover. Ironically, while he and Chloe have problems conceiving a child, Nola soon becomes pregnant. She also refuses to have an abortion; wants to raise the infant with Chris after his divorce and threatens to reveal the whole affair to his young wife unless he does so first. Chris has to make a decision and he does so. He obtains a shotgun and kills both Nola and her elderly landlady. Thus he commits a cold-blooded, double murder that trough many references is clearly modeled on the crime of Raskolnikov from Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (2006). Chris, for instance, fakes a burglary by stealing certain valuables including the landlady's golden ring and some medicaments. He later throws the loot into the river and most of it, naturally, gets into the water. The camera, however, shows us that one, small golden ring hits the fringe of the railing separating the strand from the river bank; sways for a moment and finally falls towards the pavement ‒ this turns out 8 to be the match-point mentioned in the title. The ring in this memorable scene is like a ball in a situation that in tennis is called, nomen omen, "catching a dead net" and is considered a token of exceptional luck. Chris for a while is suspected by the police of being involved in the crime but soon he is notified that the Landlady's ring was found in the hands of a drug addict, this coupled with the fact that some pharmaceuticals were stolen from Nola's flat confirms the hypothesis that the whole affair was a drug robbery. Chris' run of good luck continues as his wife soon becomes pregnant and gives birth to a healthy baby. The boy is later blessed by his uncle precisely with "luck" and not goodness.
The significance of Match Point lies in two facts. First of all, it has no humorous subplot ‒ in Crimes and Misdemeanors this is the role of the tragi-comic episodes from the life of Cliff ‒ the script writer. Match Point is more reminiscent of a consistently heavy atmosphere of the French film noir.
Secondly, Match Point unlike Crimes and Misdemeanors is not an intellectual film, it is directed at mass audience and apart form the obvious dialogue with Dostoevsky it offers little intertextuality or deep, existential introspective. We encounter a fairly simple and quite brutal story. Chris, in contrast to Judah, kills the victims himself and does not have goons hired do the job for him. He also suffers more from fear of punishment than remorse, he is cold-blooded and determined to get what he wants. He does not have Judah's money and prestige, he is just in the process of obtaining them. Judah is also a man of science, a worshiper of the positivistic paradigm, Chris has no paradigm, only interests. Neither does Chris love his wife or child, whereas, the genuine attachment to family is one of the most humane features of Judah. Chris's conflict is essentially not a struggle between the super superego and id but between opposite desires within the id. He simply asks himself whether he should choose material security or instant sexual gratification? When he is forced to decide, he just makes a choice almost without regrets.
Time of the filming is also of paramount significance. Crimes and Misdemeanors is a 1989 9 film, Match Point was filmed in 2005. Allen seems to say that what used to create at least some moral tension at the end of the 80-ties, for the mass men from the start of the new millennium is only a mild source of anxiety. The issue of justice is no longer a moral question but a question of distribution of goods and fulfilling of the basic desires. One can even try to point out a certain cycle of moral decline ‒ the superhuman described by Nietzsche and personified by Rakolnikov turns first into a petty man (Judah) and finally into a near animal ‒ the last man, who says: "We have discovered happiness, and blink[s] thereby." (Friedrich Nietzsche 1998).
In other words in the passage from the Nietzscheanisticly read Dostoevsky to Allen's early movie and then to Allen's latter film we see a reflection of the West's passage from the "egophanic” rebellion (Voegelin 2000, 269) to individualistic nihilism trough a morally ambivalent middle-ground between the two. Krzysztof Dorosz a Polish essayist influenced Voegelin's philosophy writes that: "The history of the European, who reached for spiritual autonomy has came to an end. The pathos and the impetus that were once fueled by the mesmerizing discovery of human capabilities are worn out. The human ego, which was once worshiped, now gives away a stench..." [translation mine - Michal Kuz] (Dorosz 2010, 57).
The Nietzschean last man, however, becomes a product of the reception of Dostoevsky only if one forgets about the political and the social aspect of the Russian writer's thought. At first glance naturally, there is a similarity between Raskolnikov and Judah or Chris, all of them question the standard social understanding of justice and eventually overcome their remorse after the crime. They, however, do it for different reasons. Raskolnikov of course admits, in the epilogue that he regrets
10 “and yet he was ashamed even before Sonia, whom he tortured because of it with his
contemptuous rough manner. But it was not his shaven head and his fetters he was ashamed of:
his pride had been stung to the quick. It was the wounded pride that made him ill. Oh, how happy he would have been if he could have blamed himself! He could have borne anything then, even shame and disgrace. But he judged himself severely, and his exasperated conscience found no particularly terrible fault in his past, except a simple blunder which might happen to anyone. He was ashamed just because he, Raskolnikov, had so hopelessly, stupidly come to grief through some decree of blind fate, and must humble himself and submit to "the idiocy" of a sentence, if he were anyhow to be at peace." (Dostoevsky 2006).
In other words Raskolnikov is ashamed of the puerility of his ideology and this wounds his pride. On the other hand, it is also this sentiment that suppresses any trace of a genuine felling of guilt stemming from the compassion for the victim. Raskolnikov does not find consolation in private life or material gratification but precisely his pride. He feels there is some nobility in his crime because it was an attempt to immanentize a certain ideal and thus it can be treated as a creative act, a rebellion against the "blind fate". Raskonikov wanted to experiment with a new demonic philosophy and a new social order. He failed and this pains him, but at the same time he continuously gloats over the audacity of his attempt. This is the interpretation of Raskolnikov's "penitence" proposed by Jerzy Stempowski (2011), Czelaw Milosz (2010) and many other Central and Eastern Europeans.
In his already quoted book Krzysztof Dorosz clearly differentiates between the three ideological mindset that lead to the "inversion of values" (Dorosz 2010, 58). The first mindset can be defined as the modern, Western, materialistic nihilism and it results from the exhaustion of the ideology of the Enlightenment. The two other historically potent reasons for the inversion are: "the negation of our world, which in accordance with the Gnostic paradigm is viewed as ruled by a devilish forces" or "the affirmation of demonic forces." (Dorosz 2010, 58-59) Raskolnikov is clearly an example of the last possibility. Stavrogin and Ivan Karamazov are closer to the the second option. Freud is an example of the first one.
Egotic lack of regrets and penitence is something that all "the men of the underground" 11 (Stempowski 1981, 241) present in Dostoevsky’s novels have in common. Raskolnikov, even though he kneels, never really regrets (Dostoevsky 2006), Stavrogin never finds any peace ( Dostoevsky 2005), Ivan (Dostoevsky 2009) is never really converted to Christianity. All those characters are products of a truly "cruel talent," (Stempowski 1981, 238) for although, Dostoevsky undermines the does not conclusively answer the fundamental questions about the political and social order, he is not afraid to constantly ask them. The presence of those issues is, however, hardly noticeable for Allen and many other Western readers, who in accordance with Milosz's observations may find it difficult to accept the partial solutions proposed by Dostoevsky. Perhaps this blindness caused Hemingway to write in confusion: "I've been wondering about Dostoevsky,' I said. 'How can a man write so badly, so unbelievably badly, and make you feel so deeply." (Hemingway, 2009).
The character who perhaps best displays Dostoevsky personal political beliefs known from A Writers Diary (1994) and his minor writings is Shatov from the Possesed (Kucharzewski 1948).
Shatov is a firm believer in the Russian messianism and the imperial theocracy. And let us not forget that the brutal tzarist censorship coupled with a sudden immersion in Western philosophy are precisely, the factors, which led to the revolutionary boiling among the young, Russian intelligentsia. Shatov's zealous, sectarian counterrevolution, nevertheless, makes him as well one of the possessed. Since for Shatov the threat comes from the West along with it's rationalism and liberalism, he is anti-intellectual,
collectivistic, illiberal, chauvinistic, imperialistic, Gnostic and autocratic. He proclaims that:
“The object of every national movement, in every people and at every period of its existence is only the seeking for its god, who must be its own god, and the faith in Him as the only true one.
God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end. It has never happened that all, or even many, peoples have had one common God, but each has always had its own.... “
and later adds:
“A really great people can never accept a secondary part in the history of Humanity, nor even one of the first, but will have the first part. A nation which loses this belief ceases to be a nation. But there is only one truth, and therefore only a single one out of the nations can have 12 the true God, even though other nations may have great gods of their own. Only one nation is 'god-bearing,' that's the Russian people.” (Dostoevsky, 2005).
Not without a reason does Eric Voegelin see the Russian communism and nationalism as a heirs to the tradition of the Great Khan and his cosmological empire. This political entity can free other nations only trough incorporation or destruction. The empire in this approach is a expanding model of the universe that tries to consume the reality itself. The model appropriates the world trough administering.
In consequence, all that does not belong to the empire is treated as a vestige of the primordial chaos and
has not right to exist. Voegelin clearly sees this vision in the works of Dostoevsky and writes:
"In Dostoevsky this superimposition of messianism crystalized in the curiously ambivalent vision of an autocratic, orthodox Russia that somehow would conquer the world and in this conquest blossom out into the free society of all Christians in the truest faith. It is the ambivalent vision which, in its secularized form, inspires a Russian dictatorship of the proletariat that in its conquest of the world will blossom out into the Marxian realm of freedom." (Voegelin, 1952, 117).
This vision of messianic theocracy, although as Miłosz (2010) points out may well be insincere and is laid out with a very heavy hand is, nevertheless, the only positive political program Dostoevsky had. Of course a Western reader of Dostoevsky can hardly accept it, let alone sharing Dostoevsky's cultural motives. And, indeed, in accordance with the insights of many Western thinkers the author of this essay finds Dostoevsky's positive moral and political solutions utterly unacceptable. Nevertheless, even this morally distorted experience of the transcendental enabled the Russian writer to see the threats of what Voegelin calls "the secularized form" ‒ the destructiveness of the revolution. Dostoevsky was probably painfully aware that his solution is demoniac and imperfect, but having assessed the deficiencies of the ideologies of Modernity, he saw no other. That is why Dostoevsky's somber diagnosis of Modern times in fact differs very little from Voegelin's, which was accurately observed by Ellis Sandoz (2000). Prof.
Sandoz, however, is perhaps too optimistic in his assessment of the political goals of Dostoevsky as those of a generally benevolent, law-abiding, conservative Christian. Similarly, another Western 13 political thinker ‒ Andre Glucksman (2002) is too pessimistic in his making Dostoevsky a hallmark of modern political nihilism.