Feb 6, 2011

Notes on Whatever Works

Let me mention at the outset that i looooved Woody Allen’s ‘Whatever Works’. It’s definitely not Allen’s finest work, but it made sense to me on the Sunday evening i watched it and it made me laugh. What more can one ask for!

Whatever Works is the story of string theory expert and physicist Boris Yellnikoff who’s divorced from his wife and gets by teaching chess to dumb suburban kids who he refers to as ‘inchworms’ and hits on the head with the chess board when he can't control his exasperation. With an IQ of 200, it’s no wonder that Boris sees the rest of the world as cretins and imbeciles and cannot fathom the boundless stupidity of a world where everyone is given to trusting  a random entity called God. He is the voice of cold logic, and a defier of myths – the myth that America is the great embracer of diverse cultures and people, the myth that smoking causes lung cancer; he is the proud author of such wonderful aphorisms as “if it wasn't for sexual inadequacy the National Rifle Association would go broke!” or that “They've had to install automatic toilets in public restrooms, because people can't be entrusted to flush a toilet.

It is in keeping with the tradition of romantic comedy that this curmudgeonly old man who we are told was nominated for the Nobel lands up with a brainless twit when southern belle Melodie St Anne Celestine, a 21-yr old runaway beauty paegent winner from Missisippi,  lands up at his doorstep. At first reluctant to offer shelter to the homeless waif, he’s eventually taken in by her “If you throw me out and I wind up an Asian prostitute, that's gonna be on your conscience.” The funniest scenes of the film are between Boris and Melodie, the latter displaying not the least hint of self-consciousness when Boris says that she is like “a character out of Faulkner, not a unlike Benjy.”  If you haven’t read Faulker’s The Sound and the Fury, you went get the joke but it really is vicious. He keeps these insults coming and she takes them effortlessly and an odd camaraderie grows between them. Even when she takes pains to prepare a special dinner for him, he loses no time in writing it off as disgusting. Anyway, to move things along, she evinces interest in marrying him and well, you can see she isn’t exactly the brightest bulb in town and despits his protests, “Have you lost your mind? Why on earth would you even fantasize about such a thing. What could I offer you but a bad temper, hypochondriasis, morbid fixations, reclusive rages, and and misanthropy. And what could you offer me?”, they do get married.

Soon thereafter Melodie’s mother, Southern Belle Senior, lands up at Boris’s doorstep and then later her dad too. What happens when the superstitious, red-neck south encounters NY city and the ex-professor of quantum physics, is best enjoyed by watching the film and not reading abt it.

All of Allen’s films are brilliantly talky and this is no exception, but the end suggests an unusual, unexpected redemption, or so i’d like to believe. Thing is, like Boris says, he alone truly sees the big picture. It aint a pretty picture, nor very reassuring; it paints a picture of a world where neither beauty nor love nor brains will guarantee you the stairway to heaven and much is left to chance. There is neither inconsolable heroic grief, nor perfect bliss, but a midway formula of hands extended forever, hoping someone, somewhere will grasp it and make life bearable. But it’s all we have and all you can do is pray and make do with whatever works. That’s what stays with you at the end of this delightful film when Boris wisely affirms,  “That's why I can't say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works. And don't kid yourself. Because it's by no means up to your own human ingenuity. A bigger part of your existence is luck, than you'd like to admit. Christ, you know the odds of your fathers one sperm from the billions, finding the single egg that made you. Don't think about it, you'll have a panic attack.


stonetemplepilot said...

you caught the essence of the movie perfectly ! :) cheers to that:)

drift wood said...

Yeah? Thanks. :)