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The Sweetest Thing

In his excellent film Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen plays an underachieving documentary filmmaker who attempts to woo Mia Farrow by showing her his latest project on a renowned professor and philosopher named Lewis Levy. Allen shows Farrow some footage from his film with Levy discussing the subject of love:

What we are aiming at when we fall in love is a very strange paradox. When we fall in love we are seeking to re-find all or some of the people to whom we were attached as children. On the other hand we ask of our beloved to correct all of the wrongs that these early parents or siblings inflicted on us. So that love contains in it a contradiction, the attempt to return to the past and the attempt to undo the past.

As envisioned by Allen, Levy’s character seems to be telling us that we all need love, and we’re all fucked. This is borne out for Allen as Farrow rejects his advances and opts instead for a pompous television producer played by Alan Alda, and Levy commits suicide suddenly and without explanation. (Allen: “He left a simple little note that said ‘I’ve gone out the window.’ This is a major intellectual, and he leaves a note that says ‘I’ve gone out the window..’) While contemplating Levy’s death, Allen reviews more footage of the professor:

We must always remember that when we are born we need a great deal of love to persuade us to stay in life. Once we get that love, it usually lasts us. But the universe is a pretty cold place. It’s we who invest it with our feelings. And under certain conditions, we feel that the thing isn’t worth it anymore.

There are other great story lines running through Crimes and Misdemeanors. Martin Landau struggles with the implications of having his mistress killed, finally concluding that life goes on and is worth living. Allen’s wife leaves him and Farrow, having agreed to marry Alda, returns the one love letter Allen sent her while in London. (Allen: “It’s probably just as well – I plagiarized most of it from James Joyce. You were probably wondering why all the references to Dublin.”)

I’m not a big Valentine’s Day guy. Not that I imagine most guys are, except to the chosen extent that they play it up for their women (or men, as the case may be.) I had a lunch a long time ago with a woman for whom I had some strong feelings. It wasn’t Valentine’s Day, but its concern did come up on the way back. I told her that I was fairly straight on some things, but that love was one that I still didn’t quite have figured. She replied with some sincerity that she had, in fact, figured love out, and that it was death that eluded her. I give her credit for at least aiming high with her chosen subject of bewilderment, but having had some years to reflect on it I think that day represented one of the few instances where I wasn’t the one talking out of my ass.

Still, I think it’s a great sentiment – Happy Valentine’s Day. I prefer it kept simple, without all the adorning bullshit, dinner reservations made at places you’d otherwise avoid, and cardboard hearts hanging in gift store windows reminding that it’s time to pay your dues. I’m still not sure that I’m close to having love figured out, but I do see some truth to Levy’s line about the universe being a “pretty cold place” and that it is “we who invest it with our feelings.” Death, after all, comes to us whether we consider it or not. But each of us has to learn to love ourselves.

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