Does Woody Allen have regrets?
His latest film, Blue Jasmine, amplifies the air of concentrated self-examination that has long been a hallmark of his work. Cate Blanchett stars as a wealthy New Yorker who discovers that her husband has built their fortune through fraud. After losing everything, she winds up with her decidedly more downscale sister in San Francisco, left to sift through the remains of her life.
Opening Friday, the film finds Allen further exploring a thematic conceit that has been percolating through his recent movies since at least the dual stories of 2005’s Melinda and Melinda, as in film after film he has been pondering a series of existential what-ifs.
Whether in a comedic or dramatic mode, these films are all structured around a reflective, ruminative mood, as if Allen has been looking back on his celebrated, knotty life and examining the forks in the road.
“I would say, I’ve lived 77 years now, and there have been things in my life that I regret that if I could do over, I would do different,” Allen said in a recent interview. “Many things that I think with the perspective of having done them and having time that I would do differently. Maybe even choice of profession. Many things.
”But I think if you ask anybody that’s honest about it, there has to be a number of choices they’ve made in their life that they wished they’d made the other choice. They wished they had bought the house or didn’t buy the house or didn’t marry the girl or did. So I have plenty of regrets. And I never trust people who say, ‘I have no regrets. If I lived my life again, I’d do it exactly the same way.’ I wouldn’t.”
Allen prefers not to think of his work as a veiled autobiography or notes on the human condition. Perhaps belying his roots as a teenage joke-writer and early work as a nightclub comedian, he sees his goals as far more modest.
“I’m thinking of entertaining,” he says of what motivates his writing. “That I feel is my first obligation. Then, if you can also say something, make a statement or elucidate a character or create emotions in people where they’re sad or laughing, that’s all extra. But to make a social point or a psychological point without being entertaining is homework. That’s lecturing.”
So if he could go back, by the way, what other profession might he have chosen?
“I might have been happier if I was a novelist,” he replied. “So instead of having to raise millions of dollars to put on these stories, the novelist sits at home; you write, if you don’t like it you throw it away. If I throw something away, I’m throwing away $100,000 every time I take a scene out. So that might have been a better thing. Or music might have been a better thing.”
He seemed to be opening up now, genuinely taking stock of his life and career and looking down roads not taken.
“If I really can go back, early, early, early in my life” — and here he clasped his hands together and pulled them back as the windup to one final curveball — “maybe a ballet dancer.”
Woody Allen — perhaps joking, perhaps not — exists, you might say, at the intersection of the two, a playful showman amid uncompromising self-examination. As supporting evidence for either case, he added, “I was a very athletic kid.”
Los Angeles Times