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A.O. Scott on the latest Woody Allen film:

[ . . . ] Mr. Allen’s imagination has returned to Manhattan after that invigorating European sojourn afflicted by an extreme case of jet lag. In spite of a few up-to-date references — to Barack Obama, red states and gay people, for instance — Mr. Allen seems to have touched down in New York at some hazy time when Zero Mostel, for whom “Whatever Works” was originally written, still ruled Broadway. Those kids, with their crazy rock ’n’ roll! Those artists, with their wacky ideas!

[ . . . ] Boris [Allen’s latest alter ego] hectors the camera, his fellow performers and humans in general, most of whom he regards as “inchworms,” “pygmies” and other endearments, and offers the film’s title phrase as the summation of his cynical world view. But “whatever works” — by which he means, basically, do your own thing, “filch what happiness you can” in the absence of metaphysical order — could also be the slogan of pragmatism, a more optimistic philosophical disposition, and one that would deny Boris both his self-pity and his puffed-up sense of intellectual superiority.


Were Allen able to escape from Manhattan and take his nonfoundationalist rap across the river to Brooklyn, he could see — and reveal to Scott and the rest of us — just how intimate cynicism and optimism can be when whatever works. There’s nothing preventing a generally upbeat take on the official world from sharing a bed, especially on a night-to-night basis, with an eviscerated and gnawing feeling of chaos and emptiness in unofficial life. Pragmatism points in its way toward two social contracts: the one securing the orderly world in which the other, our disorderly relations, can be pursued. Apollo by day, Dionysus by night — how costly it must be to keep each safe from the other . . .

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