A Scene from Crimes and Misdemeanors by Woody Allen (1989)
Aging and filled with guilt Judah (Martin Landau) visits his childhood home. When he stands at the heart of it, a very vivid memory comes to life – a family dinner (a “Passover Seder”). All the family sits around the big table and reads from the holiday book (Hagaddah). Soon a very hot discussion arises between the family members about god, religion, belief and how Hitler “got away with it”. Judah, up until now only a by stander in his own memory, intervenes in the discussion and asks his father at the head of the table: “if a man commits a crime, if he kills?”. The people in the dream turn around and look at him, not too surprised. His father answers: “In one way or another he will be punished”. Someone quickly contradicts him by saying: “if he’s caught”. This opens a new debate about morality. When Judah hears the word “murder” he asks: “Who said anything about murder?”. His father replies: “You did”. Judah is shocked. He finally realizes that his conscience is talking to him and that he’s blaming himself in the murder. Is he a murderer? Will he pay for his part in killing Dolores (his not too stable lover)?
The beautiful thing with this scene is how Judah is playing a part in his own flashback. While many films gives us a close-up on the face of the actor and then cut to a flashback scene, Woody Allen breaks the convention and let his lead have a discussion on morals, crime and punishment with his Jewish family over the holiday dinner, while he is standing right there with them. Not in the past, but right now in the present. It’s not just voices inside his head, but a real scene with long-dead family members, and his younger self sitting at the back. Of course we should add to that the wonderful, funny and witty dialogs Allen is so famous for. It’s a philosophical discussion done with wit and a smile. At “Crime and Misdemeanors” Woody Allen is at his best, and this scene is a classic moment.