While NBC was airing the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Winter Olympics last night, the New York Times quietly published Woody Allen’s response to Dylan Farrow’s open letter renewing the sex abuse charges she made against him when she was seven. The letter is well worth reading for a different kind of look inside Allen’s mind than his movies normally allow. But it’s also worth reading side-by-side with Maureen Orth’s plain laying out of some basic information about Farrow’s charges and the investigation into them, which have been reviewed by Vanity Fair’s fact-checkers.
It’s possible, but I’m not sure necessary, to pick at Allen’s letter. The piece reads as exceptionally unfiltered (and perhaps not particularly edited), to an extent that I’m surprised Allen’s handlers, if he has any to whom he would listen, let him publish it. And it’s a document that perfectly encapsulates a number of strains of thinking. There’s the idea that it’s irrational for Mia Farrow to have resented Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, her adopted daughter, a rather strikingly myopic expression of the idea that Allen’s self-actualization should be prized at any cost. There’s the exceptionally bitter resentment of Allen’s having had to pay child support for Ronan Farrow, who at the time, Allen believed was his son, a sentiment that’s in keeping with some of the uglier ideas behind men’s rights advocacy. And then there’s the invocation of one of Allen’s neuroses — his claustrophobia — as supposed proof positive that he couldn’t possibly have abused Dylan, at least not in a way that was consistent with the story she told then as a child and has told again recently.
As I wrote earlier this week, I fear that we’re at a deadlock in terms of both Dylan Farrow’s specific charges and the state of our conversations about sexual assault. But I wonder if Allen’s letter clarifies something I discussed with the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis earlier on Friday: the extent to which Allen’s values and worldviews, as expressed in both his personal communications with the world and in his films, have aged quite poorly:
Matt’s argued that Allen’s movies are proof of a liberal vision of sexual liberation gone wrong. I see the situation as somewhat different. Obviously, there have been men in left movements who have seen their involvement in those movements as a way to have as much sex as possible, who have supported thinking about sexual norms primarily as a way to build support for their own behavior, and have supported the sexual liberation of women primarily because they’re interested in broadening the supply of their own potential partners. But that doesn’t represent a consensus position of leftism or liberalism, and in fact, the emergence of second-wave feminism as distinct from other left movements is a reaction to precisely this kind of thinking and sexual entitlement.
And thank goodness for it, both on-screen and off of it. Allen writes that when he first heard the allegations, “I found the idea so ludicrous I didn’t give it a second thought.” In an even earlier era, in which still-powerful ideas about so-called scorned women and child sexual abuse were even more prominent than they are today, Allen might have been correct in his assumption that he had nothing to worry about. It still seems unlikely today that he would ever have to stand trial in response to Dylan’s allegations.
But the world is a different place. And now that the vision of it that Allen’s kept private so long has finally been exposed to the world, it’s for us to consider how well his vision of himself has aged.