“Whatever Works” (2009). Cast: Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Begley Jr., Henry Cavill, Conleth Hill, Olek Krupa, Christopher Evan Welch, Jessica Hecht, Michael McKean, Carolyn McCormick; Director: Woody Allen; Screenplay: Woody Allen
Are we a greedy, self-serving race destined for an unceremonious demise brought about by our own witless, self-destructive impulses? Or are we a species capable of shepherding in a more harmonious, compassionate world? According to the new Woody Allen comedy “Whatever Works,” the answer, in both cases, is “yes,” depending on which outcome we choose.
Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is an aging, curmudgeonly, egotistical, condescending Gothamite whose disillusionment with life and contempt for humanity would make even the most jaded cynic look like an apple-cheeked pollyanna. Having failed in virtually every aspect of life—marriage, career, even a suicide attempt—he spends his days bellowing incessantly about the woeful state of mankind, berating virtually everyone around him and boasting that he’s one of few wise enough to see the big picture about man’s inevitable slide into decay as “a failed species.” Boris sees life as a struggle to get by, wherein each of us does “whatever works” just to get through the day. (How’d you like to sit next to him on a plane?)
Things take a surprising turn one night, however, when Boris meets Melodie (Evan Rachel Wood), a perky, young, dimwitted former beauty queen who has run away from her dysfunctional fundamentalist family in Louisiana. Even though she’s Boris’s emotional opposite and intellectual inferior, Melodie touches Boris in a way that few have. They quickly wind up living together and eventually marrying. As time passes, thanks to their interaction with one another and their own personal growth efforts, they undergo gradual shifts in outlook, with each adopting new choices for themselves. This process accelerates dramatically when Melodie’s parents, Marietta (Patricia Clarkson) and John (Ed Begley Jr.), show up unannounced in search of their long-lost baby. Changes abound for everyone through their involvement with one another, with a pair of Boris’s acquaintances (Conleth Hill, Olek Krupa) and with a trio of outsiders (Henry Cavill, Christopher Evan Welch, Jessica Hecht). Before long, all of the personality and relationship cards become shuffled in radically unforeseen ways. And in the end, even though our hero’s “whatever works” philosophy would still appear to rule the day, it does so in beautifully unpredictable ways that no one expects, protagonist included, all because of revised beliefs and choices.
From a law of attraction/conscious creation standpoint, this picture is an excellent exploration into what we choose to manifest and how those intents become materialized. Since this philosophy maintains that we have an infinite range of options open to us at any time, the only true limitations we have are the choices we make, based on the beliefs we hold. In that regard, this movie shows us how we can employ that principle in our lives, for better or worse, thereby clearly illustrating how (and why) we end up with what we get.
Choice is reinforced in symbolic ways in the film, too. For example, Boris’s former career was as a quantum physicist, an investigator into the science of possibility, the mechanism for explaining how the law of attraction works (and a reflection of the picture’s central choice narrative). Admittedly, it’s somewhat puzzling that Boris would willingly choose such a dour view of life, since, theoretically speaking, based on his professional calling, he should be aware of the unlimited range of probabilities (i.e., choices) open to him. However, his selection of such a negative worldview also gives validity to this particular expression of existence, one that, for what it’s worth, is ultimately just as viable as any other one might select (unpalatable though it may be to most of us). Such is the beauty of choice when it comes to what we believe and to what we create.
I had some apprehensions about this movie going in. Having seen the trailers, I was concerned it might be little more than an extended episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, David’s long-running HBO comedy series. And the first half-hour is much like that, with Boris’s over-the-top screeds becoming tiresome rather quickly. I also found the film’s on-camera first-person narration somewhat tedious, especially at the beginning. But as the story progresses, as additional characters and different themes are introduced, the film becomes more engaging and enjoyable. If you can stick out the first 30 minutes, you may find yourself warming up to the picture like I did.
Thanks to this film, it’s encouraging to see that it just might be possible to get things right in the end. We need to make sure, however, that we hold beliefs and make choices that allow such results.
There may be hope for us yet.
A lifelong movie fan and longtime student of metaphysics, free-lance writer/editor Brent Marchant is the author of Get the Picture: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies (Moment Point Press, www.momentpoint.com). His additional writing credits include contributions to beliefnet.com and to Divine Revolution and Reality Change magazines. Brent also maintains an ongoing blog about metaphysical cinema at www.getthepicturebrentmarchant.blogspot.com. He holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University and resides in Chicago. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.