When the Heart Gets What It Wants

  “The heart wants what it wants.” You may remember those words. They’re the excuse Woody Allen offered in 1992 for leaving his longtime lover to run off with her daughter. Even many of Allen’s fans were repulsed by the affair and by Allen’s cavalier attitude. Cut to 2006. Allen is married to Soon-Yi Previn, the young woman at the center of the scandal, and they now have two children. His film career, after a slump, is again going strong. The scandal has more or less faded into a dim memory. So Allen’s heart got what it wanted. According to the unwritten laws of our culture—and according to the philosophy he expressed in that infamous sentence—he ought to be happy. Only he’s not, according to a new interview in the Washington Post. Interviewer David Segal quips that Allen’s worldview “is so bereft of meaning, so godless and absurd, that the only proper response is to curl up on a sofa and howl for your mommy.” Early in the interview, Allen compares life to a “concentration camp.” And it only goes downhill from there. “It’s very hard to keep your spirits up,” he tells Segal. “You’ve got to keep selling yourself a bill of goods, and some people are better at lying to themselves than others. If you face reality too much, it kills you.” This is a man who has spent a significant portion of his life writing and directing comedies. Yet as Allen reveals—and as a careful look at his films will bear out—he does this not to celebrate life, but apparently to divert himself from its emptiness and despair. “It’s just an awful thing,” he says, “and in that context you’ve got to find an answer to the question: Why go on?” At best, all Allen has ever found is a temporary answer: You go on long enough to get the current project finished, and then you go on to the next one. But at bottom, there’s no significance to any of it. As Allen confesses, movies were only a “means” for him to live the kind of lifestyle he wanted, but now that he has it, he has to keep making movies to distract himself from it. Like the writer of Ecclesiastes, who “withheld not [his] heart from any joy,” Woody Allen apparently has concluded that “all is vanity.” As much as everyone professed to be shocked by what Allen did fourteen years ago, many have more in common with him than they would like to think. How many of us live our lives like this, trying to give the heart what it wants, dashing from one distraction to the next, even if we pay lip service to some sort of deeper meaning in life? Have we forgotten that we can find meaning in life only by laying down our lives for the Truth? That Jesus was serious when He said “whoever loses his life for my sake will find it”? Many of Allen’s movies are brilliant, filled with deep moral meanings, like Crimes and Misdemeanors, one of my all-time favorites. I have always thought he was obsessed with the question of God. Let’s pray—all of us—that he continues his search. For where he finds himself today offers nothing but a cautionary tale of what indeed follows inevitably when you abandon that search.
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: The Good Life: Seeking Meaning, Purpose, and Truth in Your Life by Charles Colson with Harold Fickett. David Segal, “Cloud in the Silver Lining,” Washington Post, 26 July 2006, C01. Glenn Collins, “Woody Allen Marries Soon-Yi Previn,” New York Times, 25 December 1997 (reprinted by Ishi Press). “Woody Allen’s Son Can Never Forgive His Father,” Female First, 6 September 2004. Robert K. Johnston, “Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes and About Schmidt in Dialogue,” BreakPoint WorldView, December 2004.


Chuck Colson



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