Whatever Works: a great atheist comedy

When I saw Whatever Works last year I loved it. The person I saw it with told me I reminded her a lot of Boris Yelnikoff, the lead character played by Larry David. I took it as a compliment. Plenty of people have told me I remind them of Woody Allen, which I also take as a compliment (though I know it isn’t always meant as one.)

My impression was that the movie kind of got slammed as one of Allen’s least-best, which is hardly criticism. I just watched it again. It’s actually a moving atheist comedy about Bible-Belt American Christians losing their old-time religion, following their passions and embracing a secular lifestyle in New York City.

There’s a great scene where Ed Begley, Jr., who plays the father, falls to his knees and begs Jesus for forgiveness for his sins. His daughter Melody, by now married to Yelnikoff – a misanthropic Jewish atheist – smiles sweetly and says, “Do you want to tell him or should I?”

“Tell me what?” her father responds.

“There’s nobody out there. Honest. You’re prayin’ to no one!”

Here’s the New Year’s scene at the end, which I’d wanted to post a few days ago, but what the hell. It’s a great movie, even if it’s not Annie Hall.

Sex and death

from Sleeper (1973)

Luna: “Oh, I see, you don’t believe in science. And you also don’t believe that political systems work. And you don’t believe in God, huh?”

Miles: “Right.”

Luna: “So then, what do you believe in?”

Miles: “Sex and death. Two things that come once in a lifetime. But at least after death you’re not nauseous.”

Are All New Yorkers Jewish Atheist Pornographers?

Well, Woody Allen had some fun with this meme in his latest film, Whatever Works. I’m not going to give it away, but I’ll just say that everything dissolves in the universal solvent of New York City. It’s fashionable, whenever a new Allen film comes out, to say things like, “Not his best screenplay” and then something derogatory about his latest starlet and the fact that all his movies are really the same movie, and all his male leads are really himself (all true, by the way). Of course, we’ve known this for a long time. What we never hear is that Allen’s track record for enjoyability is unmatched. So if you get nothing else from the movie than ninety minutes of unwholesome fun, shouldn’t that be worth something?

Next week a campaign will begin in NYC to promote the possibility that people can be moral without God.

The ads, which will begin appearing on posters in 12 subway stations Monday, pose the provocative question “A million New Yorkers are good without God. Are you?”

Predictably, not all New Yorkers are enthusiastic about such a campaign. But, President Obama noted in his inaugural speech, America is a country in which non-believers are citizens, too.

 A small step for humanism, a huge leap for humankind.