Bananas (1971)

Woody Allen Bananas

“The mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”—Luke 6:45

A personal resolve of mine is to never own a Woody Allen film. I will rent them, I will go to the movie theater and watch them, and I will usually enjoy them. But you will never find one on my DVD shelf. Let me start by saying that I wish I could write as skillfully as Woody Allen and bring my personality to the screen the way he has mastered. In my review of Sleeper, I praised his creativity, and I stand by those statements. But now I need to critique his character.

Character is a personal attribute of someone that’s not necessarily a reflection of their work as an artist or filmmaker, so I try to avoid turning my blog into a vicious gossip column. However, in Bananas, Woody Allen’s art crosses paths with an aspect of his character that bothers me. Let me tell you about a scene…

Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) is trying to buy a pile of dirty magazines in a convenience store without letting the customers around him—namely an older woman—catch on to what he’s doing. His plan is working, until the cashier yells, “Hey Ralph, how much is a copy of Orgasm? This man wants to buy a copy, how much is it?” Wanting to explain himself to everyone within earshot, Fielding announces, “I’m doing a sociological study on perversion. I’m up to advanced child molesting.”

When I heard that “joke,” my heart sank. Why couldn’t he have chosen any other sexual behavior for the punchline? I immediately thought of this open letter that Woody Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, wrote in 2014:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me…

Reading Dylan’s letter a couple of years ago and combing through news articles from the 1993 abuse allegations caused me to take a step back from respecting Woody Allen as a person and a filmmaker. And now this. This was my first time watching Bananas. Even though child molestation was a joke in the context of the script, and even though two decades passed between this movie and the alleged incident, I can’t help but see a horribly dark connection between the two. In good conscience, can we give a man the benefit of the doubt who jokes about the crime he’s being accused of, just because we like his movies?

I am confident I live in a culture that cares about these issues; just look at how we’ve responded to Donald Trump’s “locker room talk.”

And at the Oscars this year, Brie Larson made news for not clapping when she presented Casey Affleck (an alleged sexual abuser) with the Academy Award for best actor. Larson is an activist for sexual assault survivors. Whether or not the claims are true, I am proud of her for representing the millions of people who are forced to live with this injustice on a daily basis.

Until I’m a presenter on the Oscars stage, I’m going to continue to take my own stand by doing research about the movies I surround myself with in my home, and the filmmakers behind them.

 

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