“Whatever Works” Doesn’t

Who says time travel isn’t possible

By Dan Gifford
16 Jul 20090

Who says time travel isn’t possible?

I spent 92 long minutes in Woody Allen’s cinematic wayback machine 
yesterday, reliving almost all the 60’s pseudo-psychoanalytic cultural 
neuroses, nihilism and negative leftist judgmental-stereotypes he 
popularized then that still have us on the couch and at each other’s 

Allen wrote the script more than 30 years ago with Zero Mostel in mind 
as the obvious, self-involved, Allen alter-ego lead character living in 
a psychobabble New York City hell of his own creation. But a not so 
funny thing happened on Zero’s way to the Forum years ago, leaving Allen 
to look for an actor who could convincingly play the part of a brilliant 
Jewish string theory former professor in his sixties who manages to 
schtup and then marry a vulnerable, naive teenager. The familiar ring of 
that scenario is integral to the theme of “Whatever,” which is that 
there is no God, everything that happens is just random cosmic kaka, and 
so we should all do whatever gets us our jollies.

Yahweh may not agree, but He did create a person unbalanced enough — at 
least from what I read — to play the lead: Larry David of Seinfeld and 
Curb Your Enthusiasm (mine was curbed shortly after the fade from black).

In scenes that must have been twenty or more pages long, David’s Boris 
Yellnikoff –emphasis on “yell” — alternately kvetched and sneered in 
gawd awful-long soliloquy to the fourth wall about sophomoric penis 
envy, vaginal snapper fear, Oedipal lust, suppressed homosexuality, 
atheism, NRA hating, fly-over land cretin bashing, inner-selves yearning 
to be free and other urban elitist Nietzsche-Kant-Sartre politically 
liberal arrogance that used to be such great co-ed thigh openers at frat 
house mixers or the White Horse Tavern while channeling and analyzing 
Dylan Thomas’ inner Freudianism Jungism.

Do not go gentle into that good theater darkness for this one, my 
friend, unless you can stand the past life regression to “Oooh, so what 
were Freud and Jung really saying?” by the keg.

Well, Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar while Jung thought 
that a woman was a woman but a cigar was a smoke. But lemme play it out 
for ya …

My name is Sigund Freud outa Vienna, and I bring youuuu … a VIRUS for 
the Jung !!!

You make me feel so Jung

You make me feel my head has sprung

And every time I look at you

I feel so very, psychological.

The Moment that you speak

I wanna hold my head and freak …

“That’s sooo clever and deep. And just where is your room in this great 
big house?”

Heh, heh…

Wouldn’t every aging man like to live the Lolita fantasy of a nubile 
bed-mate who swallows every cockeyed pessimistic rant about life and 
love and God without challenge while offering a Viagra? Sure you would. 
And I’ll bet Woody likes it too, which is why his Yellnikoff seems an 
awful lot like the Max Von Sydow misanthrope of “Hannah and Her 
Sisters.” It’s on his mind. It’s in his life. Woody may look mellow, but 
there’s a raging river of recurring themes that cannot find resolution 
behind those horn rims — emphasis on horn. Maybe that’s why he’s gone to 
a shrink every day for the past 50 years.

How Allen managed to inject his own psycho-neuroses, political and 
social views on the American culture, I don’t know. Was his wimpy, 
over-therapied, pseudo-intellectual image something America wanted to 
imitate? Or were those who most identified with Allen already that way? 
Whatever, the unvarnished anger and snobbery of the urban chattering 
class toward those who lead traditional lives (married, kids, religious, 
employed at non artsy jobs — particularly those who lead those 
traditional lives in “flyover land”) is on display in this film for all 
us artistic elites to wallow in.

Guys who like football are hiding their lust for guys by watching guys 
in tight pants. Guys who own a gun are compensating for the inadequate 
size of their penis. Belief in God is a form of arrested mental 
development. All of which reduces to Allen tellin’ those schmucks who 
think they’re happy with their routine lives that they aren’t.

Some of Allen’s solutions?

Admit you’re really gay and live the lifestyle. Throw away that Bible 
that’s causing sexual repression and discover the new Jesus of a 
bisexual menage a trois. Take advantage of teenage girls. Try and commit 
suicide — twice — as Yellnikoff does.

Try? I’d have been willing to kill that sob for sure, especially after 
finding a $55 parking ticket on my car after the movie.


Dan Gifford is a national Emmy-winning,
Oscar-nominated film producer and former
reporter for CNN, The MacNeil Lehrer
News Hour and ABC News.