What Is Luck?

Match Pointa film written and directed by Woody Allen starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Scarlett Johansson

Review by Tom Savage This movie, Woody Allen's most interesting movie in quite a while, has for its central metaphor the game of tennis.  The idea seems to be to be lucky at what you do rather than to be good at it only.  Winning or losing is all there is.  You have to really want what you're going after as well as have talent to achieve it.  Then there is the matter of luck, which appears to be the decisive factor.  But what is luck?  In classical Buddhist thought, good or bad luck is thought to be the result of some good or bad karma from this or a previous life.  The good luck of a well-connected man who marries well allows him to get away with murdering his girlfriend who is pregnant with his own baby and to then succeed in impregnating his own wife whom he has kept in the dark about his affair.  Cause and effect are blind to moral issues.  The word "luck " is rarely encountered in the Buddhist scriptures, if at all.  However, there is a practice in Thailand among "common people" to pay a few pennies to walk under an elephant in order to secure good luck.  The Tennis Boy in Match Point, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, must have walked under his elephant many times in previous lives in order to have as much good luck as he has in this film.  He doesn't seem to be capable of doing anything incorrectly.  I say "incorrectly" because of course it is wrong to murder your pregnant girlfriend just because she interferes with the upper class lifestyle into which you have married.  Everything seems to go his way.  He is never made to pay for his major crimes or even his lesser transgressions.  In the end, which this is of this film, he gets all of what he wants.  This is a rare thing in a Hollywood film, for a totally unscrupulous criminal to get away with his crime.  He just has the luck to get away with w heinous crime which he commits to protect his good luck of having married into an extremely wealthy and, to him at least, generous family.  The crime succeeds with only a moderate amount of discomfort to the criminal.  Is this an immoral movie or an amoral movie?  Many crimes are committed in the upper classes for which the guilty party gets off scot-free.  America might even be said to have been built upon such crimes.  That the movie takes place in London rather than New York, Allen's usual setting for his films, scarcely seems to matter.

Aside from the fact that this is a "serious", non-comedic film, an unusual departure for Woody Allen, the soundtrack of the film is also a departure.  It is composed of operatic excerpts, most of them recorded long ago by Enrico Caruso, rather than Woody Allen's usual jazz.  The murderer to be starts out as a poor boy from Ireland who has had only moderate success as a professional tennis player.  He quickly finds his place as a tennis teacher in upper class London.  He says he is "naturally competitive".  No one is naturally competitive.  It is a learned reaction.  Anybody who has ever observed a newly born baby knows this.  Whether they can admit it or not is another matter.  The sister of the Tennis Boy's student cares about the Tennis Boy, who has already made a pass at the bride-to-be of his student.  The father offers a job to the Tennis Boy at the sister's suggestion.  These people and positions are steppingstones to what or whom?  This is the British version of the world of the spoiled and the well-to-do.  Allen has portrayed the American versions of people from this world before but never the British.  It is unclear why he chose the British this time.  Perhaps they are easier targets.  Or it is easier to have the Tennis Boy get away with his murder in the end if the context is British rather than American.  Who knows?  One of the few jokes in this movie is cruel:  Finding Jesus after losing a pair of legs doesn't seem like a fair trade.

Everything in this movie, at least until the end, seems to happen by blind chance rather than causality.  Tennis Boy takes the job.  He is a hustler on the rise.  Woody Allen is a master director who has a good editor.  I've seen many of his films over  a thirty year period all of which I admire.  There is even a roll in the hay in this movie, in wet hay, at that.  This is when the Tennis Boy and the Bride-To-Be first have sex.  This is followed by a scene from Rigoletto, an opera which the family attends.  Is the Tennis Boy the philandering Duke of the opera transposed to this movie?  He marries the sister who got him his job.  The student breaks up with his bride to be.  The opportunist runs into the ex-bride to be and pursues her.  They make love again under the watch of a head of a decapitated Buddha.  At this point, at least, this seems like the perfect movie to see with someone whom you want to fuck.  In short, a date movie, of sorts.  Of course, the ex bride to be wants the Tennis Boy to leave his wife (Chloe).  This plot twists and turns like a high-class garden snake.  He then makes the wrong woman pregnant.  When the Tennis Boy shoots his inconvenient girlfriend, he also kills her next door neighbor and arranges things to look like a drug robbery turned killing.  He does show some remorse but it may only be annoyance.  The old lady who happened to live in the wrong place at the wrong time is an unimportant person to the Tennis Boy.  Then he gets the right woman pregnant, his wife.  This movie has an operatic plot with a very modern ending.  All that seems to matter is which truths to tell and when; which lies to tell and when.  There seem to be no moral judgments here regardless of how depraved the situation becomes, which is what bothers me about this film, regardless of how well made it is.  The first time I saw it, I approved of this apparently realistic moment minus the Hollywood moralizing.  However, after viewing it a second time, I realize that a part of me, although still intrigued by the film's ending, would have been more comfortable had Tennis Boy been forced to pay for his murders in some fashion more than a few quick tears.  This movie echoes another older film called a Place In The Sun, based on An American Tragedy, the novel by Theodore Dreiser.