for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.
These words are taken from the last lines of Rilke’s Archaic Torso of Apollo. Woody Allen uses the excerpt in Another Woman, which then becomes emblematic of the main character’s struggles with self-discovery, and of how she can no longer hide from herself.
Gena Rowlands plays a highly accomplished German philosophy professor, who only in her fiftieth year of life begins to uncover the emptiness and loneliness she feels, which up until then she has denied. One day she over hears conversations from a therapist’s office through the ventilation system, in the apartment she is renting to write her book in. At first, she covers the vents with two pillows, not wanting to over hear people’s personal revelations. When she takes a nap, one of the pillows falls, and she is awakened by the sound of an anguished woman’s voice, played by Mia Farrow. Rowlands' becomes intrigued by Farrow’s despair, begins eavesdropping regularly, and in doing so, opens Pandora’s box, and starts to realize her own suffering.
The wistful piano compositions of Erik Satie reinforce the somber self-revelations of Rowlands, and the poems of Rilke strengthen and dramatize the sorrow that envelops her.
There is a beautiful fluidity in the structure of the film that allows the film to transition seamlessly into personal narrative, shared experiences, dreams, memories, and even to a play within a film.
The story never threatens to become a maudlin caricature or a romanticization of melancholy, which is something it could have easily become in hands less adept than Allen’s. Even at the height of the most agonizing confrontations that the protagonist must face, she maintains some vestige of her characteristic composure.
There is a critique of the potentially sterile life of the mind and of human achievement, running through the film. One of the greatest ironies about our professor protagonist is that despite having dedicated her life’s work to the pursuit of truth and ethics, she has left her own life unexplored. Her cerebral nature becomes not something to be revered, but pitied. She has not allowed herself to feel, and the nebulous side of emotions terrifies her. Rowlands’ proclivity to over intellectualize everything she experiences becomes a monstrous defense mechanism that isolates her not only from her own self, but also from others. When she fully acknowledges the tragedy of her own existence, her trusted intellect only lets her down.
Another Woman is my favorite Woody Allen movie, and I’ve seen most of his movies dozens of times. I find it to be simultaneously comforting and terrifying, like many of his dramas. Each time, I shed a few tears, but I also walk away feeling as though no matter how sad life can get, it still remains beautiful and bearable. The endings to his dramas are never happy, but they also don’t further the suffering you endured during the film. The viewer is always left knowing that life will and does go on.