Woody Allen films are famous for their existential comedy. On the one hand, these films tend to feature the Woody Allen character, a hyper-rational, neurotic atheist and existentialist who fears death and regards life as absurdly unfair. On the other hand, this character is highly sexual and instead of ascetically retreating from life, he finds humour in tragic situations, expressing that humour in wry one-liners. Most of his films mine this paradox, but Whatever Works, starring Larry David as the Woody Allen character, called Boris, neatly summarizes what seems Allen’s personal philosophy. No familiarity with this particular movie’s plot is needed to understand Boris’ concluding speech, since this speech could have been inserted into nearly any of his movies.
Boris says, “I totally lucked out. It just shows what meaningless blind chance the universe is. Everybody schemes and dreams to meet the right person, and I jump out a window and land on her [his soul mate]. And a psychic yet! I mean, come on, talk about the irrational heart [Boris is a hyper-rationalist physicist who loves her in spite of himself]...I happen to hate New year's celebrations. Everybody desperate to have fun. Trying to celebrate in some pathetic little way. Celebrate what? A step closer to the grave? That's why I can't say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works. And don't kid yourself, it's by no means all up to your own human ingenuity. A bigger part of your existence is luck than you'd like to admit. Christ, you know the odds of your father's one sperm from the billions, finding the single egg that made you? Don't think about it, you'll have a panic attack.” (Whatever Works script)
This speech refers both to dark existentialism (the inevitability of death) and to the need for happiness and sexuality, to life’s unfairness (success’ dependence on luck) and to the possibility of grace. Evidently, the film’s title, “Whatever Works,” is meant to call to mind a pragmatic amoralist’s libertinism, the license to exploit nature’s inhumanity, not for evil but for good--which Allen assumes to be mainly the pursuit of personal pleasure with a life partner. As evidenced by his cerebral, philosophical humour and his scandalous love life, Woody Allen’s movies seem vehicles for preaching his personal wisdom, if not autobiographies.