Aesthetic Investigations (Jul 2020)

Getting Away with Murder? "Crimes and Misdemeanors" and Alternative Conceptions of Justice

  • Mikel Burley

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 3, no. 2


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As with most great works of art, great films are typically amenable to multiple interpretations, and there need be no determinate answer to which interpretation is ‘right’ or even the ‘best’. Yet some interpretations can render a work more compelling—perhaps more morally or religiously deep—than others. And that might be one reason for preferring the interpretation in question. This article focuses on Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, which has often been construed as an attempt to illustrate the thesis that crime sometimes pays (or, at any rate, that it is not the case that crime necessarily does not pay). I call this the unjust reading of the film and contrast it with the just reading. I argue, however, that both these readings presuppose a consequentialist conception of justice that is not the only conception available. Reinterpreted from a perspective of intrinsic justice, the film gains a depth that is unavailable in the light of the other interpretations.