Match Point

“Match Point” is a beautifully photographed, well-crafted story set in the upper classes of modern London, with surprising plot twists in support of a depressingly narcissistic and nihilistic world view of writer and director Woody Allen.

The conspicuous thesis of the movie is that luck and good fortune more than merit determine life’s successes and failures. While hard work increases one’s odds, and morality is generally preferable, ultimately random chance dominates human affairs. The movie begins with the apt tennis metaphor of a ball hitting the top of the net. Mere chance determines whether the ball bounces back for a lost point, or dibbles over the net for a won point. On such minor turns of fate, lives change. Allen has his characters return to this theme again and again, but always with a light touch.

Chris Wilton, played earnestly by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, is upwardly mobile professional tennis player from a working-class Irish family that quits the professional tour because he doesn’t have quite have the commitment to win. We learn later that a few different bounces of the ball might have made him a far more successful tennis player, but alas luck failed him

We meet Chris as he is being retained as a tennis pro at an exclusive tennis club in London. In a few short weeks, he manages to befriend a Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode) the scion of wealthy and well-connected London businessman. Soon, Chris becomes the escort for Tom’s sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Chris and Chloe some become engaged, while Chloe’s father, ever eager to secure the happiness of his daughter, arranges jobs and business opportunities for Chris. Chris and Chloe are soon married, living on a fashionable apartment overlooking the Thames. Chris, who started out in small flat transported by taxis, is now driven around town by chauffer. Chris may be the boss’s son, but he does work hard and seems to justify the trust placed in him, but Chris always recognized that the good fortune of being the son-in-law is a necessary condition of his success.

The drama arises from the fact that though Chris truly cares for his wife, he is madly in lust with, played by Nola Rice (Scarlett Johansson). Originally, we meet her as Tim’s fiancée, but this relationship eventually peters out under the weight of parental disapproval of the rather unsuccessful, if alluring, American actress.

Chris purses Nola with the same upwardly-mobile single-mindedness with which he ensconced himself into an upper-class British family. Ultimately successful in his pursuit of Nola, he enjoys a passionate affair at the cost of some business setbacks that are made good by his father-in-law. However, the costs of the affair become overwhelming as Nola becomes pregnant and refused to have an abortion. Chris keeps promising the convenient promise of an adultery that he will leave his wife. Then Chloe also becomes pregnant. Chris is torn between the twin sins of greed and lust. His choices are to stay with his pleasant though uninspiring wife and maintain a life of wealth and privilege, or leave his wife for his lover. Of course, there always remains the possibility, if he acts clumsily, of loosing both Nora and having his marriage collapse. Juggling his business life, his affair, and his promises to leave his wife provides the gripping tension of the movie.

The movie has been out sometime, so it is now fair to reveal the ending. Chris decides in favor of greed over lust, calculating that wealth lasts longer than passion. He kills the elderly Mrs. Eastby (Margaret Tyzak), a resident of the apartment building where Nora lives, and makes it appear as robbery gone wrong. When Nola returns to her apartment, Chris shoots her, killing both his love and unborn child. Police are quick to jump to the conclusion that an addict, in pursuit of goods to support of his habit, killed the elderly resident and later stumbled on to Nola and killed her.

Throwing away some of the jewelry Chris stole to suggest the motivation of robbery, one of the Mrs. Eastby’s rings bounces on a railing and deflecting up in the air, mimicking the bounce of a tennis ball at the top of the net that began the movie. We do not know in what direction the ring bounces.

The theory of a drug addict killing retains its saliency until the police discover Nola’s diary. The authorities now realize that Nola had an affair with Chris, and Chris now falls under the suspicion of the police. However, the police pursuit of Chris is tempered because he is associated with a wealthy family and they are not sure whether Chris had an ordinary affair or was involved in the killing. Chris certainly had the motive.

Just as one of the police officers begins to pull the facts together and truly suspect Chris, a dug addict is found dead in possession of the ring that had bounced on the railing. This cements the original theory of the police who now drop Chris as a suspect. The random bounce of the ring determined whether Chris goes on to live a pleasant and affluent life or is jailed for the murder of his lover.

Despite the beauty of the film with which the film is constructed, Allen’s thesis, the cynical view of sophisticates, is pernicious. According to Allen, good work and morality are quaint and sometimes useful concepts, but ultimately there is no justice, just chance. Since we can expect no justice and we not led by the movie to really care about the lack of justice. We are somehow strangely relieved when Chris succeeds in his crime when we should be outraged.

The theme pretends to be modernly post-religious, under girded by the conviction that the universe “just is” with no presumption of justice. Rather the movie represents a concealed reversion to paganism, the belief in a fickle fate controlled by forces outside human control. This represents the simple exchange of gods for chaos theory, the scientific theory of the unpredictable. However, the dispiriting consequences are the same.

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