Whatever Works

The latest Woody Allen film, Whatever Works, was shown recently at the Tribeca Film Festival. I missed it there, but it looks like I’ll have to see it when it comes out in theaters later this year. It features the conventional Woody Allen theme of a gorgeous young woman falling in love with a misanthropic Manhattanite old enough to be her grandfather. But this time, the Woody Allen character is a string theorist. Here’s part of the plot summary:

A former Columbia Professor and self-proclaimed genius who came close to winning a Nobel Prize for Quantum Mechanics, Boris fancies himself the only one who fully comprehends the meaningless of all human aspirations, and the pitch-black chaos of the universe….

Boris once had a picture-perfect life. A world-renowned physicist teaching String Theory at Columbia, he was married to Jessica (Carolyn McCormick), a brilliant and beautiful, rich woman, and lived in an opulent uptown apartment. But Boris’s good fortune didn’t alleviate his perpetual feelings of despair, and one night, in the midst of an argument with Jessica, he leapt out the window. To his great disappointment, he landed on a canopy and survived. Afterwards, he divorced Jessica and moved downtown.

One night, Boris is about to enter his apartment when he is approached by a young runaway, Melody St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood), who begs to be let into his apartment….

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13 Responses to Whatever Works

  1. Some guy with a laptop says:

    Dear Professor Woit,

    do you happen to know that Woody Allen is a huge believer in String Theory? But seriously, it is true.

  2. BigG says:

    Woody Allen is not qualified to come to a decision on string theory. Who cares what someone like him thinks about string theory. For the layperson, the only position they can reasonably take is that string theory is highly problematic and if they must should tend towards not accepting it.

  3. Russ Van Rooy says:

    Well, that is so Woody! America’s best known, crotchety existentialist would live in a universe embedded in the backdrop of a 10 to the 500th power vacua embracing landscape – how else could it be? Woody is the crankiest of cranks and anything that can make his outlook even more depressing is what works.

  4. Chris Oakley says:

    Au contraire, Allen’s Slepton production from gauged orbifold flux tube brane compactifications in 198+465 dimensions in the early universe is widely recognised as the most significant contribution to String Theory since Feynman realised his shoelaces were undone before being called in to interview at Princeton in 1937.

    In my humble one, though, the best thing that Woody Allen ever did – and even funnier – was this, purporting to be the memoirs of Hitler’s barber:

    The Schmeed Memoirs

  5. Timothy P. Keller says:

    Good Morning,

    Prof. Woit is much too modest.

    Never mind what Woody thinks of
    string theory, the truly interesting
    question is : what real life personage
    is ‘Boris’ modeled on ? The answer
    is : Prof. Woit! himself !

    Of course, as is well known, mathematicians
    have a debonair charm, which gives them
    the edge over physicists in matters of the
    heart – More particulary, that ‘mad poet’
    ambience of the typical algebraist, is just
    madly attractive to the Melodys of the world.
    ( I did my dissertation on quadratic forms over
    fields … umm,hmm, …)

    So good to see popular culture finally
    coming to the realization of what we’ve
    know all along.

    All the best, Tim

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Tim, but I’m having difficulty finding any points of contact between Boris and myself:

    No Nobel Prize prospects
    No teaching of string theory
    No ex-marriage to rich woman
    No opulent apartment
    No suicide attempts
    No perpetual feelings of despair
    No current marriage to gorgeous young woman young enough to be my granddaughter.

    Wait a minute though, reading the full piece again, there is something about “irritating his still-loyal friends with his never-ending tirades about the worthlessness of absolutely everything.” Maybe Woody reads this blog sometimes….

  7. Chris Oakley says:

    irritating his still-loyal friends with his never-ending tirades about the worthlessness of absolutely everything

    Yeah … though I am prepared to substitute “entertaining” for “irritating”

  8. warp speed! says:

    hi Peter. Ignoring your idiotic rants against string theory and its lack of testability, some serious but modest string theorists silently developed for mankind a practical application of M theory:


  9. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks warp speed!

    You’ve inspired another quick blog posting…

  10. BiggerG says:

    BigG: `Woody Allen is not qualified to come to a decision on string theory. Who cares what someone like him thinks about string theory.’

    He is about as qualified as Peter Woit is. They have authored the same number of string theory papers. And Woody still has a somewhat bigger audience…

  11. Peter Woit says:

    I’m guessing BiggerG is the same person as the one responsible for the “Peter Woit: crackpot or not?” thread over at Tommaso Dorigo’s blog:


    I encourage all people who want to discuss this endlessly fascinating topic to do so over there and help out Tommaso’s traffic numbers. Attack Woody as a pedophile here, me as a crackpot there…

  12. Kea2 says:

    I am shocked that anyone would question Woody Allen’s knowledge of physics. Here is what he wrote in The New Yorker, July 29, 2003.
    “I am greatly relieved that the universe is finally explainable. I was beginning to think it was me. As it turns out, physics, like a grating relative has all the answers. The big bang, black holes, and the primordial soup turn up every Tuesday in the Science section of the Times, and as a result my grasp of general relativity and quantum mechanics now equals Einstein’s — Einstein Moomjy, that is, the rug seller. How could I have not known that there are little things the size of “Planck’s length” in the universe, which are a millionth of a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a centimetre? ….”

  13. Mitch Miller says:

    From the trailers it looks like Larry David is going to play the lead role. You can see the trailer on Hulu.

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