Match Point: Allen’s Tribute to Hitchcock and Other Films (Intertextuality)

Set entirely in London, and filled with British characters save for one American (Scarlett Johansson), on the surface, Match Point is a cross between Dostoevesky’s “Crime and Punishment,” Robert Altman’s class-conscious period mystery “Gosford Park,” and Allen’s own 1989 “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” a highlight of his dramatic efforts.
Analysis of Intertextuality

Allen is an auteur who often defines and refines his artistic vision in reference to other filmmakers. In the past, he often alternated between movies that were inspired by Fellini (“Stardust Memories” is Allen’s “81/2”) and Bergman (“Interiors”). In “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” there is a scene in which Allen restages Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries” nearly shot-for-shot, a dubious act of homage.

However, while watching “Match Point” a whole string of images and ideas from Hitchcock’s rich work passed through my mind. Whether the allusions and references to Hitchcock’s oeuvre are conscious on Allen’s part is irrelevant, though Allen may have intended his film as homage to Hitchcock.

In film studies, we call it intertextuality, the essence of which is that a work of art (film) is responsive to other works. Oscar Wilde may have been the first to express this idea in his essay, The Decay of Living: “Art never expresses anything but itself. It has an independent life, just as thought has, and develops purely on its own lines.”

As the body of movies grows, each film becomes more self-conscious. Allusions point to the nature of the film’s own existence, and enrich the work by opening it out. As viewers, we observe the film’s relation not to reality, but to the reality of other films. Author Jonathan Culler writes in Pursuit of Signs: “Works are not autonomous systems, organic wholes, but intertextual constructs: sequences which have meaning in relation to the other texts which they take up, cite, parody, refute, or generally transform.”

For those interested, here are some points of reference:

Tennis Match as Plot and Metaphor

The notion of tennis may have derived from Hitchcock’s superb “Strangers on the Train” (1951), in which Farley Granger’s ambitious, upwardly mobile man was a tennis player about to marry a rich woman, the daughter of a Washington D.C.’s politician.

Structure: Balancing Pairs of Characters

Structurally, like in Hitchcock’s best films, the organization principle of the narrative is that of the couple, or rather the balancing of similar or opposite pairs of characters. In “Match Point,” Jonathan Rhys Meyers is contrasted with the rich man he meets at the tennis club (Matthew Goode), his wife’s brother, who becomes his buddy, and Johansson’s Nola is the opposite of Emily Mortimer’s sweet and loyal wife.

Sympathetic Villain

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is such a handsome and charismatic actor that he makes his villainous character sympathetic, implicating the audience in his criminal schemes and wishing for him not to get caught by the police-—to literally get away with murder.

Hitchcock was the first director to cast handsome actors in murderous roles, beginning with Joseph Cotton in “Shadows of a Doubt,” and continuing with James Mason in “North by Northwest” and Anthony Perkins in “Psycho.”

Sex and Violence

The themes of sex and violence are interrelated in the work of Hitchcock, though their specific depiction changes, as he grew older. At first, Hitchcock treated sex and violence indirectly, then he portrayed both in stylized representation, and in the last phase of his career, he dealt with sex and violence with graphic directness.

In “Match Point,” Allen too associates sex and violence, and feminists may be offended by the his misogynist treatment of Johansson’s charcater.

Death and Rebirth

The issues of death and rebirth, or death and return, are also inspired by Hitchcock. The death of one protagonist in “Match Point” is followed by the birth of a new baby into the family. The last sentence heard onscreen is: “I don’t care if he is great, but I hope he is lucky.”

Cops as Buffoons

The ironic-comedic banter between the two cops in the police station, during and after their interrogation of Meyers, recalls the humor in “Frenzy” between Inspector Oxford and his wife (Vivien Merchant)

Johansson’s Seductive Temptress

The first glimpse we get of Nola, the fiance of Myers is standing next to a ping pong table, dressed in white, an image that recalls Lana Turner’s first scene in “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” in which she is dressed in sexy white outfit looking for her lipstick (a phallic image). Is it a coincidence that Johansson’s femme fatale is named Nola and Turner’s is named Cora in the 1946 noir film

Hero as a Clad

In plot, “Match Point” also recalls “Room at the Top” (1959), specifically the character played by Laurence Harvey, a working class young man.  Hailing from the industrial north of England, he rises to the top through an affair with a wealthy young woman (Heather Sears), for whom he deserts his mistress Alice, an aging actress (played by Simone Signoret in an Oscar-winning performance). On the day of his wedding to the less interesting woman, Alice dies in a car crash.

Symbolic Value of Objects

Hitchcock’s work is replete with ordinary objects that have symbolic (and of course practical) value, from eyeglasses to statues to lighters to swords and portraits. In “Match Point,” it’s the tennis ball and the ring (you have to watch the film to understand this aspect).

Pregnancy: Wanted and Unwanted

The whole subplot of trying to get rid of a girlfriend who’s become a drag once she gets unintentionally pregnant goes back to Theodore Dreiser’s famous novel, An American Tragedy, adapted to the screen in two radically versions. In the first, helmed by Josef von Sternberg in 1931, “America Tragedy,” the triangle consists of Sylvia Sidney, Frances Dee, and Phillips Holmes.

In the second and better-known version, George Stevens’ “A Place in the Sun,” Shelley Winters is the working-class girl who gets knocked up by the poor Montgomery Clift and thus presents an obstacle to his affair with rich girl Liz Taylor. Times have changed. In 1951, the Production Code made a big deal over the pregnancy of the Winters character and the filmmakers (director Stevens and writers Michael Wilson and Harry Brown) were forced to make her more of a shrill and clinging.