I recently viewed Allen v. Farrow, a documentary mini-series about Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, and the allegations of sexual abuse that their daughter Dylan made against her father. The events depicted in the show took place in the early 1990s. My recollection of the entire story was vague, so I found the revelations in the documentary shocking. I drew an unexpected conclusion from what I saw: Woody Allen as depicted in the mini-series appears to be a psychopath.
Admittedly, that is my subjective opinion. I did not interview Allen, who did not cooperate with the makers of the mini-series. Perhaps he has evidence that would undercut the impression the mini-series creates; moreover, although I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, have taught mental health law, and have read deeply in the literature on psychopathy, I am not a mental health professional. Thus, I am not making a diagnosis or even a claim of fact. I am simply offering an opinion based on what I saw on my television. But what I saw was eye-opening.
I did not go into viewing the documentary with the assumption that Woody Allen is or was a psychopath. If he was guilty, I assumed, it would mean that he had a paraphilia for little children, known as pedophilia. His attraction to Soon-Yi Previn, while definitely generating an “ick” factor (he was 62 and she was 27 when they married in 1997), was not an example of pedophilia because she was reportedly of age when they first began “dating.” Indeed, the fact that he was involved with Mia’s adult daughter seemed, in a weird sort of way, to exonerate him of the pedophilia offense. And then I saw the documentary.
A Revealing Conversation
In one memorable part of the documentary, the viewer listens to Woody Allen talk on the telephone with Mia Farrow. He is relaxed and sounds almost amused, nothing like the self-doubting neurotic character he created for himself in films like Annie Hall and Take the Money and Run. Allen repeatedly tells his ex-partner that she will have her chance to say her piece in court and she will hear what he has to say there as well. In response to Farrow’s question about whether he is recording their conversation, he laughingly says he couldn’t be doing that because he lacks the necessary technical know-how. He interrupts the conversation to take another call from his attorney, whom he bemusedly tells that he is taping a conversation with Mia but revealing nothing to her.
Why Do I Believe Dylan?
Meanwhile, I found Dylan’s statements utterly credible. As a seven-year-old being recorded just after the critical episode, she did not take suggestions from her mom about what had happened. She simply talked about the very painful and humiliating subject of her father touching her privates. Her story was consistent not only with other statements that she would later make in response to questions but also with third parties’ observations. For example, Tisa Farrow, Mia’s sister, recounts “[an] instance when Allen … was putting sunscreen on Dylan’s back and his hand went down between her buttocks and kind of lingered. [His hand] suggestively went between her buttock cheeks with his finger and then came back. Mia saw it too and snatched the sunscreen away,” she says. Allen was also said to have taught Dylan to suck his (Allen’s) thumb.
That is corroborating evidence because no normal parent (and no normal person) would do these things to his child. Allen has long claimed that Mia Farrow invented the abuse story and brainwashed Dylan to believe it because Mia was furious with Allen over his relationship with Soon-Yi, invoking the sexist trope of the lying woman scorned. Is Mia’s sister Tisa Farrow also a woman scorned?
What Makes Woody Seem Like a Psychopath?
Mia’s uncontradicted statement indicated that she went to Woody Allen’s apartment one day and “there by the side of the phone, to the right of the phone, was his stack of Polaroid pictures, of pornographic pictures of a woman, a girl.” These were photos of Soon-Yi, naked in erotic poses. Woody Allen is a highly intelligent person. If he had wanted to hide his dirty pictures of Soon-Yi from Mia, he could have easily done so. Instead, knowing Mia had access to his apartment, he placed them in a spot where she would likely notice and examine the pile. He apparently wanted Mia to see the dirty pictures of her daughter Soon-Yi taken by Mia’s partner. Why would he want that?
A normal person would not want that. Even a person with many neuroses would not want that. Indeed, especially a neurotic like the characters Allen portrayed on film would not want to be found out. In his 1971 movie Bananas, Allen’s character at one point tries to disguise his purchase of “Orgasm Magazine” by also buying various news weeklies, only to be humiliated when the cashier announces his purchase. (Astoundingly, Allen’s character explains himself to the female customers by claiming that he is conducting a study of perversion and is “up to advanced child molesting,” whereupon he gropes a woman and exits the store.) Yet while Allen’s onscreen characters would be embarrassed for strangers to discover that he likes pornography, the real Allen suffers no shame. Who acts like Allen as seen in the documentary? Who would want his partner to find photos of her naked daughter taken by a man in whom she had placed her trust? A psychopath would; that’s who.
Many of us think of a psychopath as someone who murders a long list of people. But in reality, a psychopath is simply a person whose brain is different from that of a normal person. I ordinarily would say neurotypical rather than normal, but I mean to distinguish the psychopath from everyone else; he is abnormal not only in a psychological sense but in a moral sense as well. I am accordingly uninterested in destigmatizing the defect that he brings to the world. Movies and TV have done far too much to destigmatize psychopaths (e.g., Catch Me If You Can, The Sting, Oceans 11, etc.).
A lot of the people in this category are so-called “functional psychopaths.” They live and succeed in the world notwithstanding their inability to form true bonds, their recklessness, and their tendency to betray both pawns (weak people they manipulate and use) and patrons (more powerful people they manipulate, compromise, and exploit). Psychopaths have a superficial charm and are fun to be around, so people are drawn to them. A disproportionate number work in business, politics, law enforcement, law, religious organizations, and the media. It may be no accident that #MeToo scandals have concentrated in some of these fields. A trail of bodies is not the only signal that a psychopath is in the neighborhood.
Psychopaths, grandiose folks who pretend to be insecure, have a minimal or nonexistent capacity to feel attached to other people, to feel frightened, sad, grateful, empathic, and the list goes on. They are quite skilled at acting and can and do fool people into thinking that they are facing a normal person. Psychopaths like to create rivalries, sometimes called “triangles,” where two or more people are in love with the psychopath, and he makes each one feel at risk of losing him to the other. Sometimes this means that the psychopath has one partner but flirts with many other people in front of the partner so that the latter feels jealous and insecure about how important she is to the psychopath and whether she is sexually attractive. The psychopath enjoys provoking emotional drama, even though he will typically purport to hate drama and attribute it to the “craziness” of his partner.
If one’s goal were to make Mia Farrow feel rejected in favor of a younger woman, then leaving raunchy photos of Soon-Yi where Mia would likely find them would be a perfect vehicle for hurting Mia in just that way. And what could have generated more chaos and drama than selecting Mia’s virgin daughter out of all of the celebrity-obsessed women in the world who would have had an affair with superstar Woody Allen? He wanted Mia and the world to know about him and Soon-Yi, I believe.
Why, many might wonder, would a pedophile suddenly start molesting children at the age of 57? Woody himself can be seen asking this question, rhetorically, including the following creepy line: “I could if I wanted to be a child molester, I had many opportunities in the past.” The answer is that Woody may not be a pedophile. He may instead (or perhaps also) be a psychopath, a person who enjoys pushing on people’s boundaries and seeing how much chaos he can get away with. Because he lives devoid of most feelings that engage normal people in their lives, a psychopath feeds off the drama in others’ lives, drama caused by intense negative emotions and conflict. Such a person is an emotional parasite.
Woody Allen allegedly sexually assaulted Dylan Farrow despite no apparent attraction to children. Why? I would suggest it is because molesting your partner’s little daughter crosses a line well beyond sleeping with her young adult daughter. It causes intense emotional pain both for the victim herself and for the mother of the victim, the latter perhaps the primary target here. And it affords an opportunity for gaslighting as well, another favored activity of psychopaths. He can say that the entire story was the product of Mia’s feeling scorned (by his affair with her young adult daughter). This claim makes Dylan look like she’s confused about the things that she knows happened to her, and it makes Mia look like a monster. What kind of mother, after all, would coach her young child to describe sexual things that her father never actually did to her?
A Woman Scorned
The old story about a woman scorned was inevitably going to rear its ugly head during the Allen/Farrow conflict. The woman scorned is someone who is so enraged about having been rejected by a man that she turns around and invents a story of sexual assault against the person who rejected her. In Mia’s case, the invention would be the claim that Woody sexually molested Dylan, not Mia, but the shape of the narrative remains the same.
The story has been with us for a very long time. Why? The “woman scorned” comes in as an assistant to the “women lie about rape” story. Why would they lie? Well, if the alleged perpetrator “scorned” them, then that would motivate the lie.
Yet think about what nonsense this all is. Imagine testifying at a robbery trial and having it brought out that you like crime novels, a fact that strongly supports the likelihood that you are lying about the identity of the perpetrator just so you can be involved in a criminal case. Or imagine that you testify at a murder trial and you are made to look like a liar because you once dated a prosecutor, and you therefore must have an unnatural inclination to send people away to prison. Just because we can tell a story does not mean that the story reflects reality or the truth.
It is possible to tell many stories about why every person who takes the witness stand in a case fits into some narrative about what people like him tend to lie about. It needn’t be true, just as there is no evidence that women tend to lie about rape.
Am I saying that no woman has ever falsely claimed that she was raped? Of course not. But why haven’t we investigated the lies that other types of people might tell? And what basis does anyone have for accusing a woman who says she was raped of lying as a means of taking revenge on the man who scorned her? In the case of a mother that most of her children see as loving, warm, and genuine, how could we imagine that she would deliberately traumatize her seven-year-old daughter by brainwashing her into believing falsely that her father had sexually molested her?
It seems more plausible that the man who lied so casually and easily on the phone with his ex-girlfriend would be capable of doing whatever he wanted to do, whatever he thought—correctly—he could get away with. The man who had left photographs of his then-partner’s young adult daughter’s naked, eroticized body in a place where his partner would find them might be eager to harm his own daughter because she was also Mia’s. That the man whom Mia’s sister described as putting his hand into the middle of a seven-year-old’s bottom would be capable of going further in private, promising Dylan that she could be in one of his movies as a reward, when all she wanted was for him to go away. Some cases are difficult, ones in which the children seem coached and confused and inconsistent about what happened. Dylan Farrow’s complaint against Woody Allen is not such a case.