In Woody Allen’s film “Another Woman,” Marion Post (Gena Rowlands) has no need to elicit the approval from the professorial doyens whose ranks she’s worked her whole life to be a part of. As the chair of a philosophy department in some prestigious college in New York, she commands it. But Marion’s high estimation of herself doesn’t accord with other people’s perceptions. She is a cold, intellectual bully with no appreciable understanding or interest in other people’s emotional worlds. She has set aside the deeper sympathies and bonds people form with each other and opted instead for the unctuous self-regarding dribble of small talk at academic gatherings. And yet as she moves through the world unaware of how other people perceive her and the effect she has had on friends and family, she is poised and self-assured with no whiff of intimation to indicate what a vacuous existence she leads. Like some many films dealing with the self-doubts that plague academics cloistered in a world built on the fragile egos and power trips of colleagues and administrators, Marion comes across as a savant grappling with some terrible, unidentified sadness of the heart. In due course, we learn that behind the persona of a stodgy and priggish bore is a woman living an empty and meaningless life.
Marion has worked her whole life to become an academic luminary, a paragon of a formidable, accomplished and respectable philosopher. Yet she exhibits an air of erudition devoid of any hint whatsoever of the all-consuming, propulsive passions that make the pursuit of knowledge an insatiable lifelong obsession. The high-minded cultural knowledge her position assumes gives Marion a predictable and superficial intellectual shtick.She makes insubstantial quips about translations of Brecht’s work into English and draws attention to other signifiers of a cultured life by the mere mention of authoritative namedrops.
We have entered a world of appearances. In this world, Marion has no distinguishable marker of authenticity other than a conservative intellectual disposition joined to a pseudo-feminist posture marked by literary allusion, drab attire and life experience. She has all the makings of a left-liberal intellectual minus any semblance of concrete political convictions.
In one of the most memorable scenes in the film, when the ex-wife of her adulterous husband Ken (Ian Holm) barges into the party they are holding, Marion can’t help but admire how coolly Ken dismisses his visibly distraught ex-wife with the words: “I accept your condemnation,” the very words he will later utter to Marion upon her discovering infidelity and womanizing is how he feels less alone in the world. After rejecting the sexual advances of Ken’s friend (Gene Hackman), Marion compliments her husband for minimizing the drama at the party through his temperate and diplomatic handling of a potentially embarrassing situation. No real affection, much less passion, exists between them. “I love his company,” she tells Ken’s friend. What Marion prizes most is the controlled and assured stability of her stature as a member of an intellectual club and all the assumptions and privileges that carries with it.
Her life is so controlled that she can only know how she truly feels through what might be described as transference, identifying the despair of another woman (Mia Farrow) as her own. Marion eavesdrops on the sessions with the psychologist next door to the apartment she rents to write a new book. In this way, she gains access to her emotional world, and her unfeeling self enters into crisis. The most empathy Marion is capable of showing comes through her identification with the anguish of the pregnant woman next door. The new insights into self she gleans through access to another mind crumble the insular world she’s long inhabited.
By the end of the film, Marion shows signs of becoming a self-conscious social being. And the conservative ideal of the intellectual who lives apart from the social world falls into shambles.
“Another Woman” offers a sardonic take on how people lose themselves and submit to an unexamined life.