Film / Love and Death

"If it turns out that there is a God, I don't think that He's evil. I think that the worst you can say about Him is that basically He's an underachiever."

Love and Death is a 1975 Woody Allen comedy film that is an Affectionate Parody of Russian novels, with a particular debt to War and Peace. It's Allen's last totally comedic film before Tom Hanks Syndrome hit, and he considers it one of his favorites of his work.

The film deals with Boris Grushenko (Allen), who like many other Allen protagonists, is a cowardly young man with intellectual pretensions. Grushenko is drafted into the Napoleonic wars and ultimately roped into an assassination attempt on Napoleon.

Contains examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: Boris, during the battle of Austerlitz.
  • Affectionate Parody: Very much so, with tons of Genius Bonus for fans of Russian literature.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Played straight. Boris has been in love with his cousin Sonja since they were kids, but she pines futilely for his idiot brother Ivan, who in turn only has eyes for Anna. Later parodied when Sonja's mopey cousin Natasha lists a long string of her acquaintances who are all pining after each other.
  • Anachronism Stew: Includes several instances of this played for humor.
  • Black Bra and Panties: Boris hooks up with a gorgeous countess - at a rendezvous, she walks in in very erotic black underthings; he deadpans "I...would have preferred something sexy, but..."
  • Black Vikings: Played for laughs, with a shouting black drill sergeant in 1812 Russia.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Boris addresses the audience at the end.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Boris's father.
    Father: [produces his "valuable piece of land", which is a giant divot he carries around inside his shirt. It has a small toy house on it] Son, for long years I have saved this piece of land for you. Look, it has a house on it.
    Boris: [humouring him] Yes, it's a nice little house. You haven't wasted your life, I see.
    Father: Don't let any strangers come on it.
    Boris: No, no strangers. You're a major loon, you know that?
    • Also Boris and Sonja, whenever they talk about philosophy or go off into their respective internal monologues:
      Boris: [to himself] To die before the harvest...The crops, the grains. Fields of rippling wheat. Wheat. All there is in life is wheat.
      Sonja: [to herself] Sonja, here's your chance to do something kind for a dying boy. But I don't really love Boris. I mean, I love him, but I'm not in love with him.
      Boris: [to himself] Oh, wheat! Lots of wheat! Fields of wheat. A tremendous amount of wheat!
      Sonja: [to herself] And yet, he loves me. And he would make a devoted husband. Not too exciting, but devoted. We'd have a family. Maybe we could rent one. I could learn to love him. Me, Boris and six rented children. Or would I feel trapped? Suffocated? Can't breathe? Open a window! No, not that one! The one in the bathroom.
      Boris: [to himself] Yellow wheat. Red wheat. Wheat with feathers. Cream of wheat.
      Sonja: [to herself] Poor boy, duelling with Anton Lebedokov. By tomorrow, my beloved cousin Boris will look like a Swiss cheese. Promise him anything, make him happy for a night. Oh! Or would I feel trapped? Suffocated? My youth gone? Living with a Swiss cheese and rented children.
  • Contemplate Our Navels: Wheat...
  • A Date with Rosie Palms:
    Countess Alexandrovna: You are the greatest lover I've ever had.
    Boris: Well, I practice a lot when I'm alone.
  • The Dead Can Dance: Boris cavorts with the Grim Reaper at the conclusion.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: Boris has to deal with one when he joins the army. An African-American one. In Imperial Russia.
    • Well, Pushkin's grandfather was a black Ethopian mercenary who fought under Peter the Great, but in this case, it was probably to fulfill two tropes.
    • Ironically, it predates the performance by Louis Gossett, Jr. in An Officer and a Gentleman.
  • Duel to the Death: Lebedokov challenges Boris to pistols at dawn.
    Anton Inbedkov: Shall we say pistols at dawn?
    Boris Grushenko: Well, we can say it. I don't know what it means, but we can say it.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: The film ends with Boris Breaking the Fourth Wall and sharing some of his musings about life with the audience. At one point he says, "It's not the quantity of your sexual relations that count, it's the quality. On the other hand, if the quantity drops below once every eight months, I would definitely look into it."
  • Four Terms Fallacy: Boris gives this monologue:
    What would Socrates say? All those Greeks were homosexuals. Boy, they must have had some wild parties. I bet they all took a house together in Crete for the summer. A: Socrates is a man. B: All men are mortal. C: All men are Socrates. That means all men are homosexuals.
  • Funny Background Event: In one scene, while one of Napoleon's advisers plots treachery, in the background, Napoleon is teaching his Body Double how to walk like him, and the two of them get in an argument that ends with a fistfight.
  • Girl-on-Girl Is Hot:
    Sonja: There are many different kinds of love, Boris. There's love between a man and a woman; between a mother and son...
    Boris: Two women. Let's not forget my favorite.
  • Glove Slap: Lebedokov slaps Boris with a glap, challenging him to a duel. His friend then slaps some sense into him.
    Hey, what is this? Slap Boris Day?
  • God Is Evil/God Is Flawed: Amusingly subverted with this quote from Boris, "If it turns out that there IS a God, I don't think that he's evil. I think that the worst you can say about him is that basically he's an underachiever."
  • The Grim Reaper: Likely as a Shout-Out to Bergman, although unusually, he's dressed in all white.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: "He missed. He missed him. He missed."
  • Historical In-Joke: Fyodor Dostoevsky was sent to a firing squad, but unlike Boris, he was spared at the last moment.
  • Hope Spot: Boris is told by an Angel of the Lord that he will be spared from execution. Later...
    Boris's ghost: I got screwed!
  • Human Cannonball: Boris hides in the cannon barrel. During the battle of Austerlitz...
  • Hurricane of Puns: In one scene, all of the dialogue consists of referencing the titles of works by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
    Father: Remember that nice boy next door, Raskolnikov?
    Boris: Yeah.
    Father: He killed two ladies.
    Boris: What a nasty story.
    Father: Bobak told it to me. He heard it from one of the Karamazov brothers.
    Boris: He must have been possessed.
    Father: Well, he was a raw youth.
    Boris: Raw youth, he was an idiot!
    Father: He acted insulted and injured.
    Boris: I heard he was a gambler.
    Father: You know, he could be your double!
    Boris: Really? How novel.
  • Insane Troll Logic:
    Boris: (monologuing) What would Socrates say? All those Greeks were homosexuals. Boy, they must have had some wild parties. I bet they all took a house together in Crete for the summer. A: Socrates is a man. B: All men are mortal. C: All men are Socrates. That means all men are homosexuals.
    Sonja: To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down.
  • Instant Marksman: Just Squeeze Trigger!:
    Sonya: I'm not leaving here until we shoot Napoleon. Here. (Hands Boris a pistol)
    Boris: Oh, I see. Thanks. I'm the hit man.
    Sonya: Remember, you can't take any chances. Now, make sure the barrel of the gun is pressed against his head or his chest. And don't pull the trigger, Boris. Squeeze it.
    Boris: Where did you go to finishing school? On a pirate ship?
  • Insult Backfire:
    Boris: You're a tyrant, and a dictator, and you start wars!
    Napoleon: Why is he reciting my credits?
  • I Take Offense to That Last One!:
    Anton: Grushenko? Isn't he the young coward all St. Petersburg is talking about?
    Boris: I'm not so young. I'm thirty-five.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Napoleon's generals inform that the Duke of Wellington has a dish named after him - the beef wellington. They dismiss the idea.
  • Joisey: Where Napoleon's double seems to be from.
  • Last Wish Marriage: Sonya agrees to marry her nebbish cousin Boris because he's been challenged to a duel and fully expects that he'd be killed, and she figures that she can do him a simple kindness. She's a bit taken aback when he actually survives and she actually has to live with him.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Sonja's friend Natasha is involved in one of these.
    Natasha: It's a very complicated situation, Cousin Sonja. I'm in love with Alexei. He loves Alicia. Alicia is having an affair with Lev. Lev loves Tatiana. Tatiana loves Simkin. Simkin loves me. I love Simkin, but in a different way than Alexei. Alexei loves Tatiana like a sister. Tatiana’s sister loves Trigorin like a brother. Trigorin’s brother is having an affair with my sister, whom he likes physically but not spiritually.
    Sonja: Natasha... It's getting a little late.
    Natasha: The firm of Mishkin and Mishkin is sleeping with the firm of Taskov and Taskov!
  • Mortality Phobia: Boris lives in constant fear of dying, as a result of somehow meeting the Grim Reaper as a child, and this fear informs most of his acts of cowardice throughout the movie.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Old Nehampkin is younger than Young Nehampkin. Boris lampshades it while delirious later in the movie.
  • Of Corsets Sexy:
    Countess Alexandrovna: How do you like it?
    Boris: It's all right. I prefer something sexy, but...
  • One Scene, Two Monologues: A literal example. Boris has been challenged to a duel, and asks Sonya to marry him if he manages to survive. They then go into alternating inner monologues, with Sonya considering the various reasons why or why not to say yes, and Boris, certain of his imminent death, becoming rather fixated on the imagery of wheat.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: All the music is by Sergei Prokofiev, mostly from the Lt. Kije Suite. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute makes a cameo.
  • Pyrrhic Victory
    Priest: God was truly kind to us this day.
    Boris: Can you imagine if he wasn't? It might have rained.
  • Really Gets Around: Sonya, and how.
    Sonja: Oh, Boris, I'm so unhappy.
    Boris: I wish you weren't.
    Sonja: Voskovec and I quarrel frequently. I've become a scandal.
    Boris: Poor Sonja.
    Sonja: I've been visiting Seretsky in his room.
    Boris: Why? What's in his room? (beat) Oh.
    Sonja: And before Seretsky, Alexei. And before Alexei, Alegorian. And before Alegorian, Asimov.
    Boris: OK!
    Sonja: Wait! I'm still on the A's.
  • Rule of Funny: To give one example, a battle scene is intercut with scenes of Boris as a cheerleader.
  • The Schlub Pub Seduction Deduction:
    Sonja: Pardon me? I'm having trouble adjusting my belt. Do you think you could come over here and hold my bosom for a while?
  • Second Prize: In a backhanded insult.
    Soldier: He was from my village - He was the village idiot.
    Boris: Yeah, what did you do, place?
  • Shout-Out: Parodies of shots from Ingmar Bergman and Sergei Eisenstein movies.
  • Take That!: "After all, you know, there are worse things in life than death. If you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know exactly what I mean."
  • Ten Paces and Turn: Boris ends up in a duel. Ten paces, turn, and laugh.
  • Unnecessary Time Precision:
    Countess Alexandrovna: How long has it been since you've made love to a woman?
    Boris: What's today? Monday, Tuesday... two years.
  • Visual Pun: The "valuable piece of land" owned by Boris's father turns out to be small enough to carry in his coat.
  • We Wil Meet Again: Played with after young Boris meets Death. And, of course, they do meet again in the end, dancing away as the credits roll.
    Boris: What happens after we die? Is there a Hell? Is there a God? Do we live again? All right, lemme ask one key question. Are there girls?
    Death: You're an interesting young man. We'll meet again.
    Boris: ... don't bother.
    Death: It's no bother.
  • Weird Trade Union: They drop the Village Idiot off at an Idiot's convention.
  • Word Salad Philosophy: "To love is to suffer, to suffer is to suffer, to suffer is to be unhappy..."
    Sonja: Boris. Let me show you how absurd your position is. Let's say there is no God, and each man is free to do exactly as he chooses. What prevents you from murdering somebody?
    Boris: Murder's immoral.
    Sonja: Immorality is subjective.
    Boris: Yes, but subjectivity is objective.
    Sonja: Not in a rational scheme of perception.
    Boris: Perception is irrational. It implies imminence.
    Sonja: But judgment of any system of phenomena exists in any rational, metaphysical or epistemological contradiction to an abstracted empirical concept such as being, or to be, or to occur in the thing itself, or of the thing itself.