It's the kind of encounter made in TV heaven: the neurotic intellectual New York Jew and the fire-and-brimstone televangelist arguing about what it all means.
Woody Allen interviewed Billy Graham in the 1960s, where the two men discussed all manner of topics touching on religion, morality and the meaning of life. It was a respectful, intelligent and often funny conversation the likes of which would be impossible in today's cultural climate, according to the legendary director, who recounted the meeting to the film press as he promoted his latest movie.
Allen's talk with Graham resonates with him today, informing in part the themes of his latest film, "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger." The movie stars Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Anthony Hopkins and Gemma Jones in a story about the quest for comfort and certainty, and how faith -- even an irrational one -- can help us find solace.
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In New York this week to discuss "Stranger," Allen reflected on his meeting with Graham.
"Years ago I was on television with Billy Graham and I was taking this position, this bleak outlook position and Billy Graham was saying to me that even if I was right and he was wrong, and there was no meaning to life and it was a bleak experience and there was no god and no afterlife or no hope or anything, he would still have a better life than me, because he believed differently and even if he was 100 percent wrong, our lives would both be completed and I would have had a miserable life wallowing in a bleak outlook and he would have had a wonderful life, confident that there was more."
In "Stranger" these two opposing positions are staked out by Josh Brolin as Roy, a struggling novelist, and Gemma Jones as Helena, his mother-in-law who has begun taking great comfort in her visits with a psychic.
"And so that was one of the main themes of this picture, that someone like Gemma could be deluded -- as I felt Billy Graham was deluded -- and she would have a better life than someone like Josh, who is more scientific minded and had a more realistic of life, but was going to have a more miserable life."
While Allen is steadfast in his belief that people like Helena -- or Billy Graham -- are comforting themselves with lies, he does harbor a certain level of jealousy of the peace it affords them.
"I do feel that it's important to have some kind of faith in something, but\ impossible for many of us. I personally don't have any faith in anything. It's great if you can. The only trouble is, is in Gemma's position in the movie, she's happy, deluded, with that character she through her lot in with at the end -- they're both crazy -- but happy for the moment, because they're going to have a rude awakening eventually, because she was not Joan of Arc, the reincarnation thing doesn't really happen and she's going to sooner or later, reality sets in in a crushing way. As it does and will with everybody, including Billy Graham. But it's nice if you can delude yourself for as long as possible."