A Close Reading Of Woody Allen's New York Times Op-Ed

Writer and director Woody Allen arrives at a special screening of "To Rome With Love" hosted by The Cinema Society with The H
Writer and director Woody Allen arrives at a special screening of "To Rome With Love" hosted by The Cinema Society with The Hollywood Reporter & Piaget at the Paris Theatre on Wednesday June 20, 2012 in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

On Friday night (Feb. 7), alongside the fanfare of the Olympics opening ceremony, the New York Times published Woody Allen's response to Dylan Farrow's open letter alleging he had sexually abused her at the age of seven. It should be noted that, while Dylan's letter was deemed unfit for the Times' site (it was published on Nicholas Kristof's blog instead), editors found it acceptable to provide Allen with a forum for his defense. While many elements of Allen's piece have been deemed false, there are also a number of rhetorical choices Allen makes that deserve closer analysis.

The title alone implies a sense of liberation and self-advocacy, which deliberately asserts that Allen has previously been unable to discuss his viewpoints on the matter (despite the fact that he has denied request for comment, while both his lawyer and publicist argued on his behalf).


Allen's defense is predominantly built upon insisting Mia Farrow is a bad person, rather than disproving Dylan's sexual abuse allegations or proving that Mia Farrow coached Dylan into believing said allegations. Instead, he focuses solely on crafting Mia as a monster, using details of the case but mostly relying on Mia's affair with Sinatra (which seems irrelevant in this context). From a logical standpoint, all that this can plausibly aspire to prove is that Mia Farrow is not a good person (though it fails to effectively do even that).

"The self-serving transparency of her malevolence seemed so obvious I didn't even hire a lawyer to defend myself."

"I include this anecdote so we all know what kind of character we are dealing with here."

"Again, I want to call attention to the integrity and honesty of a person who conducts her life like that."

He immediately sets out to establish temporal distance from Dylan's accusations, diminishing relevancy by repeatedly establishing that it occurred "twenty-one years ago."

"TWENTY-ONE years ago, when I first heard Mia Farrow had accused me of child molestation, I found the idea so ludicrous I didn't give it a second thought."

"NOW it's 21 years later and Dylan has come forward with the accusations that the Yale experts investigated and found false."

"Plus a few little added creative flourishes that seem to have magically appeared during our 21-year estrangement."

"Is it any wonder the experts at Yale had picked up the maternal coaching aspect 21 years ago?"

He dismisses Dylan, flattering her as a "lovely woman" before taking aim at Mia's character and failing to encounter Dylan as an active agent, literally calling her a "pawn." At no point does he treat Dylan as an adult with her right to a fully formed understanding what happened, going so far as to question whether Mia wrote the letter for her in the first place.

"One must ask, did Dylan even write the letter or was it at least guided by her mother? Does the letter really benefit Dylan or does it simply advance her mother's shabby agenda?"

He discredits Dylan's very right to address her allegations and asserts that if she needed to do so, once was more than enough, a move which undermines his faux sympathy for her as the victim of Mia's "malicious" nature.

"Not that I doubt Dylan hasn't come to believe she's been molested, but if from the age of 7 a vulnerable child is taught by a strong mother to hate her father because he is a monster who abused her, is it so inconceivable that after many years of this indoctrination the image of me Mia wanted to establish had taken root?"

"After all, if speaking out was really a necessity for Dylan, she had already spoken out months earlier in Vanity Fair."

Instead, he uses a discourse of innocence to cast himself in the place of the victim, displacing Dylan's real estate as the harmed party, by painting himself as one who was helplessly unaware of the forces systemically working against him even in matters unrelated to this specific case.

"I naïvely thought the accusation would be dismissed."

"[Judge] Wilk was quite rough on me and never approved of my relationship with Soon-Yi."

"This piece will be my final word on this entire matter and no one will be responding on my behalf to any further comments on it by any party. Enough people have been hurt."

"Even if he [Ronan] is not Frank's, the possibility she raises that he could be, indicates she was secretly intimate with him during our years. Not to mention all the money I paid for child support."

He cleverly informs us of our perception of events, rather than letting the reader form such a position independently, by explaining things as "transparent" and "obvious" without much reason for establishing how this was so. This technique is systematically employed, almost as if to establish credibility through repetition. For example, he uses the phrase "of course" four times throughout the piece, inserting a statement of certainty for which he provides absolutely no foundation.

"I naïvely thought the accusation would be dismissed out of hand because of course, I hadn't molested Dylan and any rational person would see the ploy for what it was."

"Of course, I did not molest Dylan."

"I very willingly took a lie-detector test and of course passed because I had nothing to hide."

He leans heavily on Moses Farrow in order to prove that he did not molest Dylan, despite the fact that Moses was legally a child at the time of the incident and can only feasibly testify to his mother's behavior (not what happened in the attic).

"Here I quote Moses Farrow, 14 at the time: 'My mother drummed it into me to hate my father for tearing apart the family and sexually molesting my sister.' Moses is now 36 years old and a family therapist by profession. 'Of course Woody did not molest my sister,' he said."

"Here I quote Moses Farrow again: 'Knowing that my mother often used us as pawns, I cannot trust anything that is said or written from anyone in the family.'"

He evasively includes his relationship with Soon-Yi as a reason that he was further victimized, dismissively addressing the severely taboo nature of their relationship) by referring to her legal age ("my relationship with Soon-Yi, Mia's adopted daughter, who was then in her early 20s") and further victimizing himself by implying a helplessness in his falling for Soon-Yi and implying his fall out with Mia was the only thing morally incorrect about his initial relationship with her.

"[I] felt guilty that by falling in love with Soon-Yi I had put her in the position of being used as a pawn for revenge."

In the single instance where he genuinely addresses the factuality of the sexual abuse (and not the events surrounding it), his only defense is essentially that it would not have suited him at the time, although does not take on the burden of explaining why this is so, beyond the fact that he was in relationship with Soon-Yi.

"When I was in the blissful early stages of a happy new relationship with the woman I'd go on to marry -- that I would pick this moment in time to embark on a career as a child molester should seem to the most skeptical mind highly unlikely. The sheer illogic of such a crazy scenario seemed to me dispositive."

No one can ever truly know what happened in the attic besides Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen, but with this unabashedly arrogant defense against her claims, Allen wholly fails to treat his daughter as more than a mere pawn used to further a plot against him. He defiantly refuses to argue logically against her allegations in favor of unfounded personal attacks that ultimately come off as petty and no less vitriolic than he endeavors to paint Mia Farrow. He positions Mia as the aggressor, in claiming she is responsible for coaching Dylan into believing her experience was a reality, but then further robs Dylan's right to experience anguish over the incident (real or coerced), by questioning whether her speaking out was ever "really a necessity" in the first place. At best, Woody Allen is an arrogantly unsympathetic yet innocent man. At worst, he is a monster, who sexually abused his daughter and feels he only needs to respond by painting her mother as the cause of two decades' pain.