I love Woody Allen’s films. It’s not just the quirky humor, the neurotic characters, and the great writing. It’s the fact that Allen always tries to get you to think about life in a different skew. Match Point is a case in study about luck. How much of a factor does luck play in the lives we lead? In some ways, it’s a more refined and sleeker version of Allen’s earlier film, Crimes and Misdemeanors. Putting aside the more obvious parallel to Crime and Punishment, it’s also a Great Expectations with a smarter and more ruthless Pip. Chris Wilton is a retired tennis player who tried to make his ways in the pros but had to come to terms with the fact that he just didn’t have what it took to get to the next level. While a friend protests that a couple lucky bounces could have swung him into the upper echelons, he seems to think otherwise. He becomes an instructor at a wealthy club teaching tennis and there meets Tom Hewett, who is from an incredibly wealthy family. He also has a sister who is very attracted to Chris. Chris and Chloe start dating, get married, and everyone lives happily ever after. Great, right? Only Chris falls in love with the smoldering Nola (played by Scarlett Johansen) and things get really tricky because he can’t control his desire. That’s the plot in a nutshell.
But the question that keeps on popping up as we watch the rise and fall of Chris Wilton is, is it luck, or his choices, that shape his life? It’s implied he’s from a poor family so he rose from poverty to become a professional tennis player, showing his drive. He’s also driven at work and seizes his opportunities whenever he can. When Tom invites him to the opera, he gladly accepts, setting up his meeting with Chloe. Without a doubt, Chris makes very smart decisions. Until Nola gets involved. Then, every decision he makes gets “dumb and dumber,” until it seems everything will fall apart.
I mentioned Great Expectations earlier. That too is an example of a story where luck is involved. Although Pip makes the choice to save Abel Magwich, there is no way he could have known (spoiler) that Abel would spend the rest of his life trying to repay his debt and give Pip the chance of a lifetime. In the same way, if Chris hadn’t fought as a tennis player and graciously accepted his limitations, he would never have been a tennis instructor at an exclusive club. It is luck that Tom takes a liking to Chris which leads to his introduction into his family. But it was also about Chris’s ability as a tennis player and his friendship with Tom as much as his ruthlessness and disregard of morals to maintain what he wants. Fate vs. destiny is a tricky formula that gets pushed to its limit when Chris makes a choice to go to the most extreme limits to “get rid of his problem.” And yet, it’s luck that saves him in the end (and not in the way we expected which was an incredibly clever twist). Seneca put it best when he said:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
I think back on my life. I’ve had some incredibly lucky breaks and the chance to live out some of my dreams which I’m very grateful for. At the same time, I’ve had moments I thought would lead to more opportunities that fizzled out worse than the carbon in a month old soda (sorry for the terrible analogy, ha ha). I think of publications, missed opportunities, and hasty decisions. I mean, when I think of my writing career, most of what I consider “dumb” decisions were “hasty” ones made out of impatience. I’ve learned from them, but at the same time, those “dumb” decisions sometimes would lead to amazing results, which is why I take these risks. The choices we sometimes make amount to gambles. We want them to be as calculated as possible, but sometimes, you just never know.