Burn Victims both Wanting and Fearing the Embrace of Another: Woody, Mia and the Third Commandment

Mia Farrow’s Valentine Card to Woody Allen 1992

Hurt People Hurt People

On Feb 1 of this year Dylan Farrow published an open letter in the New York Times telling her story of being sexually abused by her then adopted father Woody Allen when she was 7 years old.

Why publish this now? Because Allen is up for a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award for his film making. She wants him to be known as a moral monster who destroyed her innocence, not a great film maker whose work should be applauded. She was hurt and she wants him to hurt too. She was robbed of her innocence and she wants him robbed of his glory.

Morality and Glory

The initial discussion this launched was the question of whether a person’s moral performance should be considered when evaluating their cultural contributions.

Andrew Sullivan in his blog makes this observation.

In some ways, I wish this weren’t so. It would be a less fallen and compromised world. But the human mind can, alas, live quite fully in places where the practical moral conscience seems irrelevant. And so it is essential to understand Heidegger’s foul complicity in the Third Reich but impossible to reduce his world-historical genius to it. That T.S Eliot was a rancid anti-Semite does not, frustratingly, dilute the perfection of the Four Quartets, nor does Philip Larkin’s racism alter the triumph of Aubade. Jefferson’s thought and career, for that matter, will always elude the facts of his ownership of human beings and intercourse with some of them. Perhaps with less essential talents, the sins may more adequately define the artist. But that, in many ways, only makes the injustice worse. Those with the greatest gifts can get away with the greatest crimes.

The Court of Public Opinion

While bloggers and intellectuals wished to muse abstractly on this philosophical point the mob rushed in to try this case in the only way it knows how in the Internet age. Blogs, magazine articles, tweets, Facebook postings took up sides. Who was the real victim here?

Go ahead and delve into the story. It is both seemingly captivating and sickening at the same time. Both Mia Farrow and Woody Allen come out as incredibly talented, fortunate and brilliant people who are also incredibly flawed and capable of both absorbing pain and inflicting hurt. They are hurt hurters who hope that in some way they will find justice, consolation or retribution or “setting the record straight”, but the wounds just keep coming 20 years after they had hoped that an actual divorce of personal presence (they were never actually married) would bring them peace.

Emotional Relational Burn Victims

Our skin is one of them most amazing things about us. It lets the good in and keeps the bad out. Through it we touch and feel, learn to avoid harm through pain but also enjoy pleasure.

When skin is burned the body is overwhelmed with pain. That which should bring pleasure now makes life unbearable. When skin is burned the vulnerable internal organs are exposed to bacteria which can lead to infection.

Burn victims do not want to be hugged. A hug is both excruciating and deadly. They need to be in isolation from the rest of the world for the sake of their physical body but in that isolation their soul is left wounded and alone.

When we are deeply hurt we become emotional burn victims, hungering for community, desperate to fix what ails us yet unable to come into contact with the good things in this world, even loved ones.

We also become relational burn victims. The healing hands of a doctor, nurse or beloved family member become weapons that we flee from. Other persons are threats. We cannot tolerate another.

Pain teaches that burns hurt and in a world of pain where hurts are deep it is not always easy to know what painful contact may heal and what pain just brings more hurt. In this confusion anything that comes near us apart from our control we see as suspect.

We trust ourselves alone, but we are not trustworthy either. Much of what we grab for to try to heal the hurt winds up hurting us further.

When Chasing Lost Shalom, Beware of Young Girls

Mia Farrow, the daughter of a Hollywood marriage between a playboy and Tarzan’s plaything has been feverously trying to construct family shalom her whole life.

In 1966 at the age of 21 she married 50 year old Frank Sinatra, a marriage that lasted 2 years until he divorced her for not following his wishes regarding her career. He would divorce and abandon other lovers for the same reason repeatedly in his life. His lovers needed to be under his control.

After the divorce she went to an Indian ashram, Eat, Pray, Love style seeking spirituality and palling around with the Beatles and other pop music stars but did not begin he own family with any of these musical lights.

In 1970 she married musician and composer Andre Previn who was 16 years older than her while carrying his child, conceived while Andre was married to another causing his wife Dorie to write a song “Beware of Young Girls“.

Of young girls
Who come to the door
Wistful and pale
Of twenty and four
Delivering daisies
With delicate hands

Of young girls
Too often they crave
To cry
At a wedding
And dance
On a grave

She was my friend
My friend
My friend
She was invited to my house
Oh yes
She was
And though she knew
My love was true
No ordinary thing
She admired
My wedding ring
She admired
My wedding ring

She was my friend
My friend
My friend
She sent us little silver gifts
Oh yes
She did
Oh what a rare
And happy pair
Inevitably said
As she glanced
At my unmade bed
She admired
My unmade bed
My bed

She was my friend
My friend
My friend
I thought her motives were sincere
Oh yes
I did
Ah but this lass
It came to pass
A dark and different plan
She admired
My own sweet man
She admired
My own sweet man

We were friends
Oh yes
We were
And she just took him from my life
Oh yes
She did
So young and vain
She brought me pain
I’m wise enough to say
She will leave him
One thoughtless day
She’ll just leave him
And go away
Oh yes

Of young girls
Who come to the door
Wistful and pale
Of twenty and four
Delivering daisies
With delicate hands

Of young girls
To often they crave
To cry
At a wedding
And dance
On a grave

Previn and Farrow had two more biological children together and adopted two others including a girl, Soon Yi from Korea when she was between 5 and 7. Their marriage would last 9 years

Farrow would divorce Previn and take up with Woody Allen, a man ten years her elder. She would never marry Allen, in fact according to reports he never once spent the night at her home. While they were together Allen and Farrow would together adopt two children and have one child biologically. Farrow now claims that Ronan, the “biological” child is actually the son of Frank Sinatra. So she was cheating on Allen, and Sinatra was cheating on his current wife.

12 years into their relationship Mia Farrow discovers nude pictures of her 19 year old adopted daughter Soon Yi (never adopted by Allen) taken by Allen who was 56 at that time.

Beware of young girls, Mia, and older men.

This launched a bitter custody battle over the children that Allen had adopted (including Dylan) and the child he supposedly produced with Farrow. In the custody battle the allegations of the abuse of Dylan was revealed as well as the report that Allen had been in therapy for inappropriate behavior towards children. Farrow gained sole custody of their children but Allen was never charged with molestation. Judge Wilk declared Allen’s behavior towards Dylan “was grossly inappropriate and measures must be taken to protect her.”

Farrow would go on to adopt 6 more children naming one after Judge Wilk.

Allen has now been married for more than 20 years to Soon Yi and has adopted two daughters. In a 2001 interview about his relationship with Soon Yi Allen justified his relationship with her with “the heart wants what it wants“. In a 2005 Vanity Fair interview quoted here

Allen told the magazine that, despite the scandal’s damage to his reputation, Farrow’s discovery of Allen’s attraction to Soon-Yi Previn by finding nude photographs of her was “just one of the fortuitous events, one of the great pieces of luck in my life. . . It was a turning point for the better.”

When Allen’s and Farrow’s youngest adopted children grow up, what stories will they tell? 

The Greek Gods Among Us

What have Farrow and Allen being doing? Even as people with the kind of wealth, talent and opportunity that most of us will never know they attempt to construct for themselves shalom that will heal their hurts and make them whole. They are sure they know what will heal the burns.

We in our hurts imagine that wealth, opportunity, fortune and access will enable us to avoid the crimes and mistakes of the gods we read about in People magazine. Why do we believe this illusion?

We are a world full relational, emotional burn victims hurting each other desperately looking for wholeness. 

Latest reports are that Farrow’s brother is now convicted of child molestation and we now demand to know why they attack Woody and not her brother. It is an amazing world where we all with dirt on our hands demand that we denounce our own flesh and blood why we maintain our own innocence.

Sullivan continues

We can and should rail against this, while surely also be realistically resigned to it. It struck me, for example, rather apposite that as the blogosphere is debating whether to boycott Woody Allen’s films in future because of this horrifying story, exponentially more people are tuning into the Superbowl to watch a game we now know will render many of its players mentally incapacitated in their middle ages and beyond. We know that this spectacle is based on the premise of brain damage for many of its participants, but we watch anyway. Reforms in the game that might change the number of concussions are resisted by the fans as ferociously as by the owners. And in the excitement of the game, such things are so easy to obliterate from our minds. We forget that this massive industry knew full well what they were doing and yet subjected human beings to this fate for years. They abused people’s bodies and minds for money – and now we are required to celebrate their entire cult en masse for one night.

Meaningless, Meaningless, All Is Meaningless

Columnist Damon Linker writes

I don’t know what did or did not happen between Woody Allen and Dylan Farrow more than 20 years ago, and neither does Nicholas Kristof. What I do know is that Allen is a moral nihilist.

He goes on to walk us through what he thinks is Allen’s best film Crimes and Misdemeanors  from 1989, during the Farrow years where he would be the father of Dylan and the mother’s boyfriend of Soon Yi.

The film is about an ophthalmologist named Judah Rosenthal whose mistress is threatening to expose his affair to his wife. The answer to his problem is simple but unthinkable in polite society, silence her by killing her. He wrestles with the moral dilemma, but eventually decides to do it, and gets away with it. The film ends with Judah successful at getting away with it, happy and fulfilled in every way. Judah might himself quip “the heart wants what it wants”.

Allen explored what he believed is the meaninglessness of life.

The theme and its broader implications are reinforced throughout the film. In one of its most powerful scenes, Judah observes and interacts with a memory from his youth in which members of his family debate morality, God, and the Holocaust. Espousing the view endorsed by the film, Judah’s atheist aunt May (whom Judah’s religiously observant father dubs a “nihilist”) remarks that if National Socialist Germany had won World War II, then Hitler’s actions would have ended up being “right.” After all, in such a nightmarish, counterfactual world, the Nazis would be empowered to set and enforce the reigning moral standard — and there simply is no higher moral authority to appeal to against such a standard. In a nihilistic universe, the overarching moral truth is that might makes right.

In other words, who’s to judge. Will you judge Allen, Farrow, against what standard? Aren’t all of these standards just decision by history’s winners?

As Allen explained in a more recent interview in Commonweal magazine, it was the desire to explore this sense of existential meaninglessness that inspired him to make Crimes and Misdemeanors: “Some people distort [the meaninglessness of the world] with religious things. Some people distort it with sports, with money, with love, with art… but nothing makes it meaningful…. [E]veryone goes to his grave in a meaningless way…. [O]ne can commit a crime, do unspeakable things, and get away with it, and some of them are plagued with all sorts of guilt for the rest of their lives and others aren’t. There is no justice…”

How Did this Catastrophe Begin?

Do you know the first time in the Bible one of the Ten Commandments is violated?

I’ll make my case for the serpent and the third commandment (with bearing false witness a close second.)

Genesis 3:1–7 (NET)

1 Now the serpent was more shrewd than any of the wild animals that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Is it really true that God said, ‘You must not eat from any tree of the orchard’?”2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit from the trees of the orchard; 3 but concerning the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the orchard God said, ‘You must not eat from it, and you must not touch it, or else you will die.’ ” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “Surely you will not die,5 for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will open and you will be like divine beings who know good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree produced fruit that was good for food, was attractive to the eye, and was desirable for making one wise, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of it to her husband who was with her, and he ate it.7 Then the eyes of both of them opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Growing up I was always a bit peeved by this story. It seemed like God made a stupid rule and then entrapped them. I don’t think that anymore. What seed did the serpent sow?

The serpent was the first reputation assassin, the catastrophe of human society began with our fearful suspicion that God was holding out on us and we must take matters into our own hands to secure the power and shalom we deserve.

So the woman reaches out her hand, takes the fruit and shares it with her husband. The fruit was good and the power they acquired was good, but they immediately realized what that power entailed and in the new light of their power they also discovered their vulnerability. The great gift of skin would always be a vulnerable gift and with their new eyes they realized they were surrounded by threat.

The irony was they did not flee the serpent who was the true threat, but they fled the sound of power itself even as they wished to wield that power.

Just a chapter before at the sight of the woman’s skin the man cried with delight. Skin would be for them a garden of delight. Now even skin is a threat. Beware of young girls Adam, beware of older men Eve.

When Mia found Woody’s pictures of the skin of Soon Yi the threat was clear. Dory Previn was slower to realize the threat of Mia’s skin, but I would imagine she, on the basis of her song would not make the same mistake twice. All young female skin would be seen as a threat, no matter the person the skin contained.

The Third Commandment

Exodus 20:7 (NET)

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold guiltless anyone who takes his name in vain.

On the face of it the third commandment too seems petty. Why should such a powerful God care what we say or think?

For thousands of years the children of Israel have scrupulously avoided saying “the name” in hopes that with their lips they might be guiltless at least on this count. Oh would it be the case that rebellion were so easily avoided. The man and the woman rebelled before either had said a single word. Commentators will note that this isn’t just about language, it’s about reputation.

Even before any skin was violated by fire or knife, the man and the woman had more knowledge and more power and less trust. Now even just the sight of skin threatened personhood and future. Their relational, emotional burns would grow from this time forward.

The Slide

This God whose reputation had just been damaged came to the garden to visit his friends. They did not come forward in joy as children to great him. He called to them and they answered him from their hiding places.

“Who told you you were naked?”

The man, whose only hurt at this point had been self-inflicted blamed his maker and his wife in the same sentence. He became the first human judger and his judgment was defensively false.

God knew they would need more protection so leaves were replaced by animal skins. This would be the first time animals we would gain benefit at the expense of the animals. Animal lives would cover our relational debts.

From here on out we would be confused when trying to distinguish friend from foe. We would long for each other’s skin and approval, and be jealous for our own reputation while all the time living “my well-being at your expense.”

The God Question

Why should questioning the reputation of our source and maker unsettle us so deeply that we turn on each other? Why does just a little mistrust create in us the kind of creature who desperately seeks the destruction of another?

Consider the options:

1. If here is no god and the physicists are right then history is finally meaningless and its future dark. Read Phillip Larkin’s Aubade.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

2. If there is a good god, then in the end justice will be done, joy will reign, and there is hope for all we fear may be lost. Can we possibly believe this in this world of fire, death and pain?

3. If there is a god but that god is not for us, or not trustworthy, or neglectful, then all we have is to be ever vigilant, careful and finally ruthless because our welfare and security are finally always and only up to us.

Two Ways To Take the LORD’s Name in Vain

There are two ways to work this form of rebellion. The first is to drag God into everything of ours and the second to act as if he isn’t here.

The first tends to be the religious way, to make God co-sign on all of our loans, agendas and missions. To turn God into an plastic action figure that we pull out on every and all occasions to take the world from Him and make it our own.

The second is to live as if God is not present, we are innocent of the catastrophe of the world filled with relational, emotional burn victims and that if we just have a little more power and knowledge we’ll guide humanity to a glorious history even if we as individuals won’t get there ourselves. This is Woody’s way.

Gandalf Tries to Help Bilbo

In the Fellowship of the Ring movie Bilbo has second thoughts about leaving the ring behind as he leaves the Shire. Gandalf confronts him. Bilbo protests “What business is it of yours what I do with my own ring… you want it for yourself!”

Gandalf then turns gray, large and menacing and says “Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks. I am not trying to rob you, I am trying to help you.”

The ring of power, like the fruit of the tree, brings into its bearers simultaneously strength and mistrust. The answer we assume will resolve our mistrust is almost always more knowledge and more power, but as we saw with Mia and Woody nothing could be further from the truth. Do you still imagine that more power and more knowledge will secure for you the self you’ve always wanted?

What you will find is that you will use your power to eliminate the threats to your damaged skin. You will use that power to either subjugate others thinking that your control can make them safe for you to be around, or you will want them dead, divorced from your existence.

Approaching Relational Emotional Burn Victims

If you thought the likes of Mia, Woody and each of us could be managed by rules and accountability the history of Israel should convince you that the effort would be futile. We cannot be argued back into trust. We cannot be coerced or threatened back into trust.

If you’ve ever tried to love a person who cannot trust, you know what I mean. Mistrust is a prison whose doors are locked from the inside. If you approach an emotional relational burn victim they will attack you or flee from you. What we are when we are in the grip of our burns is like wild animals that will flee or bite.

In the midst of a world full of pain and fighting every bit as bitter as that between Mia and Woody God came to us covered with skin. He tried to communicate to the defensive that they are indeed guilty, and to the fearful that they are in fact loved and this resulted in what is completely predictable, his torture and death.

We took him and tore off his clothing, leaving him not a fig leaf or animal skin. We nailed his naked body to a cross on a hill because we thought mocking his nakedness should be shared with as many mockers as possible.

From this cross he asks us, “Now do you see that I am not trying to rob you, but to help you? Now do you see that I am for you, with you, on your side? Now can you see that I will bear your hurts, bear your guilt, bear your hell? Now might you try to take the first, cautious, tentative steps to trust me and love me once more?”

Woody and Mia

Woody now says life is grand. He has his young wife and young daughters. If only he could somehow get control over his former family who continues to wage war against his reputation in the papers. Maybe another interview will fix things. Perhaps a lawsuit?

Mia continues to try to save the world one adoption at a time. Surely by bringing more children into her home, where all her money, power, control and guidance are available to them will make all things good and right. If only that Woody be finally exposed for the monster he is and the world cease to give him attention and glory! Perhaps another interview or a lawsuit?


I cannot offer you the money, power, fame and opportunity of Woody’s or Mia’s families. Most of you are too old to be adopted by them anyway. But I have something better to offer.

Ephesians 1:3–6 (NET)

3 Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ. 4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love.5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will—6 to the praise of the glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son.

If mistrust got us into this mess then trust is also the way out.

The definition of a Christian is whether by the witness of Jesus’ brutalized skin you grow to trust Jesus more than you trust yourself.

Once trust has begun, the hope is that we begin to act less and less like relational, emotional burn victims in a world of untrustworthy persons. What adoption into this family means is that we don’t act so much like Mia’s and Woody’s kids, but we begin to act like children of God and our elder brother Jesus. That knowing full well this world will continue to burn us, that we will return good for evil, and turn the other cheek, and begin to actually become trustworthy people day by day, bit by bit, learning to both forgive and heal.

So which family do you really want to be a part of?

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
This entry was posted in On the way to Sunday's sermon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Burn Victims both Wanting and Fearing the Embrace of Another: Woody, Mia and the Third Commandment

  1. Pingback: The Ten Commandments Sermon Series | Leadingchurch.com

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