What we learned from Allen v. Farrow episode 2: 'The only way to protect myself'
Viewers tuning in to Allen v. Farrow expecting something fast-paced and explosive are probably well and truly disappointed by now, but the methodical table-setting of the docuseries' first two hours serves a purpose. Directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering have gone to great lengths to provide the backdrop against which Dylan Farrow's sexual abuse accusation toward Woody Allen first emerged in 1992. After introducing the major players and key relationships in the case in last week's premiere, Dick and Ziering provide even more context this week, exploring Allen's relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, the breakdown of his relationship with Mia Farrow, and the treatment of young women throughout Allen's creative work.
That latter point builds on the premiere's examination of Allen's onscreen persona, parsing what other aspects of the filmmaker's oeuvre may or may not reveal about him. Tracing Allen's filmography, you quickly notice a pattern of older male characters romancing much younger female characters. As film critic Alissa Wilkinson notes in the doc, "You get the feeling watching Woody Allen's films that he's trying to make us acclimated to the idea of these kinds of relationships, this sort of power dynamic — in a sense, grooming us. When you see it over and over, it kind of attunes you to thinking, 'This is normal... and there's nothing that I should feel odd about.'"
Most famously, in 1979's highly acclaimed Manhattan, Allen's character has a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl (played by Mariel Hemingway). This story line was purportedly inspired by the director's alleged relationship with then-teenaged Christina Engelhardt, who appears in the episode to reiterate her previously-stated account of events. (Allen has never acknowledged that the relationship took place.)
According to Engelhardt, she became Allen's "secret girlfriend" after meeting him at the age of 16 (their relationship didn't "develop" until she was 17, she adds) and it continued until she was 23. "After I saw Manhattan — I'm of the same age, and there's Mariel looking like myself, and I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm his muse,'" Engelhardt recalls. "I felt I was the lucky one."
Additionally, journalist Richard Morgan recounts his findings from Allen's personal archives at Princeton University, previously detailed in a 2018 Washington Post article. Throughout these papers — old screenplay drafts, short stories, unmade TV pitches, and the like — there runs an evident fixation on very young women. Excerpts from some of the papers are displayed on screen: "A flashy, sexy 16-year-old blonde in a flaming red low cut evening gown with a long slit up the side." "He's a wealthy, educated, respected man living with two 18-year-olds." Morgan recalls a note describing a character from 2019's A Rainy Day in New York, a female college student who "should not be 20 or 21, sounds more like 18 — or even 17 — but 18 seems better."
The episode then returns to Soon-Yi Previn, Mia Farrow's adopted daughter and now Allen's wife of more than 20 years. Farrow and her then-husband André Previn adopted Soon-Yi from South Korea in 1978, when she was about eight years old. According to Farrow and other interviewees, the young Soon-Yi, who had had an impoverished life in South Korea, did not adjust easily to life in the U.S.
"Soon-Yi was always standoffish... towards everybody. I don't know if it had to do with the fact that she was adopted at a later age, and so she remembered more of her turmoil before she was adopted," says Daisy Previn, who was adopted from Vietnam by Farrow at age two. "She had a lot more angst; it was harder for her to trust any of us."
As Farrow recalls, she later encouraged Allen to spend more time with Soon-Yi "because she was really shy." He took the teenage girl to a basketball game, where, as the filmmaker recalls in an excerpt from his memoir, "I found I was enjoying her company more than I should have."
The two began spending more and more time together, and "sometime later," Allen recounts, they watched a movie together in his private screening room.
According to an excerpt from Allen's memoir Apropos of Nothing, sometime later, when Soon-Yi was in college, the two of them watched a movie (Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal) in Allen's private screening room. "Quite smoothly, if I do say so myself, I lean in and kiss her," the director recalls. Soon-Yi apparently replied, "I was wondering when you were gonna make a move."
"I think Woody spent a lot of time grooming Soon-Yi," says Farrow family friend Priscilla Gilman. "Taking her to the Knicks games by herself, telling her she could be a model... knowing that Soon-Yi was the one child who didn't date, who had never had a boyfriend. And then inviting her to the screening room — something that he tried to do with me, and I didn't buy it, I didn't go for it."
While Allen claims insisted that his sexual relationship with Soon-Yi did not begin until she was in college, the documentary cites court testimony from other witnesses that suggest otherwise. As onscreen text notes, "Both Allen's doorman and the building manager testified in court to having seen Soon-Yi visit Allen many times during her senior year of high school," and "Allen's housekeeper testified she found what she believed to be semen stains on the sheets and condom wrappers in the wastebasket after Soon-Yi's visits, while Soon-Yi was still in high school."
Then, in January 1992, Mia Farrow discovered nude photos of Soon-Yi in Allen's apartment. Daisy Previn, Gilman, and others say Farrow initially tried to reconcile with Soon-Yi, while the other children's relationship with Allen deteriorated. (A letter to Allen from Moses Farrow, who now supports Allen and claims Mia Farrow was abusive, reads, "I just want you to know that I don't consider you my father anymore... You smashed that feeling and dream with a single act.") Tensions ran high, however: Mia Farrow recalls an occasion when she found Soon-Yi speaking to Allen on the phone.
"I just pounced on her," Farrow says. "And I just slapped her on the side of her face and shoulder, and I was just crying... I'm not proud of that. I love her so much, and I didn't ever blame her."
Despite the breakdown of his relationship with Mia Farrow, Allen retained visitation rights as the legal father of Dylan and Ronan. "I didn't want to see him, but if I said, 'No, go away,' I would have to face some kind of vicious, unpredictable punishment," Dylan Farrow says, recalling an incident in which an angry Allen shoved her face into a plate of hot spaghetti. "That was sort of when I realized that that's what happens if I say no. Doing what he says is the only way to protect myself."
The episode concludes with an account of the alleged events of August 4, 1992. According to Dylan and Sophie Bergé, who was a French tutor for the children at the time, Allen visited the family's country house in Connecticut while Mia was away. Per court testimony from babysitter Kristi Groteke, Dylan and Allen disappeared for about 20 minutes; she searched much of the house and could not find either of them. The adult Dylan restates her longstanding account of what happened during that time: Allen took her into the attic and sexually assaulted her. (Allen has consistently denied the accusation; in a statement to the press after Allen v. Farrow's premiere last week, Allen and Soon-Yi Previn called the docuseries "a hatchet job riddled with falsehoods.")
The filmmakers also include chilling footage from the much-discussed videotapes — never previously made public — filmed by Mia Farrow of seven-year-old Dylan claiming Allen abused her. In the footage, the young Dylan states over and over again that Allen "touched [her] privates" in the attic.
Watching this footage, of a seven-year-old girl relating a horrific story, would be upsetting in any context. With the context established in the previous two hours looming over it, it's bone-chilling — a testament to the power of Dick and Ziering's filmmaking.