The Kugelmass Episode

by Woody Allen

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What contemporary life absurdities does The Kugelmass Episode satirize?

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Kugelmass's situation captures the neurosis that many people in modern life eventually experience to one degree or another. He is at midlife, taking stock of what he has ("two dull sons" and a wife who is "an oaf" who had, in his estimation, come to resemble a "beach ball") and pining for what he doesn't have: a mistress with whom he can "trade quips" and "exchange coy glances over red wine and candlelight." In other words, ephemeral pleasures.

Kugelmass has an ordinary, comfortable life but fails to appreciate it. He is an unrealistic malcontent unable to place value on what he has: a professional career, an apartment in Manhattan, and a wife that he says "had a few bucks." He also has an analyst to whom he likely pays a high fee, but he disregards the observations and advice he receives from him. The things that he thinks will satisfy him, romance, extramarital sex, and travel, also fail to satisfy him once he gets them from Persky, apparently for the same reasons his marriage doesn't satisfy him. Kugelmass is emblematic of the phenomenon of the inability to want what one has, even though what he has is what he at one point wanted. The absurdity of his life is his detachment from reality.

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I think that one of the modern absurdities that Allen satirizes is the husband and wife relationship.  Kugelmass is obviously in a dour relationship with Daphne.  Neither one of them has the energy or spirit to move on, so they stay with one another through atrition. It is for this reason that Kugelmass is so taken with Emma.  There is an obvious romanticizing of Kugelmass's "love" with Emma.  When this wanes and she becomes as disenchanted with Kugelmass, it is a satirizing of how modern relationships find disenchantment so easily.  Even when he considers Emma to be immune because she is embedded in literature, it turns out that she is no different than Daphne.  Kugelmass thus has the same challenges in both wife and girlfriend.  At the same time, another element that is satirized is the study of literary theory and literary criticism.  Allen makes it clear that a penchant of many in the academy is to fall in "love" with literature, primarily because it can avoid having to deal with the difficult realities of modern existence.  Allen is satirizing how the modern academic can be enamored with their field of study at the cost of their own emotional attachments in the real world.

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