Woody Allen’s career has been in a state of free fall for a few years now. In 2014, the once-iconic director’s adopted daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter in The New York Times, claiming that Allen sexually abused her in their Connecticut home when she was a child (he denies the claims). A few years later came the advent of the #MeToo movement. Top-tier actors and Hollywood elite distanced themselves from Allen. His 2020 memoir, Apropos of Nothing, was dropped by its publisher. Now, the chilling new HBO documentary Allen v Farrow will surely sound the death knell for his career.
The fact that Allen has been blacklisted by Hollywood does not make Allen v Farrow an exercise in redundancy. The four-parter allows Dylan, now 35, to make her allegations in a new medium, and with new layers of stomach-turning detail. Through home movie footage, recorded calls between Allen and Farrow, interviews with family friends and Dylan herself, investigative filmmakers Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering demonstrate what appears to be a horrifying pattern of abuse. (Allen has always maintained his innocence, alleging that Farrow had lied about the abuse as revenge for his involvement with her older adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn. Allen also was not interviewed for Allen v Farrow; instead, the documentary gets his side of things via Apropos of Nothing audiobook passages.)
As the documentary depicts, for many years Woody Allen and Mia Farrow were something of a New York power couple – and an idyllic example of a modern blended family. Farrow appeared in a number of the famed director’s films (1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters perhaps being the most well known). Over the course of their relationship, they kept separate residences across Central Park in New York City and had one biological child, Satchel (who later changed his name to Ronan). Farrow had adopted a number of children prior to her relationship with Allen, one of whom was Soon-Yi, whose adopted father was composer Andre Previn. After her divorce from Previn, Farrow adopted two other children: first Moses, who is shown to have been very close to Allen, and then Dylan.
Come 1992, a media and legal frenzy overtook the family due to a combination of events: Farrow found graphic photos of a then-21-year-old Soon-Yi in Allen’s possession (Soon-Yi and Allen have been married since 1997) and the seven-year-old Dylan alleged that Allen had sexually abused her. A year later, a six-month criminal investigation by the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital concluded that Dylan had not been sexually abused. The investigation is a historical bullet point Allen’s team is quick to utilise on the rare occasion the director defends himself in the media, but it’s difficult for some not to question a 30-year-old finding after viewing the diligently executed Allen v Farrow.
Though she has been a vocal advocate for abuse victims in recent years, and her brother Ronan, who helped break the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, has echoed his support for her, Dylan has never had the chance to tell her story in this way. The results are as compelling as they are disturbing. In speaking to her, plus several key witnesses, and Mia, Ronan Farrow, and Mia’s older son Fletcher Previn, Allen v Farrow presents in painstaking detail what appears to be a grooming process and subsequent pattern of inappropriate behaviour on Allen’s part. In one anecdote, Mia Farrow claims that one time Allen abruptly slapped Dylan’s hand away from him. When she asked why he’d slapped her, he replied that she’d tried to touch his genitals. Why, Farrow wondered, would a little girl think to do that?
Elsewhere, multiple family friends corroborate Farrow and Dylan’s account that Allen’s interest in Dylan appeared nearly obsessive, with a young Dylan, who had once been outgoing and effervescent, becoming sullen and withdrawn. “I was always in his clutches. He was always hunting me,” she says to the camera at one point. “I have memories of getting into bed with him … He would just wrap his body around me very intimately.”
It’s worth noting that Moses and Soon-Yi, who did not participate in Allen v Farrow, have spoken publicly about their own experiences growing up in the Farrow-Allen household, alleging constant physical abuse from Farrow. Even Moses, who is now a licensed therapist specialising in adoption trauma, pointed out in a 2018 essay that paedophilia is a “compulsive sickness” and “deviation that demands repetition”, arguing that Allen’s one reported instance of alleged abuse was unlikely because it was a one-off. He alleges that Dylan was brainwashed by Farrow and is a staunch defender of his adopted father.
What Allen v Farrow proves time and again, though, is that Allen’s alleged behaviour towards Dylan, which is at times captured on video and is repeatedly described as “intense” and “intimate” by eyewitnesses, appeared to be highly consistent with abuse. To actually get at the truth, Allen v Farrow might have benefitted from the impossible: interviews with every last family member. Regardless, it’s safe to say that whatever dwindling respect Allen has enjoyed in the last few years may be wiped away after Allen v Farrow.