Woody Allen makes us take a Rorschach test

We will probably never know what actually took place between Woody Allen and his daughter Dylan. Did he molest her when she was a child? Or has a fragile young woman become unable to distinguish between a nightmare and real events? There does not seem to be much external evidence. We are left only with a dreadful accusation and a firm denial.

So the story becomes, to all intents and purposes, like a Rorschach inkblot test. The Rorschach test was devised in the 1930s by the psychologist Hermann Rorschach to help people to learn more about the contents of the hard-to-reach parts of their own minds. By being shown an ambiguous image and asked to say what it was, Rorschach believed that we would naturally reveal some of our latent guiding fears, hopes, prejudices and assumptions.

The key point, in any Rorschach test, is that the image has no one true meaning. Different people merely see different things in it, that’s the therapeutic move. It’s a guide to bits of yourself you might not have understood so well without it. It’s a tool for self-knowledge.

To one individual with a rather kindly and forgiving conscience, this image could be seen as a sweet mask, with eyes, floppy ears, a covering for the mouth and wide flaps extending from the cheeks. Another, more traumatised by events in the past, might see it as a powerful figure viewed from below, with splayed feet, thick legs, heavy shoulders and the head bent forward as if poised for attack.

If someone instinctively feels Dylan must be right, this can’t be a judgement on the case (how could they know?), it is a revelation about who they are. If another person confesses to an equally strong sense that a man like Woody couldn’t have done something like this, it is also revealing about their views of men, power and fathers (among other issues).

It’s actually very useful, every now and then, for us to confront a case where the answer won’t ever be known. We get a moment to test out our projective mechanisms and see them at work in a way we never could if the truth were known. Maybe we look into his eyes and think ‘that’s how a guilty paedophile would look’. Or, seeing a photo of Dylan, we might think, ‘She seems just the type to have crazy ideas’.

Understandably, in cases like these, the attention goes on perpetrators and victims. But this leaves us out of the story. Yet, if we are straight with ourselves, here is a chance to get to know our minds more accurately. What are we predisposed to believe? What conclusions do we leap to when there is ambiguity? Who do we instinctively side with?

And once we’ve explored these questions to the full, the Woody-Dylan case gives us an opportunity to refresh our commitment to another vital idea: the maturity to admit – sometimes – that we don’t know what on earth is actually going on in a particular situation.