Love is Worth It: A Film Review of Annie Hall
When I first witnessed Woody Allen as Alvy in Annie Hall, his demeanor made me cringe. He appears miserable and washed-up, refusing to look directly into the camera as if he, himself, is disgusted at the words coming out of his mouth. Well, his words do not leave much to desire either. Alvy is a nervous wreck, musing on the distressing nature of life with a fair amount of his own insecurity reflected. Yet the insecurity that he so clearly possesses is one that hit deep within me. I found myself agreeing with him, wholeheartedly understanding the truth within his words by the end of his opening monologue, and definitely by the end of the film. The lovable essence of Alvy is encapsulated in his musing: “Although I’m balding slightly on top, that’s about the worst you can say about me. I, uh, I think I’m gonna get better as I get older, you know?” He accepts the “worst” in himself and warily puts himself at the mercy of hope, as we all do. Thus, what makes Annie Hall so effective, not to mention iconic, is Allen’s ability to play with your expectations. By the end of the movie, I adored him, wishing he was real so that I could adopt him as my best friend, an outlook in stark contrast with my opening assessment of him. Not only does Annie Hall defy expectations, but it also rejects convention and what is commonly acknowledged as truth, a modernist approach to art.
The cinematic form of Annie Hall blurs the lines between reality and imagination, thereby defining its own truth. This sentiment is even expressed by Alvy when he claims “My mind tends to jump around a little, and have some trouble between fantasy and reality.” The middle ground formed between fantasy and reality is Alvy’s subjective truth, and it is definitely reflected in the form in which his experiences are recounted. When Alvy recalls the idiocy that has defined his childhood, he, as an adult, appears in his past, conversing with those around him. It seems to be a conversation with his past that he has had in his head several times, thus forming a clear avenue into the workings of his mind. For example, whenever I resent things that have happened to me in the past, I always imagine a situation in which I angrily respond to my perpetrator, rather than accepting the punishment as I usually do. Similarly, the depiction of Alvy’s past creates an alternate reality that highlights his perception, rather than confining the tale to the “true” reality as it happened, or convention. Moreover, the children in the classroom also, one by one, state what they accomplish, however terrible, later on in their lives. The impossibility of the situation is only highlighted by their strange futures. His past classmates claim “(2nd boy) I sell tallises. (3rd boy) I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict. (2nd girl) I’m into leather.” It seems as if Allen found children who could sound the most puerile and innocent, so as to enhance the insanity of the situation. While the scene is incredibly comic, Allen simultaneously imbues tragedy into the situation as their lives come to hold a pitiful lack of meaning. This reflects the pessimistic attitude that defined the modernist era, standing in stark contrast to the previously widely held, conventional perspective of inevitable progress. The way Allen plays with the form of Annie Hall, refusing to be limited by convention, enhances his tale as his perspective comes across to the audience effectively, and definitely admirably.
Allen’s focus on perception allows him to tinker with the genre of comedy and create something deeper and more meaningful. His comedy takes on a very unique character, revolving around allusions and cultural references and embodying an incredibly pessimistic air. It definitely defies what one would think characteristic of a romantic comedy. Yet, his twist on comedy allows Annie Hall to become something deeper, more profound than your conventional, light-hearted romantic comedy. As Alvy waits in line to see “The Sound and The Pity,” he appears incredibly bothered by the supercilious air of the man waiting behind him. He ridicules the man and his date, claiming “[They] Probably met by answering an ad in the New York Review of Books. ‘Thirtyish academic wishes to meet woman who’s interested in Mozart, James Joyce and sodomy.’” All three seem to be absurd interests, illustrating the man’s obsession with an elite nature. Mozart may be common knowledge and is enough to highlight the absurdity of the man. Yet, not knowing James Joyce or the meaning of sodomy only works to Allen’s advantage as it highlights that the man behind him is trying so hard to be perceived as intellectual. If one does know both James Joyce and the meaning of sodomy, then the audience will understand the situation in the same way as they would if they did not know either. This highlights the meticulousness within Allen’s craft; the lack of convention is not an accident and is accomplished with an incredible amount of attention to detail. This may be one of the reasons why Annie Hall has evolved into such an appealing film that continues to stand the test of time. No one is left out of understanding. Moreover, Allen’s comedy often progresses into a neurotic style that he similarly, carefully crafts, almost always working in his favor. In the beginning stages of Alvy’s relationship with Annie, Alvy states:
“I’m, you know, I’m obsessed with death, I think. Big subject with me. I’ve a very pessimistic view of life.You should know this about me if we’re gonna go out, you know. I feel that life is divided up into the horrible and the miserable.Those are the two categories… you know, they’re- The-the horrible would be like, uh, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know? And blind people, crippled. You know, and the miserable is everyone else. That’s all. So when you go through life you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s- You’re very lucky to be miserable.”
While this clearly illustrates his neurosis and deals with an incredibly depressing topic, it was to me one of the funniest scenes in the movie. His matter-of-fact tone plays a big part in the hilarity of the scene. Alvy casually speaks of death and the misanthropy and misery that essentially define his perception, never once thinking that it could estrange Annie. Thus, Allen is able to create something incredibly funny out of the conventionally uninteresting topics, creating a more profound comedy, that explores conventionally uncharted territories. Often, romantic comedies revolve around one perfect person or a flawed person, never quite delving completely into his flaws or the source of them. Alvy really does not seem to have any redeeming qualities, somehow making him more endearing. Perhaps Allen generates comedy out of exploring the life of the truly flawed person.
Allen further rejects convention by employing an unusual focus on psychoanalysis and the prevalence of the subconscious. The extent to which the film involves Freudian psychoanalysis is revealed at the beginning of the film when he attributes a comment regarding his tendency towards misanthropy to “Freud’s wit and its relation to the unconscious.” Yet the emphasis on Freudian psychology is more than a passing reference; it plays a tremendous role in the development, and Alvy’s eventual loss of Annie. Annie’s psychoanalysis brings out a completely different side of her, one in which she values her own feelings and refuses to be defined by another person. When she first met Alvy, Annie was highly impressionable and seemed to refuse to take a stance, rather molding her personality in a way that pleases Alvy. Yet, by the end she lives for herself and her own pleasure. Alvy is the one who comes to her, declaring his love for her, even pleading her to marry him. Yet, she responds with a resounding no, something that she would never have done in the beginning of their relationship. In Annie’s words, “I mean, six months ago, I woulda done it, just to please him. But the thing is-I mean, since our discussions here, I feel I have a right to my own feelings. I think you woulda been happy because I really asserted myself.” Her “feelings” now take precedence over Alvy’s perception for her. She “assert[s]” herself and is able to give meaning to her own perception, ultimately leading to her leaving Alvy. The psychoanalysis also creates a comic effect as Alvy has been meeting an analyst for 15 years with no tangible effects while Annie evolves into a better, more confident person in substantially less time. Additionally, Alvy is paying for her psychoanalysis, emphasizing the extent to which he has caused his own misery. Thus the film’s focus on psychoanalysis as well as the advertent, comedic effect is highly unconventional.
Annie Hall’s acceptance of a darker reality defies convention, creating a pessimistic truth. This is made especially clear with the ending of the film, in which Annie and Alvy part. The conclusion comes as a shock to a people composed of dreamers who so desperately want to believe in hope and was definitely a risk on Allen’s part. It runs directly counter to the prevalence of “Hollywood” endings in films, one that is even explored in Annie Hall. Alvy writes a play documenting his experiences with Annie, one that ends with the two reuniting, seemingly the perfect ending. In response to the camera’s apparently probing glance, Alvy looks into the camera and defends himself: “It was my first play. You know, you know how you’re always tryin’ to get things to come out perfect in art because, it’s real difficult in life.” This development seems to emphasize Allen’s disgust with the way in which films have come to depict fantasy, rather than the reality of life, in all its misery. While many may feel that Hollywood endings are perfect in that they establish a comfortable reality, I feel that Annie Hall’s ending is one of the most perfect there is in relation to life. It accepts the impossibility of love, in its most conventional definition. To me, the most beautiful aspect of the film is its acceptance of love that is not defined by convention. Love still exists between Alvy and Annie, though they are no longer together and miles apart. Based on Alvy’s final reflection, knowing and spending time with Annie was one of the greatest times of his life. They loved each other, but were not meant to be together. This was a difficult concept for me to grasp at first, yet now it makes perfect sense. Alvy will value the “eggs,” or the memories, of his relationship and will continue to pursue love as much as he can. So in that sense, the film does have a happy ending. We engage in heartbreaking, excruciating relationships in all its insanity to hold on to the memories, to experience the elusive feeling of love, even for just a moment.
In the end, it all becomes worth it.