Great films VI
Great films VI
Annie Hall (1977), from director-actor-co-writer Woody Allen, is a quintessential masterpiece of priceless, witty and quotable one-liners within a matured, focused and thoughtful film. It is a bittersweet romantic comedy of modern contemporary love and urban relationships (a great successor to classic Hollywood films such as The Awful Truth (1937) and The Philadelphia Story (1940)), that explores the interaction of past and present, and the rise and fall of Allen’s own challenging, ambivalent New York romance with his opposite – an equally-insecure, shy, flighty Midwestern WASP female (who blossoms out in a Pygmalion-like story).
Annie Hall clearly has semi-autobiographical elements – it is the free-wheeling, stream-of-consciousness story of an inept, angst-ridden, pessimistic, Brooklyn-born and Jewish stand-up comedian – much like Allen himself (who started out as a joke writer for The Tonight Show) – who experiences crises related to his relationships and family. His unstable love affair with aspiring singer Annie Hall begins to disintegrate when she moves to Los Angeles and discovers herself – and a new life.
[A real-life relationship and breakup did occur in early 1970 between Allen and co-star Keaton. Keaton’s birth name was Diane Hall, her nickname was Annie, and she did have a Grammy Hall. And Woody Allen played a similar role as mentor to Diane Keaton (about New York life, politics, philosophy, and books), as did best friend Tony Roberts to Allen.]
This breakthrough film came after Allen’s five earlier light-hearted comedies (from 1969-1975) that were take-offs of various film genres or books, often similar to episodic Marx Brothers’ films:
Allen’s Previous Films
|Take the Money and Run (1969)
||Mockumentary of Crime/Prison or Gangster Films
||War or ‘South of the Border’ Films
|Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * (* But Were Afraid to Ask) (1972)
||Science-Fiction or Futuristic Films
|Love and Death (1975)
||Classic Russian Literature, Culture, and History, the Napoleonic Wars
Allen’s previous films might be characterized as a series of irreverent comic sketches with frequent instances of absurdist humor and slapstick. In contrast, this urban dramatic comedy, his best-loved work, marked a major transition. It was his most successful, deepest, self-reflexive, most elaborate and unified work to that time. However, the film could have been a disaster if it hadn’t been edited down from its initial length of well over two hours to about 95 minutes by editor Ralph Rosenblum. Many scenes that were shot were eliminated, and others were severely truncated. And the film was originally a murder mystery, and might have been titled Anhedonia (a state of acute melancholia with an inability to experience pleasure and enjoy oneself), A Roller Coaster Named Desire, or even It Had to Be Jew if one of its alternative titles had been chosen. [Allen later directed murder mysteries to satisfy that impulse: Shadows and Fog (1992), and Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) – retooled from this script.] In addition to Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), this was one of his most commercially-successful films (at a budget of $4 million, it brought in a box-office of $40 million).
Annie Hall capitalized on many of the ingredients that had been the content of his earlier films – the subjects of anti-Semitism, life, romantic angst, drugs and death, his obsessive love of New York, his dislike of California (mostly L.A.) fads and intellectual pomposity, his introspective neuroses and pessimism, his requisite jokes and psychosexual frustration about sex, numerous put-downs of his own appearance and personality, and distorted memories of his childhood. The film’s more sensitive and realistic (still-comical) yet serious-minded tone about an intimate and emotional relationship appealed to all film-goers, not just Woody Allen cultists.
With five nominations, the film was a four-time Academy Award winner: Best Actress (Diane Keaton with her sole Oscar win), Best Picture (Charles H. Joffe, producer), Best Director (Woody Allen), and Best Original Screenplay (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman). It defeated the science-fiction blockbuster Star Wars (1977) for Best Picture. It was the first comedy since Tom Jones (1963) to take the Best Picture Oscar – and before that Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). A fifth nomination was for Woody Allen for Best Actor, who lost to Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl (1977) – in another NY-based light romantic comedy. It was quite a feat that Allen was nominated for directing, writing, and acting for the same film – and won two of the three awards. [It was only the second time in Academy history, up to that time, that one person was simultaneously nominated for three Oscars, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay – Orson Welles had received a previous similar honor for Citizen Kane (1941).]
The film influenced fashion designers (with the masculine, androgynous “Annie Hall” look) and made Diane Keaton a new leading lady. [The “look” was a mis-matched, eclectic conglomeration of men’s costuming: 30’s style baggy light brown chino pants, an oversized man’s white shirt, a dark grey, wide necktie with shiny polka-dot spots, a black waistcoat vest, and a floppy bowler hat. Despite the film’s influence on fashion in New York and elsewhere (Ruth Morley worked with Ralph Lauren, who designed Annie’s outfit), there was no Best Costume Design nomination.]
And there are quick cameo glimpses of future stars (Shelley Hack, Beverly D’Angelo, John Glover, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Walken, and Jeff Goldblum) and current celebrities (Dick Cavett, Truman Capote, Paul Simon, and Marshall McLuhan). Two later romantic comedies, director Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally…(1989) and Billy Crystal’s Forget Paris (1995), paid homage to this film with a similar theme. Allen’s own black comedy Deconstructing Harry (1997) twenty years later has been considered the ‘dark’ side of this film. Keaton’s next film in the same year, Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1977), was a radical departure from this film, in which she took on the role of a promiscuous Catholic girl who ended up murdered – the victim of the singles bar scene.
The major theme of the film is that there are severe limitations in life (death and loss are the two most prevalent), but that art forms (such as the printed word, films, and plays) have the power to reshape reality and provide some measure of control, thereby compensating for life’s limitations.
There are a variety of innovative strategies and narrative techniques in the kaleidoscopic film that support the contention that Woody Allen is functioning as a self-conscious artist who evaluates his entire life (including romances) and uses the film medium to achieve greater control over reality. The stylistic strategies and cinematic techniques that support the fragmented nature of the film include:
|direct addresses to the camera
||Reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman films, and films such as Strange Interlude (1932), or Alfie (1966) with Michael Caine
|memory-flashbacks and other flashbacks
||Influenced, in part, by Citizen Kane (1941)
|adult time-travel back to childhood
||Reminiscent of Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957)
|interjections into the scene (unseen by others)
||Reminiscent of Bergman’s Persona (1960)
|the sudden production of a real-life character ( “Boy, if life were only like this”)
||Author Marshall McLuhan appears, to conveniently settle an argument
|split screens, and conversations across the two screens
||The dual psychiatrist scene, and the conversation between the two families
||Alvy becomes a bearded Hasidic Jew while visiting Annie’s anti-Semitic family
||Annie’s ghost scene
|subtitles that contradict the action
||The famous balcony scene
|voice-over commentary and asides to the camera or to complete strangers about the events of the film
|dialogue between two introspective voice-overs
||The Snow White cartoon
After the silent opening credits (influenced by director Martin Ritt’s film The Front (1976), starring Woody Allen), the opening scene has the main character (indistinguishable from Woody Allen himself, dressed in a tweed jacket, red plaid shirt, and his black-framed spectacles) speaking intimately and directly to the audience viewer in a full, stark closeup. He tells two key Jewish jokes in a stand-up, vaudeville-style monologue. In his first joke, he satirizes his own feelings about life and its miserable shortcomings:
Two elderly women are at a Catskill Mountain resort. And one of ’em says: ‘Boy, the food in this place is really terrible.’ The other one says: ‘Yeah, I know. And such small portions.’ Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life. Full of loneliness and misery and suffering and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.
His second joke pays tribute to key individuals in his life – Groucho Marx and Sigmund Freud. From Groucho Marx, the comedian learned comedy. From Freud’s writings on wit and jokes, the ‘pleasure mechanism’, neuroses, dreams, and psychopathology [the content of the film, in fact!], he delved into his unconscious:
The other important joke for me is one that’s usually attributed to Groucho Marx but I think it appears originally in Freud’s Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious – and it goes like this. I’m paraphrasing. I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member. That’s the key joke of my adult life, in terms of my relationships with women.
The malcontented comic, later identified as Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) [the name bears some resemblance to the hedonistic, Cockney title character in Alfie (1966) – a similar film about the lead character’s love life and his problems with commitment], has just turned forty (and already experienced two failures in his previous marriages to intellectual Jewish women) and is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, with aging bringing on signs of slight balding: “I think I’m gonna get better as I get older.” He hopes to become the “balding virile type, you know, as opposed to, say, the distinguished gray, unless I’m neither of those two. Unless I’m one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism.”
The film, not a standard chronological narrative, presents the free-association memories of a one-year long romance with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) that is already over. Devastated, the comedian switches from the chatter of his comedy act to melancholy. He also switches from the clearly delineated Woody Allen character to the fictional character of the film. The film searches for his answer to the question – Why did they break up? (and by implication, why does contemporary love die?) He confesses in a crest-fallen manner:
Annie and I broke up. And I still can’t get my mind around that. You know, I keep sifting the pieces of the relationship through my mind, and examining my life and trying to figure out where did the screwup come, you know. A year ago, we were in love, you know.
As a successful, but neurotic Jewish New York comedian, he doesn’t consider himself a “morose type.” “I’m not a depressive character. I-I, uh, you know, I was a reasonably happy kid, I guess,” he assures the audience and himself.
Fixated on his past as one possible answer to his question, Alvy looks back to his childhood, mixing a quasi-Freudian analysis with Groucho Marx-ian humor. He was raised in Brooklyn during World War II and his first childhood memories are of depression. His over-protective, over-achieving, and panicked Jewish mother (Joan Newman) has brought her young and insecure, but precocious, bespectacled 9 year old son Alvy Singer (Jonathan Munk) to a doctor. The boy, exhibiting the latent characteristics of his future adult personality, is pre-occupied with contemplating Death – he metaphysically despairs at the impending expansion of the universe and humankind’s doom to the condescending and patronizing physician:
Alvy’s mother: He’s been depressed. All of a sudden, he can’t do anything.
Doctor: Why are you depressed, Alvy?
Alvy’s mother: Tell Dr. Flicker. (To the doctor) It’s something he read.
Doctor: Something he read, huh?
Alvy: The universe is expanding…Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, some day it will break apart and that will be the end of everything.
Alvy’s mother: What is that your business? (To the doctor) He stopped doing his homework.
Alvy: What’s the point?
Alvy’s mother: What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding.
Doctor: It won’t be expanding for billions of years, yet Alvy. And we’ve got to try to enjoy ourselves while we’re here, huh, huh? Ha, ha, ha. (He gives an artificial laugh before taking another drag on his cigarette)
According to the voice-over account by an adult Alvy, he is trying to discover the reasons for his adult confusion by subjecting himself to Freudian analysis – and realizing that he has exaggerated his childhood memories. Flashbacks show his early childhood and grade schooling experience. His neurotic, nervous personality may be due to having been brought up in a trembling house underneath the roller coaster in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. In the Singer home, the house was subjected to vicious shaking each time a roller-coaster car rode by that was filled with amusement park thrill-seekers. At the dinner table, Alvy suffers – struggling to ladle a quivering spoon-full of reddish tomato soup into his mouth. [Note: The roller-coaster was popularized with a cameo in the film. The real rollercoaster — dubbed the Thunderbolt — opened in 1925. The house in which young Alvy supposedly “lived” was the actual home of the ride’s owners, the Moran family, who were interviewed in PBS’s American Experience documentary Coney Island: A Documentary Film (2000). It was the first roller-coaster to use a steel frame. It lay abandoned for many years and was demolished in mid-November, 2000.]
With a “hyperactive imagination,” he also experiences problems distinguishing between “fantasy and reality.” His working-class father ran the bumper-car concession at Coney Island where he would compensate for feelings of aggression by taking it out on fellow bumper car drivers: “I used to get my aggression out through those cars all the time.” The camera pans from left to right past three of Alvy’s childhood teachers. On the blackboard behind the first teacher, the words “TUESDAY – DEC. 1 – ” (1942) are written [Woody Allen’s own birthday is Sunday, December 1, 1935]. The teachers at his school are mocked and castigated for their ignorance in the profession: “Those who can’t do teach. And those who can’t teach teach GYM. And, of course, those who couldn’t do anything, I think, were assigned to our school.” Alvy’s classmates are called “idiots” and “jerks.”
In the next scene, an adult Alvy no longer provides voice-over narration or an objective perspective – he physically interjects himself into the past – he visits his classroom and sits with the younger kids, clarifying his childhood actions to both his teacher and a classmate. [The scene was filmed on location at St. Bernard’s School in the West Village area of New York.] As a sexually-confused adult – with little differentiation between fantasy and reality, he talks back to his teacher, defending himself over impulsively kissing one of the little girls:
Alvy (young): What did I do?
Teacher: You should be ashamed of yourself.
Alvy (adult): Why, I was just expressing a healthy sexual curiosity.
Teacher: Six year old boys don’t have girls on their minds.
Alvy (adult): I did.
Girl: For god’s sakes, Alvy, even Freud speaks of a latency period.
Alvy (adult): Well I never had a latency period. I can’t help it.
Teacher: Why couldn’t you have been more like Donald? Now there was a model boy.
Projections are made of what a few of his other classmates will be doing many years later – each of them stands up to prophetically foretell his/her future profession. In a scene which implies denial of free will, some of them admit their adult life’s failures:
– “I run a profitable dress company.”
– “I’m president of the Pinkus Plumbing Company.”
– An orthodox boy: “I sell tallises.”
– A normal-looking kid: “I used to be a heroin addict. Now I’m a methadone addict.”
– A mousey-looking girl: “I’m into leather.”
– Alvy grows up and becomes “a comedian.”
A grainy, discolored TV clip shows comedian/writer ‘Alvy’ (and Allen himself) as a guest on the Dick Cavett talk show telling another self-deprecating joke:
They did not take me in the Army. I was, uhm, interestingly enough, I was 4-P. Yes. In the event of war, I’m a hostage.
Directly to the camera as she peels carrots, Alvy’s mother chastises her neurotic, adult son: “You always only saw the worst in people. You never could get along with anyone in school. You were always out of step with the world. Even when you got famous, you still mistrusted the world.”
The story flashes back about a year earlier to a time when Alvy was involved in a dating relationship with Annie. A stationary camera shoots down a quiet, urban sidewalk – way in the distance, two people approach closer and closer, engrossed in conversation. Their voices are heard off-screen. Insecure, sensitive and paranoid of ethnic and anti-Semitic remarks, an agitated Alvy explains to his calm friend Rob (Tony Roberts), that he thinks an acquaintance has made an anti-Semitic remark in a Jew-baiting incident:
You know, I was having lunch with some guys from NBC, so I said, ‘Did you eat yet or what?’ And Tom Christie said, ‘No, JEW?’ Not ‘Did you?’…JEW eat? JEW? You get it? JEW eat?
Rob thinks that Alvy (often called ‘Max’ by Rob – and vice versa) “sees conspiracies in everything.” [To avoid being recognized when booking hotel or restaurant reservations, Woody Allen would call himself ‘Max’.]
For Alvy, life is relentlessly fearful and filled with paranoia – he must vigilantly combat all real (and imagined) fears with his intelligence and rationality. Rob suggests that Alvy move from crazy New York City to sunny Los Angeles where all of show business is located, and where he can escape such prejudices. Alvy clearly prefers Manhattan to living in Los Angeles:
I don’t want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.
The next amusing sequence stereotypes interaction with a pushy, intrusive fan. While waiting outside the Beekman Theatre on Second Avenue to meet Annie (they are midway into their relationship), Alvy is recognized by an obnoxious male pedestrian (the gag speculates the guy is from the ‘cast of The Godfather’ (1972) – a film also featuring Diane Keaton!):
Pedestrian: Are you on television?
Alvy: No. (After a long pause, Alvy admits) Yeah, once in a while…
Pedestrian: What’s your name?
Alvy: You wouldn’t know. It doesn’t matter. What’s the difference?
Pedestrian: You’re on, uh, the, uh, the Johnny Carson, right?
Alvy: Once in a while, you know…
Pedestrian: What’s your name?
Alvy: I-m – I’m uh, I’m Robert Redford.
Pedestrian: Come on.
Alvy (extends his hand for a shake): Alvy Singer. It was nice. Thanks very much for everything.
Pedestrian: Hey (loudly beckoning a friend)! Dis is Alvy Singah!
Alvy (exasperated): Fellas, you know…
Pedestrian: Dis guy’s on television!!! Alvy Singer. Right? Am I right?
Alvy: Gimme a break…
Pedestrian: Dis guy’s on television!!!
Alvy: I need the large polo mallet.
2nd man: Who’s on television?
Pedestrian: Dis guy – on the Johnny Carson Show.
Alvy: Fellas, what is this? A meeting of the Teamsters?
2nd man: What program?
Pedestrian: Kineye ‘ave your ortograph?
Alvy: You don’t want my autograph?
Pedestrian: No, I do. It’s for my girlfriend. Make it out to Ralph.
Alvy: (after a double-take) Your girlfriend’s name is Ralph?
Pedestrian: It’s for my bruddah. (He is handed to autograph) ALVY SINGER!! HEY! THIS IS ALVY SINGER!!
In a brilliant introductory shot, Annie pulls up in a taxicab at the curb – and she is not apologetic but irritable:
Alvy: Jesus, what did ya do? Come by way of the Panama Canal?
Annie: I’m in a bad mood, OK?
Alvy: Bad mood? I’m standing with the cast of The Godfather. [A reference to a film in which Diane Keaton played the role of Michael Corleone’s (Al Pacino) wife.]
Annie: You’re gonna have to learn to deal with it.
Alvy: I’m dealin’ with two guys named Cheech.
In front of a poster for Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face (1975), Alvy blames her bad mood on her monthly period, and they squabble together:
Alvy: Hey, you are in a bad mood. You must be getting your period.
Annie: I’m not getting my period. Jesus, every time anything out of the ordinary happens, you think that I’m getting my period.
Because they are late, Alvy refuses to stay because they’ve missed two minutes of the opening titles and credits of Bergman’s film. She wails to him that they won’t miss anything but the titles, and: “they’re in Swedish.” Even though she sighs, “I’m not in the mood to see a four-hour documentary on Nazis,” he drags her across to the Upper West Side, where they stand in another movie line at The New Yorker theatre for Ophul’s The Sorrow and the Pity (1969) (a four-hour documentary about Nazism) – a film they have already seen. Alvy explains that he is pent up with obsessive personality characteristics – it is a crisis if he misses even one minute of a film:
I’ve got to see a picture exactly from the start to the finish, ’cause, ’cause I’m anal.
She zings him when he admits he has a strident, “anal” personality: “That’s a polite word for what you are.” At first while they make small-talk in the second movie line, Alvy tries to ignore the intellectual cant of a pretentious academic braggard (Russell Horton) standing behind them in the lobby who opines loudly to his date:
We saw the Fellini film last Tuesday. It was not one of his best. It lacks a cohesive structure. You know, you get the feeling that he’s not absolutely sure what it is he wants to say. ‘Course, I’ve always felt he was essentially a – a technical film maker. Granted, La Strada was a great film. Great in its use of negative imagery more than anything else. But that simple, cohesive core…Like all that Juliet of the Spirits or Satyricon, I found it incredibly indulgent. You know, he really is. He’s one of the most indulgent filmmakers. He really is…
[Possibly, indulgent director Woody Allen is cautioning the Annie Hall film audience against making rash judgments about the incohesive, complex, and ambiguous structure of his film that they are watching.] Under his breath, Alvy reacts: “I’m gonna have a stroke…He’s screaming his opinions in my ear.”
Annie is thoroughly depressed about how she missed her all-important therapy session with her psychiatrist because she overslept. Alvy is annoyed with her disguised aggression – and loud revelations, acknowledging the crucial role psychiatry plays in modern love:
Alvy: Do you know what a hostile gesture that is to me?
Annie: I know, because of our sexual problem, right?
Alvy: Everybody on line at The New Yorker has to know our rate of intercourse?
The professor continues to savage others like Samuel Beckett. Alvy is unable to bear any more of the obnoxious, intellectual phony behind them: “He’s spitting on my neck.” Annie accuses Alvy of ego-centricity when they argue about their sexual problems:
Annie: You know, you’re so ego-centric that if I miss my therapy, you can only think of it in terms of how it affects you!…
Alvy: (sighing and turning to Annie after a digression) What do you mean, our sexual problem? I mean, I’m comparatively normal for a guy raised in Brooklyn.
Annie: OK, I’m very sorry. My sexual problem, OK? My sexual problem. Huh? (A man in front of them in line turns back to look at them, and then turns away.)
Alvy: (embarrassed) I never read that. That was, that was Henry James, right? Novel, huh, the sequel to The Turn of the Screw, ‘My Sexual Problem’?
In the movie-ticket line, Alvy wishes to one-up and embarrass the pseudo-intellectual movie buff who loudly pontificates, claims to teach a course on TV, Media and Culture at Columbia University, and quotes extensively from influential Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan:
What I wouldn’t give for a large sock with horse manure in it. (He steps forward out of line and addresses the camera.)…What do you do when you get stuck in a movie line with a guy like this behind you? It’s just maddening.
Even the blowhard speaks to the camera: “Why can’t I give my opinion? It’s a free country.” Alvy triumphantly brings on the real-life Professor McLuhan to tell the man he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Media critic McLuhan conveniently emerges from behind a theatre lobby signboard to contradict the theories of the startled, pompous bore who is annoying Alvy (and to satirize himself):
I heard what you were saying. You, you know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.
[The first choice(s) for a real-life artist/film-maker wasn’t McLuhan, but Federico Fellini, and then Luis Bunuel.]
About this obvious, magically-fanciful situation, Alvy demonstrates the film’s major theme – he turns to the camera and states that only in art can one re-shape reality and have such complete control over life:
Boy, if life were only like this.
After viewing the black and white documentary film, a grim documentary about how life ‘really is,’ Alvy and Annie discuss The Sorrow and the Pity in bed. Alvy predicts how Annie would stand up under German Nazi torture with a definitive, classic joke. It is mildly chauvinistic with anti-bourgeois attitudes and wit:
Alvy: The Gestapo would take away your Bloomingdale’s charge card and you’d tell ’em everything.
Annie: That movie makes me feel guilty.
Alvy: Cause it’s supposed to.
Annie is disinclined to have sex (“our sex problem”) and gives a few excuses for declining – she has to rest her voice before singing the next night, and she is just going through a phase. Rather than dwell on their particular problem, Annie suggests looking back to sex problems in Alvy’s first marriage: “You’ve been married before. You know how things can get. You were very hot for Allison at first.”
A four and a half minute flashback shows Alvy’s entire relationship with his first wife – one that cooled off rather rapidly. As an aspiring standup comedian, Alvy meets politically-active Jewess Allison Portchnik (Carol Kane). He is about to dispense jokes and deliver a monologue at a college political rally/fund-raiser for 1960 presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. [In 1960, Stevenson was a Democratic Party presidential candidate for the third time, but was defeated at the Democratic National Convention by John F. Kennedy.] [This scene was filmed at the Statler Hilton Hotel.] In their first conversation, Alvy insensitively reduces Allison, who is writing her thesis on ‘Political Commitment in 20th Century Literature,’ “to a cultural stereotype,” much like a bigot:
New York, Jewish, Left-Wing, Liberal, Intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, Socialist summer camps, and the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right? Really, you know, strike-oriented, kind of Red-…stop me! Before I make a complete imbecile of myself.
Allison responds with sarcasm: “No, that was wonderful. I love being reduced to a cultural stereotype,” as Alvy confesses his leftist bigotry: “I’m a bigot, you know, but for the left.” To encourage him before he appears on-stage, Allison reveals her attraction for him: “I think you’re cute.” In his one-joke performance, Alvy mixes sex and politics in a joke about briefly dating (“screwing”) a woman during the Eisenhower administration (1953-1961), although he claims he’s “not essentially a political comedian at all”:
I was trying to do to her what Eisenhower has been doing to the country for the last eight years.
A few years pass and in the next scene, they are a married couple and their relationship is already doomed. In their bedroom (ca. 1964), theorist Alvy is obsessed with speculative doubts about the Kennedy assassination conspiracy and the Warren Commission Report’s “second-gun” theory as a way to avoid having sex: “You’re using this conspiracy theory as an excuse to avoid sex with me.” Allison always was eager to make love, but Alvy pushed her away, not desiring a woman who would desire him. In an aside to the camera, Alvy admits that Allison was right, thinking back to film’s opening joke:
Oh, my God, she’s right. Why did I turn off Allison Portchnik? She was beautiful, she was willing. She was real intelligent. Is it the old Groucho Marx joke that I’m – I just don’t want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member?
In the next famous “lobster scene,” Alvy and Annie spontaneously laugh at crawling crustaceans on the kitchen floor as they clumsily prepare a lobster dinner at a beach house in the Hamptons: “Maybe we should just call the police. Dial 911. It’s the lobster squad.” Alvy is fearful of them and when he realizes that one big lobster has crawled behind the refrigerator, Alvy jokes:
It’ll turn up in our bed at night. Talk to him. You speak shellfish…Annie, there’s a big lobster behind the refrigerator. I can’t get it out…Maybe if I put a little dish of butter sauce here with a nutcracker, it will run out the other side?…We should have gotten steaks, ’cause they don’t have legs. They don’t run around.
Annie captures the experience in photographs she takes with her camera. [This scene parallels the one of Alvy’s later battle with spiders in Annie’s bathroom.]
Later as they walk along the Long Island beach shore at dusk, Alvy asks Annie about her previous boyfriends. Rather than just hearing her talk about them, we see a younger Annie a few years before with each of her boyfriends. Present-day Annie (born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin) and Alvy are also in each scene of the past, providing commentary. In front of a movie marquee showing John Huston’s The Misfits (1961), there was a blank-faced “Dennis from Chippewa Falls High School.” An embarrassed Annie states:
Oh god, you should have seen what I looked like then.
[In the mid-1960s Woody had a relationship with folk singer named Judy Henske, who was born in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.] Alvy, in voice-over, imagines that she looked like “the wife of an astronaut.”
In their second, on-screen flashback merging the past and the present, there was “neat-looking,” “emotional,” “Jerry the actor” – “I look pretty.” An insufferable, bearded Jerry tells a naive and susceptible Annie that he desires death by being “torn apart by wild animals.” On screen next to the couple, Alvy makes a mockery of love: “Heavy. Eaten by some squirrels.” Jerry drops to his knees and lets Annie touch his heart with her foot. Agreeing that Jerry is “creepy,” Alvy thinks she is lucky that he has come along. Annie responds with her trademark expression, “Well, la-dee-dah.” Alvy suggests the vivid contrast between their two personalities – an out-of-town, air-headed giggly Annie vs. the serious, humorless, and sophisticated New Yorker Alvy. He comments on the quirks of her speech:
Alvy: If anyone had ever told me that I would be taking out a girl who used expressions like ‘la-dee-dah.’
Annie: Oh, that’s right. But you really like those New York girls.
The transition affords an opportunity to examine Alvy’s second marriage – his failed relationship and sexual problems with another New Yorker. The scene is dealt with in less than three minutes screen-time in another flashback. His second wife was a tense, left-leaning liberal intellectual named Robin (Janet Margolin), with hair up in a bun and large spectacles. In a cocktail party gathering of publishers, name-dropping Robin rushes through while telling Alvy about two celebrity literary professors as she guides him through the room:
Robin: There’s Harry Drucker. He has a chair in history at Princeton. Oh, and the short man is Herschel Kominsky. He has a chair in philosophy at Cornell.
Alvy: (quipping) Yeah. Two more chairs they got a dining room set…
Robin: Is that Paul Goodman? No. And be nice to the host because he’s publishing my book. Hi, Doug! Douglas Wyatt. ‘A Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart.’
But Alvy appears “hostile” and is more interested in watching the New York Knicks on television or “quietly humping” her than mingling with the pseudo-intellectuals representing various scholarly magazines. He quips with a deliberate Freudian-slip about the professions of the fatuous, pretentious guests:
Alvy: I’m so tired of spending evenings making fake insights with people who work for Dysentery.
Alvy: Oh, really? I heard that Commentary and Dissent had merged and formed Dysentery.
Robin disdains his interest in sports: “What is so fascinating about a group of pituitary cases trying to stuff a ball through a hoop?” Alvy is unable to bear any more academic pretension and favors straight-forward physicality: “What is fascinating is that it’s physical. You know, it’s one thing about intellectuals. They prove that you can be absolutely brilliant and have no idea what’s going on. But on the other hand, the body doesn’t lie, as we now know.” Robin rebuffs him, believing that he uses his physical urges and “sex to express hostility.” Alvy doesn’t want to be analyzed psychoanalytically, so he distantly mocks himself:
‘Why do you always reduce my animal urges to psychoanalytic categories?’ he said as he removed her brassiere.
Many evenings, he and Robin are unable to have successful sex (“the body doesn’t lie”) due to the noisy city environment. Neurotic and unfulfilled, Robin is unable to successfully have an orgasm because of numerous excuses: “The city can’t close down. What are you gonna do? Have ’em shut down the airport too? No more flights so we can have sex.” According to her analyst, she is too tense and needs Valiums to calm down from city stresses. Obsessively paranoid and compulsive about the country and moving there to cure Robin’s sexual complaints, Alvy delivers a brilliant “I hate the country” speech:
You’ve got crickets, and there’s no place to walk after dinner, and there’s the screens with the dead moths behind them, and you got the Manson family possibly, and…
Rising frustrated from their conjugal bed, because she has a bad headache – “like Oswald in Ghosts” [Ghosts is a Henrik Ibsen play, a domestic tragedy set in western Norway with a lead character named Oswald Alving, an artist who likewise suffers from debilitating headaches (“the most violent pains”) from venereal disease], Alvy must take “another in a series of cold showers.” The word “showers” is a transitionary bridge word to the next scene where Alvy recalls his first meeting with Annie [although in the film, he has already been seen with her].
In a Manhattan sports athletic club, Rob warns Alvy (whom he calls his pet name ‘Max’ in this scene): “My serve is gonna send you to the showers early.” They talk more about Alvy’s anti-Semitic paranoia and how people stereotypically view New Yorkers:
Alvy: The failure of the country to get behind New York City is Anti-Semitism.
Rob: Max, the city is terribly run.
Alvy: But I’m not discussing politics or economics. This is foreskin.
Rob: No, no, Max. That’s a very convenient out. Every time some group disagrees with you, it’s because of Anti-Semitism.
Alvy: Don’t you see? The rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re Left-Wing, Communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers. I think of us that way sometimes and I live here.
Rob prefers the sunny outdoors lifestyle of California. Alvy disagrees with him:
Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat, college.
When Alvy initially meets Annie in an athletic endeavor, she is part of a doubles group on a tennis court. Facetiously, Alvy proposes that the two men team up against the two women [repressed sexual aggression and tension toward females due to his marital failures in the preceding scenes?]. Rob and Annie play against Alvy and Rob’s girlfriend – each of the romantic pairs are on opposite sides of the court. After the game, she wears a distinctively recognizable Charlie Chaplin-like outfit, a mis-matched, eclectic conglomeration of men’s costuming: baggy light brown chino pants, an oversized man’s white shirt, a dark grey necktie with shiny polka-dot spots, a black waistcoat vest, and a floppy bowler hat [the “Annie Hall” look].
After the tennis game, Alvy and Annie have an awkward, nervous, exploratory conversation, trying to strike up an acquaintance. In her balletic performance, Annie’s endearing, stumbling, flailing gestures reveal her zany, yet huggable nature. They both make self-conscious, shyly banal, but believable statements to each other (particularly her self-effacing “La-dee-dah. La-la. Yeah”) and she clumsily asks him if he wants a ride home:
Annie: Hi, hi, hi.
Alvy: Oh hi, hi.
Annie: Well, bye.
Alvy: You play very well.
Annie: Oh, yeah. So do you. Oh, God, what a, what a dumb thing to say. Right, I mean, you say, ‘You play well.’ So right away I had to say, ‘You play well.’ Oh, oh God Annie. Well. Oh well. La-dee-dah. La-dee-dah. La-la. Yeah.
Alvy: You want a lift?
Annie: Oh, why? Uh, you got a car?
Alvy: No, I was going to take a cab.
Annie: Oh, no. I have a car.
Alvy: You have a car? I don’t understand. If you have a car, so then why did you say, ‘Do you have a car?’ like you wanted a lift?
Annie: I don’t, I don’t, geez, I don’t know. I wasn’t….I got this VW out there. (to herself) What a jerk, yeah. Would you like a lift?
Alvy: Sure. Which way you goin’?
Annie: Me? Oh, downtown.
Alvy: Down…. I’m going uptown.
Annie: Oh well, you know I’m going uptown too.
Alvy: You just said you were going downtown.
Annie: Yeah, well, but I could…
On the wild drive which barely misses multiple collisions in her open VW Beetle convertible, Alvy first learns that Annie is an aspiring singer/actress and a middle-class WASP from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Alvy explains why he doesn’t drive even though he has a driver’s license: “I got a license but I have too much hostility.” Getting out of Annie’s badly parked car, Alvy says:
That’s OK, we can walk to the curb from here.
Alvy compliments Annie’s kookiness with a mouthful of non-sequitur praise:
You’re a wonderful tennis player…You’re the worst driver I’ve ever seen in my life…and I love what you’re wearing.
Naively innocent, Annie explains that her tie was given to her by Grammy Hall. Alvy wonders about Annie’s Midwestern background:
What did you do? Grow up in a Norman Rockwell painting? Your Grammy?
Alvy bitterly jokes about his own background as an intellectual New York Jew (with more Jewish paranoia), whose grandparents, Jewish Russian peasants, had a hard life: “My grammy never gave gifts, you know. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks.”
Alvy is invited upstairs to Annie’s apartment for a glass of wine. He has nothing scheduled until his psychoanalyst’s appointment, a therapist he has been seeing for fifteen years: “I’m gonna give him one more year and then I’m going to Lourdes.” Alvy notices her recent reading material, Sylvia Plath’s book Ariel: “Interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college-girl mentality.” Annie responds gauchely as a hick-midwesterner: “Some of her poems seem neat.” Annie shows him pictures of her family on the wall, including her brother Duane and Grammy Hall.
In an emotionally uncertain and vague tone, the flaky and rambling Annie speaks of death in an amusing but morbidly “terrible” story of Grammy’s brother – George, a “shell-shocked” veteran from World War I, died in a fit of narcolepsy while standing in line for his free war-veterans’ turkey. The wacky, anecdotal story about death leaves Annie feeling confused and wondering why she even told the story in the first place.
As they move to the outdoor balcony to get better acquainted, Alvy believes he is all “perspired,” because he didn’t clean up in the sports club. “I never shower in a public place,” he explains, “’cause I don’t like to get naked in front of another man…I don’t like to show my body to a man of my gender. You never know what’s gonna happen.” Before their relationship takes off, Annie makes a bizarre comment to Alvy, igniting more of his anti-Jewish fears:
Annie: Well, you are what Grammy Hall would call a ‘real Jew.’
Alvy: (startled) Thank you.
Annie: Yeah, well, she hates Jews. She thinks they just make money, but let me tell ya, I mean, she’s the one. Is she ever, I’m tellin’ ya.
In the memorable subtitle scene on the balcony off Annie’s apartment with a cityscape in the background, their real thoughts are seen in thought-bubble subtitles (like from exotic foreign films) at the bottom of the screen as they carry on absurd, small-talk banalities in their conversation about photography. Their budding sexual attraction, exciting interest in each other, and courtship are beautifully evoked:
|Alvy: So, did you do those photographs in there, or what?
|Annie: Yeah, yeah, I sort of dabble around, you know.
||I dabble? Listen to me – what a jerk.
|Alvy: They’re (her pictures) wonderful. They have a quality…
||You are a great – looking girl.
|Annie: Well, I would like to take a serious photography course.
||He probably thinks I’m a yo-yo.
|Alvy: (pretentiously) Photography’s interesting because, you know, it’s a new form, and a set of aesthetic criteria have not emerged yet.
||I wonder what she looks like naked.
Annie is obviously feeling that she lacks self-confidence and is intellectually inadequate, yet unconstrained by proper vocabulary when she comments on “aesthetic criteria” -“You mean whether it’s a good photo or not?” She thinks to herself: “I’m not smart enough for him. Hang in there.” The thoughts in the subtitles are more believable than their words:
|Alvy: The medium enters in as a condition of the art form itself.
||I don’t know what I’m saying – she senses I’m shallow.
|Annie: Well to me, I mean, it’s, it’s all instinctive. You know, I mean, I just try to feel it. You know, I try to get a sense of it and not think about it so much.
||God, I hope he doesn’t turn out to be a shmuck like the others.
|Alvy: Still, you need a set of aesthetic guidelines to put it in social perspective, I think.
||Christ. I sound like FM radio. Relax.
Alvy asks her out for a weekend date, and ends up accompanying aspiring singer Annie to a Saturday nightclub audition for their first date. [The scene was filmed at the Grand Finale nightclub.] They share similar sympathies about stagefright and performing in front of an audience. It is an inauspicious beginning for Annie’s career that will ultimately lead to her independence as a “Singer” and the breakup of their relationship. Microphone feedback, the loud crash of dropped plates, a ringing telephone, uninterested oblivious patrons, and other audience distractions make it an awful debut experience. Photographed from a distance and seen as a small figure in the background, she timidly sings “It Had To Be You” – it marks the symbolic start of their relationship.
Walking along on the sidewalk afterwards, Alvy attempts to make her feel better, encouraging her as an older mentor: “The audience was a tad restless…You have a wonderful voice.” Suddenly he stops and asks for a kiss so they won’t have to be tense all evening:
Yeah, why not? Because we’re just going to go home later, right, and there’s gonna be all that tension, you know, we never kissed before. And I’ll never know when to make the right move or anything. So we’ll kiss now and get it over with, and then we’ll go eat. OK? We’ll digest our food better.
At dinner in a Jewish delicatessen where Annie feels out of place, she orders a WASP-ish meal with no idea of how to order ‘properly’ in a deli – pastrami on white bread “with mayonnaise, tomatoes, and lettuce.” Alvy grimaces, and then talks about how his second wife left him, “nothing that a few megavitamins couldn’t cure.” His first marriage to Allison didn’t work because “it was my fault. I was too crazy,” Alvy admits.
Suddenly, Annie and Alvy are in bed and have just finished making love. They have come together despite their ethnic and personality differences. Alvy theorizes how sex has allusions to novelists and the creative process, and how a purportedly physical act can tax the mind:
As Balzac said, there goes another novel.
After having sex with her for the first time, Alvy is “a wreck,” musing: “I’ll never play the piano again.” He compliments Annie [in a line originally credited to H. L. Mencken in 1942, and also to Humphrey Bogart]:
That was the most fun I’ve ever had without laughing.
Annie smokes some pot because it relaxes her. She offers him some pot, but he declines because the effects usually have embarrassing results: “I don’t use any major hallucinogenics…Five years ago at a party, I tried to take my pants off over my head.” Still sexually aroused, Alvy announces: “You’re not going to believe this…” as he moves closer to Annie.
At a bookstore, Alvy, anally-obsessed with the subject of death and its inevitability, wants to buy two serious books for Annie to contemplate: Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death and Jacques Choron’s Death and Western Thought. His hidden desire is to turn her into a likeness of himself – a death-obsessed, intellectual New York Jew. In contrast, Annie is considering buying a glossier book: The Cat Book – because she is thinking of buying a cat to cut down on her sense of social solitude. Their life experiences and interests are considerably at odds. Alvy warns Annie of his gloomy view of life, dividing life experience into two categories:
I’m obsessed with uh, with death, I think. Big – big subject with me, yeah. I have a very pessimistic view of life. You should know this about me if we’re gonna go out. You know, I – I feel that life is – is divided up into the horrible and the miserable. Those are the two categories, you know. The – the horrible would be like, um, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. You know, and the miserable is everyone else. That’s – that’s – so – so – when you go through life – you should be thankful that you’re miserable because you’re very lucky to be miserable.
In a Central Park scene where they sit on a bench, he cleverly makes fun of strolling passers-by who are out of earshot by giving stereotypical thumbnail sketches of them, impressing Annie with his intellectual dexterity:
- “There’s Mr., in the pink, Mr. Miami Beach there. He’s just come back from the Gin Rummy fund. He’s placed third.”
- Two lovers: “They’re back from Fire Island. They’re giving it a chance for a minute.”
- “He’s the Mafia – Linen Supply Business or Cement and Contracting.”
- “There’s the winner of the Truman Capote look-alike contest.” [The real, fastidiously-dressed Truman Capote is cast in the imitative role – a melding of fact and fiction.]
By the waterfront dock in a night scene, underneath the 59th Street bridge, Alvy woos Annie, telling her how sexually appealing she is:
You are extremely sexy, unbelievably sexy…You know what you are, you’re polymorphously perverse…you’re exceptional in bed because you got – you get pleasure in every part of your body when I touch it…Like the tip of your nose, and if I stroke your teeth or your kneecaps…you get excited.
Annie stutters about her love for him. And serious emotional words fail Alvy when he tries to tell Annie how much she means to him. [Both appear to have never vowed their true love for one another in their entire relationship.] He even circumvents the word ‘love’ and retreats into comedy to directly avoid saying that he loves her:
Love is, is too weak a word for what I feel – I lurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F’s, yes I have to invent, of course I – I do, don’t you think I do?
In the very next scene, Annie plans to move in with Alvy and unpacks her belongings in his place. They can live together and she can save $400/month rent on her bug-ridden apartment. Again, he resorts to comedy, disguising his own fear of commitment and loss of freedom. Ambivalent, Alvy insists that she not give up her own apartment to assure them that they’re not married:
Alvy: What do you mean? You’re not going to give up your own apartment, are you?
Annie: Of course.
Alvy: But but but why?
Annie: I’m moving in with you, that’s why.
Alvy: Yeah, but you’ve got a nice apartment.
Annie: I have a tiny apartment.
Alvy: I know it’s small.
Annie: That’s right, and it’s got bad plumbing and bugs.
Alvy: All right, granted, it has bad plumbing and bugs. But you, you say that like it’s a negative thing. You know, bugs, uh – Entymology is a rapidly growing field.
Annie: You don’t want me to live with you.
Alvy: I don’t want you to live with me! Who’s idea was it?
Alvy: Yeah, it was yours actually, but uh, I approved it immediately.
Annie: I guess you think that I talked you into something, huh?
Alvy: No. We live together. We sleep together. We eat together. Jesus. You don’t want it to be like we’re married, do ya?
He even offers to pay the rent by having his accountant write the payments off as a tax deduction. Another series of issues surfaces between them. She believes he doesn’t take her seriously because she is ignorant, and that’s why he pressures her to take adult education college courses. Annie ‘unloads’ her concerns on him:
Annie: You don’t think I’m smart enough to be serious about.
Alvy: Hey, don’t be ridiculous.
Annie: Then why are you always pushing me to take those college courses like I was dumb or something?
Alvy: ‘Cause adult education’s a wonderful thing. You meet a lot of interesting professors. You know, it’s stimulating.
During another excursion to the Long Island beach house, Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony plays on the soundtrack. In a bedroom scene, Annie sifts through her college course catalogue and considers taking Modern American Poetry or Introduction to the Novel. Alvy advises: “Just don’t take any course where they make you read Beowulf.” As Alvy begins to prepare to make love, he suggests: “We should just turn out the lights, you know, and play hide the salam.” Another issue causes resentment – Alvy complains that Annie is sexually idiosyncratic – she always needs to smoke pot each time before they have sex. She counters with a mention of his years-long Freudian psychoanalysis:
Alvy: Yeah, grass, right? The illusion that it will make a white woman more like Billie Holiday.
Annie: Well, have you ever made love high?
Alvy: Me? No. I – I, you know, If I have grass or alcohol or anything, I get unbearably wonderful. I get too, too wonderful for words. I don’t know why you have to get high every time we make love.
Annie: It relaxes me.
Alvy: You have to be artificially relaxed before we can go to bed?
Annie: Well, what’s the difference anyway?
Alvy: Well, I’ll give you a shot of sodium pentothal. You can sleep through it.
Annie: Oh come on. Look who’s talking. You’ve been seeing a psychiatrist for 15 years. You should smoke some of this. You’d be off the couch in no time.
To stimulate himself, Alvy produces “an erotic artifact” – a red lightbulb that he’s brought out from the city to create “a little old New Orleans essence.” Without grass, while they go through the motions of making love, in a clever use of double-exposed film, Annie’s bored and detached spirit leaves her body’s position on the bed during intercourse and sits on a nearby chair to watch her conversation with him. He talks to her alter ego and makes love to Annie at the same time. He is frustrated, because he cannot entirely possess her (“I want the whole thing”):
Alvy: Hey, is something wrong?
Annie: No, why?
Alvy: I don’t know. It’s like you’re removed. (She rises from herself on the bed)
Annie: No, I’m fine.
Alvy: Are you with me?
Annie: Uh, huh.
Alvy: I don’t know. You seem sort of distant.
Annie: Let’s just do it, all right?
Alvy: Is it my imagination, or are you just going through the motions?
Ghost Annie: Alvy, do you remember where I put my drawing pad? Because while you two are doing that, I think I’m going to do some drawing.
Alvy (gesturing at the Ghost version of Annie): You see, that’s what I call removed.
Annie: No you have my body.
Alvy: Yeah, but I want the whole thing.
Annie: Well, I need grass.
Alvy: Well, it ruins it for me if you have grass. Because you know, I’m like a comedian. So if I get a laugh from a person who’s high, it doesn’t count, you know, ’cause they’re always laughing.
Annie: Were you always funny?
Alvy: Hey, what is this – an interview? We’re supposed to be making love.
The last few lines of the preceding scene suggest the next scene in which a cigar-chomping agent (Bernie Styles) recommends Alvy to write comic material for a “pathetic” comedian (Johnny Haymer). In a voice-over aside, Alvy comments on the ridiculous on-screen action:
Jesus. This guy’s pathetic. Look at him mincing around. Thinks he’s real cute. You want to throw up. If only I had the nerve to do my own jokes. I don’t know how much longer I can keep this smile frozen on my face. I’m in the wrong business, I know it.
Alvy delivers his own brilliant, comedic monologue in a stand-up comedy act performed in front of a large University of Wisconsin student audience (Annie’s alma mater), on how he flunked out his freshman year for cheating on his metaphysics exam:
I was thrown out of NYU my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know. I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me. When I was thrown out, my mother, who was an emotionally high-strung woman, locked herself in the bathroom and took an overdose of Mah-Jong tiles. I was depressed at that time. I was in analysis. I was suicidal as a matter of fact and would have killed myself, but I was in analysis with a strict Freudian, and, if you kill yourself, they make you pay for the sessions you miss.
Backstage after his triumphant performance, Annie enthusiastically praises him as he signs autographs, telling him how she is intelligently catching on to his allusion-filled jokes: “I think I’m starting to get more of the references, too.”
The next day in the film’s pivotal scene that comments upon the wide, alienating divide between their two incompatible families, he will have the opportunity to meet her WASP-ish Protestant family at Easter sharing a traditional ham dinner, a meal which he should be avoiding as a traditional Jew. At the table, he is so paranoid about her parents that he has a flash transformation, imagining that Grammy Hall sees him as a bearded orthodox Hasidic rabbi – with a reddish beard, a black hat and coat. Alvy tells Mom Hall (Colleen Dewhurst) about the results of his fifteen years of analysis: “I’m making excellent progress. Pretty soon, when I lie down on his couch, I won’t have to wear the lobster bib.” Nobody laughs at Alvy’s joke. It is clear that Annie’s mother, father and bigoted (“Jew hater”) Grammy Hall don’t approve of him.
In an aside to the camera, Alvy describes the lack of substance in the family’s lifestyle and dinner conversation: “I can’t believe this family. Annie’s mother is really beautiful, and they’re talking swap meets and boat basins.” He labels Grammy Hall as a “classic Jew hater.” Alvy feels radically alienated from the Hall family: “They really look American, you know, very healthy, like they never get sick or anything. Nothing like my family. You know, the two are like oil and water.”
In a split-screen to illustrate the two diverse worlds, Alvy’s New York Jewish family is compared in a similar dinner scene to Annie’s family. On the left third of the screen is the brightly lit, affluent, politely gracious, aloof and sober Hall family discussing subjects such as the Christmas play and the 4-H Club. On the right two-thirds of the screen is a darkly lit, sloppy and informal, noisily argumentative, competitively babbling, neurotic Singer family talking about illness (diabetes, heart disease) and unemployment. [Alvy’s argumentative nature and fear of marriage were inherited from his family.] The two families actually converse across the divided split-screen:
Mrs. Hall: How do you plan to spend the holidays, Mrs. Singer?
Mrs. Singer: We fast.
Mr. Hall: Fast?
Mr. Singer: No food. You know, to atone for our sins.
Mrs. Hall: What sins? I don’t understand.
Mr. Singer: To tell you the truth, neither do we.
Sitting in his darkened room in a short, macabre scene, Annie’s weird brother Duane (Christopher Walken) tells Alvy that he has fantasies of someday crashing his car into oncoming traffic:
I can anticipate the explosion, the sound of shattering glass. The flames rising out of the flowing gasoline.
Alvy excuses himself to escape from Duane’s company:
Right, well I have to go now, Duane, because I’m due back on the planet Earth.
Duane’s nightmare vision turns real when Alvy and Annie are driven by Duane through the night rain to the airport – Alvy is fearful of Duane’s vision coming true while Annie is totally unconcerned. Their ride metaphorically foreshadows the crashing future of their relationship.
Annie’s newly-acquired independence, progress, improvement and life-style, and the preceding disastrous Easter Sunday encounter, cause Alvy’s paranoia to surface again. As they walk along the streets in New York, the camera tracks their movement. In a big argument, she accuses him of “spying” on her and shying away from commitment, because he considers her not “smart enough.” Rather than directing his mockeries toward her as entertainment, his tone becomes one of criticism. He counter-accuses her of being unfaithful, having an affair with her college professor, and taking pretentious courses – and he criticizes her Chippewa Falls upbringing:
Alvy: Well, I didn’t start out spying. I thought I’d surprise you. Pick you up after school.
Annie: Yeah, but you wanted to keep the relationship flexible. Remember, it’s your phrase.
Alvy: Oh stop it, you’re having an affair with your college professor, that jerk that teaches that incredible crap course, Contemporary Crisis in Western Man…
Annie: Existential Motifs in Russian Literature. You’re really close.
Alvy: What’s the difference? It’s all mental masturbation.
Annie (counter-accusing him): Oh, well, now we’re finally getting to a subject you know something about.
Alvy (defending his lonely sin): Hey, don’t knock masturbation. It’s sex with someone I love.
Annie: We’re not having an affair. He’s married. He just happens to think I’m neat.
Alvy: Neat! What are you, 12 years old? That’s one of your Chippewa Falls expressions.
Annie: Who cares? Who cares?
Alvy: Next thing, you know, he’ll find you keen and peachy, you know. Next thing, you know, he’s got his hand on your ass.
Annie: You’ve always had hostility towards David, ever since I mentioned him.
Alvy: Dave? You call your teacher David?
Annie: It’s his name.
Alvy: It’s a Biblical name, right? What does he call you, Bathsheba?
Annie: Alvy, Alvy, you’re the one who never wanted to make a real commitment. You don’t think I’m smart enough. We had that argument just last month, or don’t you remember that day?
The next scene is a flashback to a month earlier in their apartment in which Annie unpacks groceries and “unloads” more concerns. Annie tells Alvy about her conversation with her analyst, highlighting the areas in their relationship which will eventually separate them – his possessiveness, conservatism, and jealousy. To his dismay, he also resents how she has made more progress with her therapist in one session (and one hour) than he has made in his fifteen years of therapy. Annie reports on her dream of suffocation [fear of commitment] and the breaking of the glasses [a disguised castration symbol?] of an Alvy surrogate – Frank Sinatra:
Annie: So I told her about, about the family and about my feelings towards men and about my relationship with my brother. And then she mentioned penis envy. Do you know about that?
Alvy: Me? I’m, I’m one of the few males who suffers from that…
Annie: She said that I was very guilty about my impulses towards marriage and children. And then I remember when I was a kid how I accidently saw my parents making love.
Alvy: Really. All this happened in the first hour? That’s amazing. I’m off fifteen years. You know, I have nothing like that.
Annie: I told her my dream and then I cried.
Alvy: Cried? I have never once cried. That’s fantastic to me. I whine. I sit and I whine.
Annie: Wait a minute Alvy. In my dream, Frank Sinatra is holding his pillow across my face and I can’t breathe…strangling me…
Alvy: No kidding. Oh sure! Because he’s a singer and you’re a singer. You know, so it’s perfect. So you’re trying to suffocate yourself. It makes perfect sense. It’s a perfect analytic kind of insight.
Annie: She said your name was Alvy Singer.
Alvy: What do you mean? Me?
Annie: Yeah, yeah you. Because in the dream, I break Sinatra’s glasses.
Alvy: Sinatra had glasses? You never said Sinatra had glasses. So what are you saying? That I’m suffocating you?…
Annie: Oh and God, Alvy, I did this really terrible thing to him. Because then when he sang, it was in this real high-pitched voice.
Alvy: What did the doctor say?
Annie: Well, she said that I should probably come five times a week. And you know something? I don’t think I mind analysis at all. The only question is, is ‘Will it change my wife?’
Alvy: Will it change your wife?
Annie: Will it change my life?
Alvy: Yeah, but you said, ‘Will it change my wife?’
Annie: No I didn’t. I said, ‘Will it change my life, Alvy?’
Alvy turns to the camera and asks the audience to confirm that Annie said ‘wife’: “She said, ‘Will it change my wife?’ You heard that, because you were there. So I’m not crazy.”
Annie: And then I told her about how I didn’t think you’d ever take me really seriously because you don’t think that I’m smart enough.
Alvy: Why do you always bring that up? Because I encourage you to take adult education courses? I think it’s a wonderful thing. You meet wonderful interesting professors.
In a complete reversal (in a return to the present a month later) in a contrasting transition, Alvy expresses his disdain for adult education, and denounces the professors and their courses. With all of his encouragement to take adult education courses in subject areas of his interest and to improve her mind, Annie has begun to drift away – he is jealous of her friendship with one of the professors – (Alvy is presumably scared of being usurped in the Pygmalion-like relationship he has with Annie):
Alvy: Adult education is such junk. The professors are so phony. How can you do it?
Annie (defensive): I don’t care what you say about David. He’s a perfectly fine teacher. And what are you doing following me around for anyway? I think we’d better call this relationship quits.
Alvy questions the arbitrariness of the universe, and can’t imagine how things have changed so quickly in their relationship. He begins to feel excluded after encouraging her to expand her horizons: “Well, I don’t know what I did wrong. I mean, I can’t believe this. Somewhere, she cooled off to me. Is it something that I did?” A passer-by tells him to face reality and realize how we cannot control what happens to us – either the death of relationships and romantic love, or death itself. The stranger’s advice underscores the reason for the unhappiness that has grown up in his relationship with Annie:
It’s never something you do. That’s how people are. Love fades.
Alvy is depressed by the thought. He speaks to strangers on the street to find the secrets to their happiness for sexual and romantic compatibility:
Alvy: With your wife in bed, does she need some kind of artificial stimulation, like, like marijuana?
Older Man: We use a large vibrating egg.
Alvy: You look like a very happy couple…How do you account for it?
Young Woman: I’m very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
Boyfriend: And I’m exactly the same way.
He crosses into the open street, and pats the nose of a police patrol horse. In voice-over, Alvy explains how he believes his problems with women started early in life, recalling:
You know, even as a kid, I always went for the wrong women. I think that’s my problem. When my mother took me to see Snow White, everyone fell in love with Snow White. I immediately fell for the Wicked Queen.
In the next short scene, Annie and Alvy suddenly become animated cartoon characters as they continue their argument, in a Disney-like castle setting reminiscent of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In a perverse attraction, Annie is portrayed as ‘the wicked queen’ he preferred over Snow White in the film. Alvy (called Max again by Rob) appears, short, childish, and infantile:
Annie: We never have any fun any more.
Alvy: How can you say that?
Annie: Why not? You’re always leaning on me to improve yourself.
Alvy: You’re just upset. You must be getting your period.
Annie: I don’t get a period. I’m a cartoon character. Can’t I be upset once in a while?
Rob: Max, will you forget about Annie? I know lots of women you can date.
Alvy: I don’t want to go out with any other women.
Rob: Max, I have got a girl for you. You are going to love her. She’s a reporter for Rolling Stone.
Annie and Alvy split up, and Alvy tries dating far-out, skinny rock magazine reporter Pam (Shelley Duvall), spending time with her while she covers a “transplendent” Maharishi event. Stork-like Pam refers to her 70s-ish love for Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, the Rolling Stones, and confesses that she is a Rosicrucian. Alvy states his position about religion: “I can’t get with any religion that advertises in Popular Mechanics.” Although the Maharishi is God-like, Alvy notices the hypocrisy of the holy man relieving himself (“Look, there’s ‘God’ coming out of the men’s room!”).
After the event, the two sleep together in his apartment. Propped up in bed, Pam – after taking a very long time to have an orgasm, compliments sore-jawed Alvy:
Pam: Sex with you is really a Kafka-esque experience.
Alvy: Oh. Thank you.
Pam: I mean that as a compliment.
Alvy: I think, I think there’s too much burden placed on the orgasm, you know, to make up for empty areas in life.
Pam: Who said that?
Alvy: It may have been Leopold and Loeb.
[Note: Leopold and Loeb were a pair of college students who sublimated their homosexuality into a ‘perfect crime’ murder, which inspired films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Richard Fleischer’s Compulsion (1959) starring Orson Welles, Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), and Barbet Schroeder’s Murder by Numbers (2002).]
Alvy receives an emergency phone call – a false, manufactured crisis – to come to Annie’s apartment in the middle of the night. He arrives and an hysterical Annie wants to be rescued simply because she has found a big black spider in her bathroom. He is disgusted: “Don’t you have a can of Raid in the house? I told you a thousand times. You should always keep a lot of insect spray. You never know who’s gonna crawl over.” Alvy expresses his big game-hunt preparedness [He stands in front of the pictures she captured of him at the beach house with the lobsters, and then prominently and fondly hung in her apartment]:
You joke about me. You make fun of me, but I’m prepared for anything. An emergency, a tidal wave, an earthquake.
He notices a rock concert program on her bureau and asks: “Did you go to a rock concert?…Oh yeah really, really? How’d you like it? Was it, was it heavy? Did it achieve total heavy-o-city?” Although arachnophobic, Alvy downplays how a small spider can be the cause of such hysteria and appears jealously hostile to her, questioning why she didn’t call her rock concert “date” to help kill the spider instead of him. After looking down at a National Review magazine, he sarcastically adds:
Why don’t you get William F. Buckley to kill the spider?…Are you going with a right-wing rock ‘n roll star?
In a memorable scene, Alvy is the voice of experience in killing spiders:
Darling, I’ve been killing spiders since I was thirty, OK?
Then when he has the actual showdown, he reacts to the insect bigger than he expected: “Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick.”
Alvy: Hey, what is this? You got black soap?
Annie (offscreen): It’s for my complexion.
Alvy: What – are you joining a minstrel show? (His line reflects insecurity about changes in her life – modifications interpreted as perverse – a white person impersonating a slave!)
He thrashes around in the bathroom with her Dunlop tennis racket as a swatter to kill the spider, knocking articles from a shelf. [They met and started a relationship while playing tennis – a slightly-similar circumstance.]
After he has done the valiant deed, he approaches her on the bed where she is sobbing with lonely tears. He relentlessly rattles off a few jokes before getting serious and sitting down beside her:
Alvy: I did it. I killed ’em both. What’s the matter? What are you sad about? What did you want me to do? Capture ’em and rehabilitate ’em?
Annie: Don’t go, OK? Please?
Alvy: What do ya mean, ‘don’t’? What’s the matter? What? Are you expecting termites? What’s the matter?
Annie: I don’t know why. I miss you.
She also questions him suspiciously, guessing: “Alvy, was there somebody in your room when I called you?” He doesn’t admit that Pam was there – it was the television set she heard. They sleep together – Annie doesn’t ever want to break up again and they decide to reconcile and get back together:
Annie: Alvy, let’s never break up again. I don’t wanna be apart.
Alvy: You know Annie, I think we’re both much too mature for something like that.
Annie: Living together hasn’t been so bad, has it?
Alvy: No, for me it’s been terrific, you know…’cause there is just something different about you. I don’t know what it is, but it’s great.
Annie: You know, I think that if you let me, maybe I could help you have more fun.
For Annie’s birthday weekend, Alvy joins with friend Rob to go to Brooklyn to see their old childhood neighborhood for a sentimental journey. Alvy remembers: “I was a great athlete…I was all-school yard.” He shows them where he lived under the roller coaster, falsifying the reality of his past: “I had some very good memories there.” Interjecting themselves into the scene, the three of them stand on the sidelines of the flashback and watch Alvy’s parents fight over the “most ridiculous things” – the firing of the cleaning woman. They also view unforgettable guests that Alvy remembers from the 1945 Welcome Home party (from the war) for cousin Herbie. One of his father’s friends, Joey Nichols, does an unfunny comic routine with nickels. Young Alvy concludes: “What an asshole!” They also watch his mother’s aging sister, Aunt Tessie (“a great beauty,” and “the sister with personality”). At the end of the day, Alvy presents Annie with birthday gifts (both reflective of different sides of his nature) – bold, sexy red lingerie (which shocks her): “This is more like a present for you!” and a practical watch: “You knew I wanted this.”
As Annie’s singing and talent improves, so does her confidence, personal strength, and independence. She ultimately becomes less self-conscious and less self-effacing. In a performance which contrasts sharply with her nervous singing debut, she confidently sings solo at her Manhattan club – it is a warm, bluesy, beautiful rendition of “Seems Like Old Times” that commemorates the warmth of their renewed relationship. The close-up camera views her captivating hold on her appreciative audience in the darkness in a very prolonged, flattering shot. Alvy knows how she has matured and blossomed: “You were sensational. I told you that if you stuck to it, you would be great, and you were sensational.” Her song also marks a climactic turning point in her life – Annie will inevitably leave Alvy.
At the bar in the club, she is approached by smoothie, Los Angeles record producer / tycoon / musician Tony Lacey (singer Paul Simon) [a thinly-disguised satire on Warren Beatty]. Slightly jealous by all the admiring attention Annie receives, Alvy finds an excuse for not attending a party they are invited to at Tony’s hotel room, where they could chat with Jack (Nicholson) and Anjelica (Huston). Alvy pleads that they have a previous “thing,” and later grouchily admits to Annie that he has an inability to experience pleasure:
You know, I don’t think I could take a mellow evening because I – I don’t respond well to mellow. You know what I mean? I have a tendency to – if I get too mellow, I – I ripen and then rot, you know.
Anxious not to lose her, Alvy diverts her from a career opportunity and from seeing Tony Lacey again. Instead, they go and watch another showing of Ophuls’ The Sorrow and the Pity. The subtitles under the picture reinforce his alienation and ‘hoarding’ of her time:
The Jewish warmongers and Parisian plutocrats…tried to flee with their gold and jewels.
It is the beginning of the end of their relationship. Alvy becomes too insecure and possessive of Annie’s every adventurous, fun-loving move.
In another clever split-scene sequence of dueling therapies to illustrate their impending separation and differences in personalities, Alvy and Annie each confide to their own psychiatrists (a male analyst for Alvy, and a female one for Annie) about their sexual problems and the frequency of their lovemaking. In the cramped, left one-third of the screen, Annie sits up and speaks to her therapist in a modern, artistically-furnished, functionally well-lit room. On the right two-thirds of the screen, Alvy lies full-length prone in a Freudian pose in a dark, wood-paneled, traditional office. Their perspectives about the same situation are entirely different and opposite – a “Rashomon Effect”:
Alvy’s analyst: How often do you sleep together?
Annie’s analyst: Do you have sex often?
Alvy (lamenting): Hardly ever, maybe three times a week.
Annie (complaining): Constantly, I’d say three times a week.
Alvy feels ambivalent about having encouraged Annie’s progress toward being more assertive. He has paid for her psychiatrist and has encouraged her career: “The incredible thing about it is, I’m paying for her analysis and she’s making progress, and I’m getting screwed…It’s absurd. She’s making progress and I’m not making any progress. And her progress is killing my progress.” Their mis-matched relationship becomes poisoned for many reasons – misunderstandings, possessiveness and jealousy, different goals, interests, hangups, and moods, and plain irrationality.
In the memorable “cocaine scene,” Alvy proves his maladroitness with drugs, as he stated earlier. He doesn’t want to try snorting cocaine, but is reproached for not wanting “to try anything new”:
Alvy: I don’t want to put a wad of white powder in my nose. There’s the nasal membrane…
Annie: You never want to try anything new, Alvy.
Alvy: How can you say that? Whose idea was it? I said that you, I and that girl from your acting class should sleep together in a threesome.
Annie: Well, that’s sick!
Alvy: Yeah, I know it’s sick, but it’s new. You didn’t say it couldn’t be sick.
To meet everyone’s dare, he attempts it, sneezing away about $2,000 worth of cocaine – one of the film’s funniest sequences. [The scene serves as a bridge to the next California-bound scene. Before Alvy’s exploding sneeze, Annie non-chalantly tells the other guests: “I didn’t tell you, we’re going to California next week.” New Yorker Alvy quips: “I’m thrilled, as you know.”]
During Christmas week, they go to Los Angeles so Alvy can present an award on a television show in Burbank. Their old friend Rob, an actor, has already moved there to star in a television series. He takes them for a driving tour of Beverly Hills, incongruously through bright sunshine at Christmas-time. [The scenes in LA appear deliberately overexposed to accentuate the garishness of people’s lifestyles there.] Rob comments on all the hedonistic pleasures: his “relaxed” lifestyle, his house next to Hugh Hefner’s house, and the gorgeous women: “They’re like the women in Playboy Magazine only they can move their arms and legs.” Alvy derides the inconsistent L. A. architecture: “French next to Spanish next to Tudor next to Japanese.”
In contrast, Annie admires the spotless cleanliness: “It’s so clean out here.” New Yorker Alvy cynically reacts:
That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away. They make it into television shows.
A Santa Claus, sleigh, and reindeer sit on a perfectly-manicured, green lawn. Alvy clearly prefers New York to California: “Santa Claus will have sunstroke…There’s no economic crime, but there’s ritual, religious cult murders, you know there’s wheat germ killers out here.” In Los Angeles, the only visible theatre is showing a double-bill: House of Exorcism and Messiah of Evil – while on the soundtrack of Rob’s sports car, the radio’s Christmas tune sings: “To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.” Alvy calls it “immoral” when he sees that Rob’s TV show uses fake canned laughter on the pre-taped situation comedy soundtrack – he snidely asks: “Is there booing on that?” He immediately becomes nauseated and dizzy, so a doctor is summoned to his hotel room to check out his psycho-somatic illness. He complains when Annie cancels his TV show appearance (“They’re going to tape without you”), but begins eating chicken meat nonetheless – and improves dramatically.
Rob invites Alvy to a lavish Hollywood Hills mansion Christmas party, held by Tony Lacey. Dialogue in the party embodies the Southern California lifestyle of entertainment figures:
I’ll take a meeting with you if you’ll take a meeting with Freddie.
I took a meeting with Freddie. Freddie took a meeting with Charlie. You take a meeting with him.
All the good meetings are taken.
Right now, it’s only a notion. But I think I can get money to make it into a concept. And later turn it into an idea.
Not only is he a good agent, but he really gives good meeting.
The place is so large that Rob believes, in a complimentary way, that he brought a “road map to get us to the bathroom.” Coincidentally, it is being held by the record tycoon who Alvy worries “has a little thing for Annie.” Rob notices that one of the guests, Tony’s girlfriend – a bra-less, slender beauty (Laurie Bird) has V.P.L. (Rob translates: “Visible Panty Line” – any early use of the acronym). Alvy agrees, jokingly: “Yeah, she’s a 10, Max, and that’s great for you because you’re – you’re used to two’s, aren’t you?” The two of them make up further speculations (a game that Alvy would often play with Annie) about another loving couple:
Rob: Don’t they look like they just came back from Masters and Johnson.
Alvy: Yeah, intensive care ward.
They nervously fear speaking to Tony’s girlfriend as she approaches – Rob worries that his “brain is going to turn into guacamole,” but Alvy confidently says: “I’ll handle it. I’ll handle it.” There are various references to 70s fads in the next conversation. She wrongfully remembers him from an EST (Erhard Seminars Training) session – a 70s cultish phenomenon that was basically an intensive group therapy session for participants who would often suffer verbal abuse:
Tony’s girlfriend: You’re Alvy Singer, right? Didn’t we meet at EST?
Alvy: EST? No, no, I was never to EST.
Tony’s girlfriend: Then how can you criticize it?…
Alvy: No, no, no, I came out here to get some shock therapy, but there was an energy crisis…Hey, you guys are wearing white. It must be in the stars…Uri Geller must be on the premises someplace. [Uri Geller was a famed paranormal psychic who was skeptically viewed by some as practicing trickery and fraud.]
Rob: We’re gonna operate together.
Falling under Tony’s spell, Annie is invited to come for six weeks and live there with him during the cutting of her record album. Alvy spitefully defends the dirty-ness of New York to Tony: “I’m into garbage. It’s my thing.” They pass a guest (Jeff Goldblum) who is telephoning someone to say: “I forgot my mantra.”
On the flight home to New York, Annie realizes she likes the star-studded, sunny California lifestyle and the incredible opportunities being presented to her. In a “dialogue of thoughts” voice-over as they sit side by side on the plane, they view the California visit differently, assessing their failed romance and relationship. Alvy has discovered an attractive alternative himself (“It was fun to flirt”) and that the California warmth is not for him [He echoes his earlier words: “if I get too mellow, I – I ripen and then rot.”]:
Annie: That was fun. I don’t think California is bad at all. It’s a drag coming home.
Alvy: A lot of beautiful women. It was fun to flirt.
Annie: I have to face facts. I adore Alvy, but our relationship doesn’t seem to work anymore.
Alvy: I’ll have the usual trouble with Annie in bed tonight. Why do I need this?
Annie: If only I had the nerve to break up but it would really hurt him.
Alvy: If only I didn’t feel guilty asking Annie to move out. It would probably wreck her. But I should be honest.
They analytically present each other with an honest evaluation of the end of their relationship:
Annie: Alvy? Let’s face it. You know something? I don’t think our relationship is working.
Alvy: I know. A relationship, I think, is-is like a shark. You know, it has to constantly move forward or it dies, and I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.
As they split up, including their possessions, they sort through their books, dismantle all the objects of their shared past, and objectively discuss the end of their relationship. She reminds him of his morbid taste in reading books with ‘death’ in the title:
Alvy: Whose Catcher in the Rye is this?
Annie: Well let’s see now. If it has my name on it, then I guess it’s mine.
Alvy: …You know, you wrote your name in all my books ’cause you knew this day was gonna come.
Annie: Well, uh, Alvy, uh, you wanted to break up just as much as I do.
Alvy: No question about it. I think we’re doing the mature thing, without any doubt.
Annie: Now look, all the books on death and dying are yours and all the poetry books are mine.
Alvy lingers over the copy of The Denial of Death that he generously bought for her at the start of their relationship. She wants to give it back (“it’s a great weight off my back”), but he puts it back within her packed box of belongings when she turns away – to serve as a reminder of himself and his lessons and teachings about life. She sorts through his political buttons: “Impeach Eisenhower, Impeach Nixon, Impeach Lyndon Johnson, Impeach Ronald Reagan.” They assure each other that nothing is permanent and that they can come back together as they have in the past.
After the break up, Alvy leaves a Third Avenue movie theatre exclaiming unhappily: “I miss Annie. I made a terrible mistake.” Outside the theatre, a bystander (Sigourney Weaver is hanging on his arm, in her non-speaking debut role) adds: “She’s living in Los Angeles with Tony Lacey.” Another older woman on the street questions him:
Woman: Don’t tell me you’re jealous?
Alvy: Yeah, jealous. A little bit, like Medea. [Medea, written by Euripedes, was about horrific, murderous revenge following an abandonment.]
And then he shows the woman Annie’s black soap – to prove that Annie is facing serious change issues:
Alvy: …I found this in the apartment. Black soap. She used to wash her face eight hundred times a day with black soap. Don’t ask me why.
Woman: Well, why don’t you go out with other women?
Alvy: Well, I-I tried, but it’s, uh, you know, it’s very depressing.
Alvy tries to go out with other women, but he’s the one that cannot cope. In a contrasting, re-played scene, Alvy attempts to re-create the high-spirited mood of an earlier time with Annie. He again prepares lobsters with a different date at the beach house, but regretfully, she is humorless, serious, and too young – compatibility just doesn’t exist between them.
Alvy tries to get Annie back, flying to Los Angeles to retrieve her. After landing he immediately gets his “chronic Los Angeles nausea” again. After fearfully driving on L.A. freeways to a health food restaurant on Sunset Boulevard where he will meet Annie, Alvy orders “alfafa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast.” Almost his first insecure words to Annie are an unrealistic proposal of marriage: “I think that we should get married.” He has more negative words about how he despises Los Angeles: “It’s like living in Munchkinland.” Annie admits that she enjoys meeting people more, doing things, going to parties. Annie clearly sees that Alvy has a narrowly-defined range of interests and activities, like New York City itself, and believes that her range of pursuits is much wider. She accuses him of being “incapable of enjoying life”:
Alvy: (sadly) So what – you-you’re not gonna come back to New York?
Annie: What’s so great about New York? I mean, it’s a dying city. You read Death in Venice.
Alvy: Hey, you didn’t read Death in Venice till I bought it for ya.
Annie: That’s right, that’s right. You only gave me books with the word ‘death’ in the titles.
Alvy: That’s right, ’cause it’s an important issue.
Annie: Alvy, you’re incapable of enjoying life, you know that? I mean you’re like New York City. You’re just this person. You’re like this island unto yourself.
Alvy: I can’t enjoy anything unless everybody is. If one guy is starving someplace, that puts a crimp in my evening.
Out of his element in California, Alvy wants Annie to get married to him, and to return with him to New York, but she politely refuses. Alvy interprets her independence in Los Angeles as personal rejection and disaffection. Annie wants to remain friends and has only positive things to say about his nurturing of her: “You’re the reason that I got out of my room and that I was able to sing and, and, and you know get more in touch with my feelings and all that crap.” As they part on sour terms and their conversation degenerates into a bitter argument, Alvy becomes even more upset when he learns that Annie’s new lover Tony has been nominated for Grammy Awards. The word “Grammy” brings up earlier allusions to anti-Semitic “Grammy” Hall, and he cries out with typical Jewish paranoia:
They give awards for that kind of music? I thought just earplugs…They do nothing but give out awards. I can’t believe it. Greatest Fascist Dictator – Adolf Hitler!
Frazzled and unaccustomed to driving in wide-open spaces, Alvy relives his Coney Island “bumper car” days with his rental car, damaging it and other property as he begins to drive away. He is arrested and jailed because he has “a terrific problem with authority.” Later, he is bailed out by friend Rob – who seems annoyed that Alvy’s phone call interrupts his sexual escapades with under-aged girls who let out high-pitched squeals: “Twins, Max! 16 years-old. Can you imagine the mathematical possibilities?” Although Alvy suggests that Rob should be doing traditional Shakespearean drama, Rob remembers his past horrible acting experience in New York: “Oh, I did Shakespeare in the Park, Max. I got mugged. I was playing ‘Richard II,’ and two guys with leather jackets stole my leotards.” Before they drive away in the bright sunshine, Rob dons a type of radioactive-proof headgear sun visor to prevent aging:
Alvy: Max, are we driving through plutonium?
Rob: Keeps out the alpha rays, Max. You don’t get old.
In the next scene, two young New York actors rehearse Alvy’s first play – a play that is, in retrospect, the film Annie Hall itself. Art imitates life. It includes the scene and many of the same words of dialogue of his final breakup in Los Angeles at a Sunset Boulevard health-food restaurant with Annie – but now it is Alvy’s ‘ideal’ version – a reconciliation. This time, Alvy is more kind and praiseworthy toward Annie, and the ending is different – the “Annie” character decides to return to New York and come back to her hero.
Actor Alvy: You’re a thinking person. How can you choose this lifestyle?
Actor Annie: What is so incredibly great about New York? It’s a dying city. You – you read Death in Venice.
Actor Alvy: You didn’t read Death in Venice till I gave it to you.
Actor Annie: Well, you only give me books with the word ‘death’ in the title.
Actor Alvy: It’s an important issue.
Actor Annie: Alvy, you are totally incapable of enjoying life. You’re like New York. You’re an island.
Actor Alvy: OK, if that’s all that we’ve been through together means to you, I guess it’s better if we just said goodbye, once and for all! You know, it’s funny, after all the serious talks and passionate moments that it ends here – in a health-food restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. Goodbye, Sunny.
Actor Annie: Wait! I’m – I’m gonna go with you. I love you. (They embrace and kiss.)
Observing the rehearsal, Alvy shrugs toward the camera: “What do you want? It was my first play.” He suggests one motivation of artists [his observation recalls the earlier McLuhan scene in the movie theatre lobby]:
You know how you’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because, uh, it’s real difficult in life.
Alvy does have other chances to meet Annie, to have lunch and they “just kicked around old times.” She had moved back to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and was living with another guy in SoHo. When Annie and Alvy happen to meet (seen in an extreme long shot under a theatre marquee), they both are dating other people. She was dragging her boyfriend into the Thalia Theatre to again see Ophuls’ film, The Sorrow and the Pity, and Alvy is with a tall date (Sigourney Weaver in her second appearance in the film). Alvy feels vindicated about his lasting influence on Annie: “…she was, of all things, dragging him in to see The Sorrow and the Pity – which I counted as a personal triumph.” [The film title prominently displayed on the marquee above them poignantly underlines their failed romance.]
In the thought-provoking, bittersweet ending, a tribute to Annie, the screen flashes back brief snapshots of warm, happy highlights of their entire love affair (at the Hamptons, in Brooklyn, etc.) to perceptively sum up the nature of his memories and emotions for her, making it clear that their relationship was well worth it. Annie’s song “Seems Like Old Times” is faintly heard on the soundtrack as he memorializes their relationship in the art-form of film. They are seen standing together on a street corner in New York at West 63rd St. (across the street from Lincoln Center), shaking hands and parting in the distance. Alvy, after a very long glance after her departing figure, turns away toward solitude, his head bent down toward a lost future, as he delivers a voice-over:
After that, it got pretty late and we both had to go, but it was great seeing Annie again and I realized what a terrific person she was and how much fun it was just knowing her…
He has lost her as a lover, yet can accept and transcend the experience of lost love through an affirmation of her character in another dimension. Having becoming fully individualized and distinguishable from the Woody Allen character at the start of the film, fictional character Alvy narrates the final words of the film in voice-over. He reacts philosophically to another food joke with greater insight into life. He sums up an understanding of how relationships are utterly absurd and that love inevitably fades, although people still crave relationships:
…and I thought of that old joke, you know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, uh, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken,’ and uh, the doctor says, ‘Well why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ Well, I guess that’s pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they’re totally irrational and crazy and absurd and – but uh, I guess we keep going through it…because…most of us need the eggs.
The very last word in the film is from the final line of the song “Seems Like Old Times.” The song swells up after the joke, ending on Annie’s emphasis on the word “you”:
Seems like old times
Having you to walk with
Seems like old times
Having you to walk with
And it’s still a thrill
Just to have my arms around you
Still the thrill that it was the day I found you
Seems like old times
Dinner dates and flowers
Old times, staying up all hours
Making dreams come true
Doing things we used to do
Seems like old times
Here with You.