Annie Hall

Saw Annie Hall today for the first time. Both P and Cue have been recommending that I watch it for a while now. It was a fantastic movie, I really liked it. A lot of people say it is a comedy and it was a very witty movie but a sad story overall.

I don’t understand Annie Hall, but it makes for some deep thought. The frustrating thing is that the entire story is told from Alvie’s point of view which makes it very difficult to fathom the difficult decisions that Annie makes. Did she do the right thing, you wonder, in deciding to call off the relationship? You wonder. The big questions unanswered are: why did they call it off? Was it a good decision? And what did each of them gain or lose from it?

Annie made the first move, that much is fairly clear. And Alvie was flattered by the attention, and drawn to Annie’s eccentric character. Alvie falls for Annie more than the other way round – when he asks her whether she loves him, her answer is non-committal, ‘yes, maybe, yes, I guess I do’ — his answer to the reciprocal question is that love is too small a word to convey what he feels for her – he ‘luuurves’ her.

That is one of the guiding principles by which we should deconstruct the relationship between the two of them. The second clue is the relative ages of Annie and Alvie. I don’t think either of their ages is made explicit in the movie but it seems obvious that Alvie is at least 10 years older than Annie – I would say Alvie is about 40, and Annie is perhaps in her late 20’s. Annie is in a very different stage in her life compared to Alvie, who has already achieved fame and success as a comedian by this time. She is still a budding singer, and has her share of insecurity about whether she will achieve success in her profession. At some level, Annie wants encouragement to experience all of the things that she hasn’t, yet. Alvie is twice divorced and comfortably established – being psychoanalyzed for 15 years – and what he looks for from Annie is a fresh perspective on a life that is beginning to already fade. In the end, Annie says Alvie is ‘like New York’ – dying, world-weary – and feels LA is the place that better reflects her own attitudes towards life. That is a big clue about the incompatibilities of their relationship – Annie is looking for experiences, Alvie (ironically, given his behavior in the earlier half of the movie) is looking for a stable excitement and happiness.

The mystery is that Annie eventually does come back to New York. Why, we wonder. Is it because she missed Alvie? I doubt it – the more realistic possibility seems to be that after her successes in LA (having, we assume, recorded her album) and at some level having figured out her career, she is now where Alvie started out from at the beginning of their relationship. She has ‘discovered herself’, in some sense, and is now comfortable moving back to New York, where she started her journey.

We wonder also about Alvie’s and Annie’s contrasting and inconsistent views to marriage. Alvie is initially reluctant to talk about marriage, and we get the impression that Annie is waiting for a marriage proposal from him. When he realizes how much he has lost when he loses Annie, Alvie is ready to make the commitment – but Annie has gone past the point where she could possibly accept him. People desire companionship in their lives and Alvie, in the beginning, enjoys Annie’s companionship, and feels he can take it for granted (in some sense); at the end, when he realizes that he cannot and wants to formalize it in terms of a marriage, Annie sees less of a need for Alvie’s companionship. Perhaps the fact that she has met other interesting people in California (and perhaps later in NY) means that she has realized she can now get companionship without giving commitment – and she no longer thinks of Alvie as a ‘soulmate’ – just as one of several potential ‘mates’.

It is undeniable at the end of the movie that Annie has gotten more out of the relationship than Alvie has. She has had a cheerleader for her singing career, someone who has made her upwardly revise her expectations of her own intellectualism, and someone who has helped her discover herself. Alvie, ready to give up the quest for companionship and ready to settle down, has met someone who could be a potential wife, and in that, he discovers a certain amount of passion and excitement; but not much else. In the opening monologue, he seems to have started down another path of self-discovery; but the ambiguous nature of the relationship between the two of them makes it unlikely that his journey will end in self-discovery – more possibly it will end in self-confusion, making him even more unhappy.

My favorite scene in the movie is also the saddest – maybe one of the saddest scenes I have ever seen – the scene where, after the relationship is over, Alvie brings back a girl to his flat and tries to recreate the scene with the lobsters, and the girl just doesn’t get it. You can almost touch Alvie’s sense of loss at that point – it’s so tangible. Relationships are always so complicated, and I love Annie Hall because it doesn’t simplify anything at all.

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