Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Annie Hall

Before I begin, a warning: if you haven't seen Annie Hall and you don't want to acquaint yourself with the whole plot before seeing it, stop reading right now.


Uncharacteristically, I didn't watch a movie last night. However, sifting through some old e-mails I came across a conversation I had with a friend about a movie I've watched many times: Annie Hall. Although my friend (who, for the sake of protecting her identity, I will refer to as Maggie) and I both love (or lurve, rather) this Woody Allen masterpiece, we had starkly different interpretations of the movie's tone and what it meant. While Maggie thought the end was depressing and sad, I took (and still take) a somewhat opposite position. In my opinion, the movie has a happy ending; although there is certainly more than just a tint of melancholy to Annie and Alvy's breakup, this wispy atmosphere of sadness is entirely eclipsed by the existentialist optimism of the film's conclusion.

For Maggie (and I apologize to her here, because I am sure that I will not be able to do justice to her well thought out and cleverly worded argument), Annie Hall was about the end of an affair and all the pain that this failed relationship brings with it. In the beginning, Annie and Alvy's relationship is filled with playful and adoring banter, but by the movie's end it's replaced with thinly veiled aggression and vicious anger. Even the final scene, in which Annie and Alvy ultimately become friends, added up to sadness for Maggie, who claimed that it was awful to feel something tantamount to emotional indifference for someone in whom you had invested so much of yourself, in terms of time, feeling, and energy. To her, this represents lost time and wasted emotion: an admission of defeat.

As true as this may be for Maggie and many other people, it is not true within the context of the movie. I will agree that the scenes depicting Annie and Alvy's relationship in its death throes are sad and hard to watch, but that is not how the movie ends. After failing to convince Annie to leave her life in L.A. and return to New York with him, the film jumps ahead and we cut to two actors rehearsing a scene. They are a "fictional" Annie and Alvy going through a fictionalized version of their final argument in L.A., which, of course, we have just seen. Except, in this one, "Alvy" convinces "Annie" to go back to New York with him. Alvy has written a play about his life, but he has taken a certain poetic license with the ending and, in so doing, he has come to terms with the end of the relationship.

When Annie and Alvy meet up again, bumping into each other by chance outside of a movie theater - Annie has, at this point, moved back to Manhattan - all of the old vitriol that had been poisoning their relationship is now gone. Admittedly, the love between them is also gone, but what remains is a sincere affection and a deep well of shared fond memories, which we then see as they meet up for lunch, ostensibly for the last time. Like someone's life flashing before their eyes just before dying, the camera takes us back, showing us brief snapshots of Annie and Alvy's relationship - the lobster episode in the Hamptons, driving in Annie's car, the hilarious accident with the cocaine - as a reprise of Annie singing "Just Like Old Times" plays softly on the soundtrack.

There is something unquestionably sad about this montage - every remembered scene, after all, is a reminder that these are events of the past not to be repeated - but there is something optimistic about it as well. Even though I just a moment ago invoked the notion of death, this montage is not so much a eulogy as a tribute. When the camera returns us to the present, we see Annie and Alvy in a long shot, happily eating lunch together. Although they are now permanently broken up, as is represented visually by the distance between them and the camera, they can still come together to enjoy one another's company and the happy sense of nostalgia that comes with it, a point that is only reaffirmed by Alvy's now famous final monologue, which he delivers as they conclude their lunch and say goodbye on a street corner by Lincoln Center:

"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, 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."

Having seen Annie again, Alvy remembers all of the happy moments of their relationship, as the sad moments, while far from forgotten, fade a bit in his mind. The joke he tells as we cut away from his goodbye with Annie to a close-up of him talking to the camera, is essentially an existentialist philosophy of romance and dating. Like Sisyphus endlessly pushing a boulder up a hill only to have it roll back over him, Alvy will continue to engage in these "totally irrational and crazy and absurd" relationships and also like Sisyphus he will take joy in the process. Hopefully, however, unlike Sisyphus, he will one day find a love that will outlast the duration of a feature film and that will be his reward.


Blogger The Noon said...

So glad I found your blog via Technorati, I just finished watching "Annie Hall" for the first time & needed to reach out to others about it. I'm on your side of the analysis -- existential optimism @ the end. Annie's personality struck me, I doubt the relationship would have worked out anyway b/c she grew while Alvy seemed to stagnate. I wish Woody Allen would think of doing a remake!

July 28, 2005 12:28 AM  
Blogger A Sheltered Town said...

I heart Woody Allen with every shred of my existence.

July 28, 2005 10:04 PM  
Blogger A Sheltered Town said...

Oh, and by the way, Woody did do a remake. It's called "Anything Else". Although he hasn't said it's a remake, the similarities are pretty excessive. The same jokes, even. Both are amazing.

July 31, 2005 2:43 PM  

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