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Film Circle: Annie Hall (1977)

Annie Hall, 1977
Annie Hall, 1977
Public Domain

The 1977 film Annie Hall was directed and co-written by Woody Allen, who played the main character, Alvy Singer. Singer, a comedian, takes us through an episodic retelling of a relationship that came with instructions for disassembly. With the main character acting as the narrator, Allen breaches the fourth wall from the opening lines in the film, drawing the audience into the story, and creating a conversational tone that otherwise seems absent from film.

“I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.” Annie Hall is primarily a romantic film, but one belonging more to the existentialists than the romantics. A realist, obsessed with death and its importance in life is briefly matched with an idealist woman who is determined to squeeze every drop out of life. Allen’s constant allusions to philosophers beg a deeper look at the meaning of the film, and the two main characters can thusly be viewed as archetypes for prevailing ideals of the existential philosophy. Alvy Singer is the realist, addicted to death, devoid of hope and ever analytical and critical of the world around him, including both himself and his love interest. Annie Hall is the idealist, attached to life and determined to experience anything that comes her way, logic be damned. Their relationship is the existential philosopher’s attempt to meld both ideals into a single life; impossible, but desirable.

At the end of the film, after multiple attempts at making the relationship work, Alvy meets Annie for lunch, and for the last time. It is here that he realizes that absurd and irrational, but we still need to pursue and experience them. We need to believe that they are something that they can never be. Albert Camus said, “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.” For the existential man, life is absurd, and to seek out rational explanations for reality is to live in ignorance; to live irrationally is to be a fool. The dichotomy of absurd philosophy is oxymoronic, much like Singer and Hall’s relationship, and like the film suggests, is an impossibility. Existentialists hold that it is the search that holds value, not the thing searched for. “The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.” – The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus

As a film, Annie Hall was ahead of its time. The introduction of multiple mediums, like the cartoon presentation of a dilemma, propelled film to a new and unexplored plane of development. Woody Allen’s use of direct conversation with the audience created a memorable experience that, coupled with intelligent dialogue, asks the audience to make a decision. This move from film that serves primarily as visual and aural entertainment, though Allen was not the first to present philosophical questions upon the screen, opens more possibilities in film-making, taking the value of the screen and its societal application even further.

“Well, I guess that's pretty much 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, uh, most of us... need the eggs.”- Woody Allen in Annie Hall