Dating back to 1979, ‘Manhattan’ is decorated with numerous stars we love today, including Woody Allen, Michael Murphy, Diane Keaton, and Meryl Streep. While at first it appears to be your typical romantic comedy, the ending leaves you surprised and there are several aspects of the film that make you stop and think. Why is a movie set in modern times portrayed in black and white? What is the effect of jazz and classical music when the characters seem so contemporary? Why isn’t Tracy 18 instead of 17 so her relationship with 44 year old Isaac could be legal? This movie is almost like a poem- you can get the general message in one viewing, but you really have to think it over to fully understand its significance.
Played by Woody Allen, Isaac is the central character of ‘Manhattan’. Isaac is a writer reaching his mid-life crisis and (as typical for most mid-life crises) is unhappy about his job and his lack of a love life after a divorce. But his problems are not easily solved as he finds his attractions pulled between 17 year old Tracy, and Mary (Keaton), the mistress of his best friend Yale (Murphy).
The modernity of the movie becomes more and more evident as the story progresses. Viewers learn that Isaac’s wife Jill (Streep) left him for a woman, and Yale seems to have no objections to Isaac dating someone less than half his age. These unexpected plot points make ‘Manhattan’ seem more relatable to the real world and less like a fantasy that will lead to a perfect ending. Allen brings into perspective that while unconventional things happen in real life, we are all still searching for the same thing: affection from others.
Isaac is a bit of an anti-hero as his relationship with Tracy can potentially be considered alarming. But his unending humor and sense of sincerity make him much more likeable as a character. Each of the women in his life brings out a different side of Isaac, and as his character develops, so does the viewer’s desire for him to succeed.
Allen leaves the film open ended and allows the viewers to decide what they think will happen to Isaac. Will he find the happiness he is looking for? Or is he still looking in the wrong place?