Playing on Our Experiences
In the classic Woody Allen films Annie Hall and Sleeper, Allen played an eccentric, inadequate man, a character type who frequently appears in his films. If it’s Alvy, who doesn’t want to mingle outside his own world and help Annie grow, subsequently losing her, or Miles, who bumbles around two hundred years in the future, there remains one constant in Allen’s comedies: it’s awkward. This awkwardness
This awkwardness BLANKS. It allows viewers to see themselves within Allen’s characters
Allen relies on this type of humor throughout his films to help the audience relate and draw them in. Viewers can see themselves as Allen’s characters
The audience can see themselves within Allen’s characters and the comedy displayed in the films as a spoof on the everyday, an exaggeration of what many have experienced in their own lives. This is where Allen’s true comedic genius lies, giving the audience, while viewing from the safety of a couch, the ability to consume uncomfortable situations that they may have been in themselves, therefore giving the films relatability.
Relationships are the key factor in this ability to relate and the main focuses in these two films. Alvy’s relationship with Annie begins a frenetic car drive and blossoms over wine on a balcony. From there, their relationship was far from stable, as they break up several times, hold resentment towards each other and hold each other back, dooming their relationship. These themes, sadly, happen to most at least once in their lives. With enough distance from a dysfunctional, one might look back and laugh, however. Allen brings this idea to the forefront, showing the absurdities that transpire throughout Annie Hall. Thomas Schatz sums up this idea in “Annie Hall and Issue of Modernism” with, “Thus, Allen’s self-conscious persona, like the narrative extension of his character, is victim of a tendency toward overdetermination of meaning–or in modernist terms ‘the tyranny of the signified’–and his involvement with Annie can be viewed as an attempt to establish a spontaneous, intellectually unencumbered relationship, an attempt which is doomed to failure.” (Schatz 186) The relationship between Miles and Luna in Sleeper fleshes out this point even more. The two are adversaries to begin the film, but in the end, Miles falls in love Luna after she joins the rebels to take down the government. Still, even though we are not given a clear resolution at the end of the film if she loves him back, the two bicker like an old married couple. This relationship between these two characters is the core element in the film. In this future, everyone is “frigid” and love seems to be a thing of the past. But the humanism–something each of us can relate to–of Miles helps sway Luna back to this idea of love, an idea that all humans alike share in form or another. This idea is developed in Maurice Yacowar piece “The Comic Art of Sleeper”.
Miles prefers human imperfection to the nonhuman efficiency perfected by Luna’s society, where they ‘don’t have any problems. Everybody’s frigid.'” Yacowar continues with, “Sleeper warns against the loss of human personality, individuality, and vulnerability, by positing an age of imposed equality, technological dominance, and the replacement of human responsibility with the debasing efficiency of the machine.” (Yacowar 153)
Allen also uses comedy to play on the basic human need to belong in these two films to connect the audience to relatable experiences they may have had in their own lives. In Sleeper, Miles is trying to figure out where he belongs in the new world he awakes to. As a fish out of water, he isn’t sure if he should help the rebels or if he should turn himself into the government. These choices represent the basic human choice of right or wrong. It shows that when one aligns him or herself with a certain belief they are also choosing the group or the placement they belong to in life. This absurdity is displayed in the film when Miles is forced to pretend to be a robot butler after siding with the rebels, forcing to hide from an imminent brainwashing which would erase he wants to be and where he wants to belong.
Relatable experiences seem to be the key to Allen’s comedy structure to help bring the audience in. The viewer can see him or herself in the characters in the films, giving them a chance to live out or re-live experience that are exaggerated to the point of absurdity.
Perhaps one reason audiences enjoy Allen is because they can relate to the messiness of his films. Unlike the standard romantic comedy, Allen’s stories often have ambiguous, “minor key” endings, which don’t hold to the norm of comic reconcilements, balance, or clarification. A example of this is Play It Again Sam, in which _____. Also, in Annie Hall, _________. Endings of Allen’s films parody the concept of reconciliation itself. These rebellions against the predictable outcome of a hundred other romantic comedies may not offer the tidy package with all the strings in a bow that audiences have come to expect. However, the audience’s own lives are unlikely to mirror such sterile perfection, and Allen’s films are there to give them something more: a story with which they can related,and feel may actually happen.
Often, a character in Allen’s films may undergo an event which should seem like a turning point, but comes out the other side seemingly unchanged. At the very least, the transformative turn the event would have triggered in a traditional romantic comedy is brushed aside in favor of a more realistic outcome. How many times have we sat in a theater and rolled our eyes at an all-too-convenient plot device that would never happen in the real world? Allen gives his filmgoers the opposite, offering a false regeneration. Problems are not always solved by some grandiose act, much like in real life. The audience can sense this genuineness.
Woody Allen’s films may ask more of the viewer, but the viewer is in turn rewarded with an insight that would be hard to find if the plot was _____. At times, the audience is asked to consider ________ behavior as an outcome. The viewers may not engage in the behavior, but can relate to some echo of the story in their own lives. We all have quirks we that society might find strange or unacceptable, but at the end of the day it is part of who we are. For Allen, assimilation is seen as an ultimage interchangeability of conformity and individualsim.
Some films take this notion even further. Not only does Allen ask us to embrace his characters’ eccentricities, he offers them up as a resolution for his films. Allen is posing the argument that it is morally advantageous to accept the oddities within ourselves than to fundamentally change, and truth is discovered once we can do so. According to ___________, Thus, the transvestite Sam and his forgiving wife are morally superior to the wealthy, supercilious suburbanites they visit. And the rabbi’s fetishism is certainly more honest than the sneering voyeurism of the game show that indicts itself through the use of look-alike actors who impersonate television personalities. Society is bananas. Oftentimes, the very root of the theme is that individuality cannot be simmered away and reduced, and assimilation remains ultimately a lie. This is an idea that viewers can connect to their own lives and grow in their own individuality.
Schatz, Thomas. “Annie Hall and the Issue of Modernism.” (n.d.): 180-87. Print.
Yacowar, Maurice. “Sleeper (1973).” Loser Take All: The Comic Art of Woody Allen. New York: Ungar, 1979. 152-58. Print.