Things fall apart
in our house,
as if jarred by the whim
of invisible ravagers:
not your hand
or the girls
– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda
I recently watched Annie Hall in my film class; it is easy to simply enjoy the angst ridden humor, but, there is an expectation in some scholastic environments that one think a little more deeply every now and then. And Allen does provide a lot of fodder, particularly for those of us living in the second half of our lives.
In the film, Allen uses the concepts and ideas of psychology both visually and within the context of the story. His characters freely go in and out of their bodies and over time to comment on past influential events or to simply suggest the distance that is felt between our bodies and ourselves.
His love of New York City is always highlighted in his films and he has, of course, some beautiful shots that emphasize the drama and energy of New York. I love his use of very long shots where the characters are heard having an intense conversation but only slowly come into view walking to us, it naturalizes the “medium” as it were, and if we take (at the dire risk of pontificating) Allen’s funny exchange over Marshall McLuhan in the theater waiting to see The Sorrow and the Pity, the medium really is the message. Films, like novels, as John Crowley once said to me, must always end in a way that life does not- there is a very unnatural summing up that real life does not offer to the living. But the fakery of cinema becomes the message- that unsettling feeling of being a character in our own inescapable film. Who is this difficult person inside our bodies?
Yes, the body. Allen’s unembarrassed attention paid to his sexual life is refreshing, the woman in me must assess him sexually, he asks for it -even if the assessment does not necessarily compliment- there it is. He draws it out and it must stand. In a way, it is exactly the point. Why? Why is Alvy sexually vacant with his first wife, who was, in his opinion, perfectly lovely? Why is it so much more complete and satisfying with Annie? That is an unanswerable question that many of us struggle with at one time or another. Why this person, and not that person? Allen confronts this essential aspect of romantic love, albeit from a very analytical angle.
D.H. Lawrence, of course, wrote a lot about physical intimacy and its importance to our feeling of being deeply connected to another person. For Lawrence, it is vital that humans allow themselves to really feel. Sex, being…well, physical, was his method of discussing the larger themes of life, meaning and connection in our bodies, where, it shouldn’t be denied, each of us dwells. Allen does this as well, (this theme comes up again and again in his films) he is without question, funnier, but, he is not quite as convincing because he is such a pain in the ass. However, he is asking the questions – why does it matter? Why can’t we control the “yes” switch as it were? Turning it on or off at will would make it all so much easier.
And finally why? Why do things fall apart? Is it just the law of entropy? The centre cannot hold. Allen cannot answer the questions, he can only offer a lame joke with an earnest punch line: We may only believe ourselves to be chickens (or in love) but don’t tell us we’re not – we need the eggs. And we need each other.
on the glasses and powders, wearing us threadbare,
smashing to smithereens,
whatever is left of its passing abides
like a ship or a reef in the ocean,
and perishes there
in the circle of breakable hazard
ringed by the pitiless menace of waters.
– from Things Breaking, Pablo Neruda