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April 10, 2024

I Can’t Stop Thinking About ‘Annie Hall’ (Please Someone Help Me) 

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Each time I used to listen to “ICU” by Phoebe Bridgers, I’d inevitably bring it up to her. She’d respond, “I love that song” or something of that sort, and give the same fun fact: It’s about Phoebe’s drummer, and after the lyric “I can’t even get you to play the drums,” the drums cut out for the rest of the song. It’s a good fact — good enough to justify humoring a couple times — except that I don’t think it’s right. The drums are back by the next verse, aren’t they? I always remembered the end of Annie Hall as more debilitating than reality; they split off for good, and he only saw her once more after that. When I rewatched it, I realized that maybe I was wrong: maybe when they ran into one another in the last scene that was the two returning to each other’s lives, not simply a one off reencounter. Maybe it was the real-life start of the friendship that would become Annie Hall.

Phoebe Bridgers and Annie Hall (with their little meta-textual trivia bits) occupy a bizarre place in my mind: vestiges of that last relationship not fully unlocked for me until it was over. I was never the one thinking about either of them and yet now, I have trouble avoiding thoughts of both. Particularly, for better or worse, sitting at the epicenter of my cinephile brain, infecting my every thought, analogue to every social situation, inextricable from my very existence sits Annie Hall. 

Her dad first invited the comparison: “He’s Jewish and they call him Max and you’re Christian and from middle America [or southern America or the Heartland or something or other].” But don’t let that mean it’ll have to end as it did. In tragedy and toxicity, I’d reply with a half-anxious smirk. When you’re happily taken it’s a horror movie, a warning that others before you also thought they’d last forever. “Let’s never break up again.” And, now fully in the throes of self-fulfilling prophecy, I must admit that the discomfort has begun to creep into extremity as I confront my shared experience with a truly terrible person. Granted, I’m hardly an Allen apologist, either in his grotesque personal life or his, frankly, middling filmography, but the specific lightning rod of energy Annie Hall infuses in me… I can’t seem to escape. 

It’s impossible. The film is devastatingly funny, and unfortunately devastating. Allen manages to write in this perfectly narcissistic level of self-deprecation that rings false in just the right way; his asides give the whole thing a legitimate sense of formal invention; and at the core, that relationship between Annie and Alvy is real, too real. Allen depicts not just the minute details of a relationship coming together and crumbling under the pressure, but also that non-navigable stream of thoughts and memories that follows. “Annie and I broke up — I still can’t get my mind around that.” And you’re just left with an incomplete picture of happy and sad moments, inaccurate, probably both overly romantic and excessively bitter, but it’s all you have and all you’ll ever get. Eat up your memory slop, little boy. Be grateful. Even Allen, with all his self-loathing, allows himself that much. 

I’m constantly thinking of the jokes, the McCluhen cameo, the little moments more than anything else. But I know it’s all window dressing next to that elephant in the room: the ending, a breakup, misremembered by me. It’s been pounding in my brain, unbearable and inexpressible, all day, every day for months. Allen goes too far. He writes his own character into the production of a wish fulfillment fantasy (an autobiographical play). It’s a real bitter joke: Happy endings only exist in the minds and art of neurotic Brooklynite Jews. That’s why I misremembered it; Allen’s third act is so miserable I can’t even think of the sugar coating. Yet, there is something happy there in the end. In fact, he ends up leaving the film on an ambiguous note; a run in at the movies turned into a rehash of old times. 

Cause Annie Hall is also a fantasy of mutuality for the newly single. It’s not simply the catharsis of seeing one’s own experiences reflected in decades-old celluloid, but also the evidence supporting the belief that dissolution can be something wonderful. Few relationships amount to an Annie Hall caliber accomplishment: The great work of Diane Keaton and Woody Allen emerging not while the two were together, but once (and because) they had separated. They overcame that insurmountable hurdle — friendship — and then went on to creatively reckon with the end together to brilliant effect. The drums do not cut out; even if they do, the fact that they were there in the first place (that Phoebe and her drummer are making the twisted joke) necessarily forces us to hope. I can’t help but seek solace in these parasocial case studies with their glimmers of optimism and barriers to forward momentum. 

That’s why — in a fleeting moment of certifiable insanity — I considered inviting her for an interview for this review (my review) of the film — a gimmicky metatextual framing device without feasible execution. The thought passed (I wonder what she would have said; how could you even respond), but the promise of creative fruition, a promise which motivates me writing this now, persists. Unable to make sense of anything, simply stuck wrestling with that headache of memories, I must and do force myself to believe in Annie Hall. That is, Annie Hall, the hope and need to make something of personal devastation, to one day share that process of tragi-creation with someone else, a co-conspirator in trauma. Her, or perhaps a fellow dumpee, maybe it’s about someone or something different entirely. It’s a yearning for creativity and collaboration absent any hope for those other kindled yearnings. 

And they get to be friends: after all that, they are both on the inside of the sick, bitter concluding joke.

Max Fattal is a third year in the School of Industrial Labour Relations. They can be reached at [email protected]