Sunday, August 16, 2009

Annie Hall (1977 - dir. Woody Allen)

It's difficult for me to express how much I love this movie. While I haven't kept count, I'm sure I've watched it more than any other film in my life. It just seems so true. While Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors are arguably better films...I still return to Annie Hall. So, what does evolutionary psychology offer us in attempting to understand the preciousness of these films? Leaving aside the question of why people find certain things humorous (something I may pick up on in a future post), I think that Annie Hall (and the other films) are exemplary in their portrayal of how so much of life rides (frequently unconsciously) on the psychology of mating and reproductive fitness. I know, I know....that sounds so reductionist and utterly unfunny. But, let me explain...

If gravity didn't exist, falling on a banana peel would be utterly unfunny. Gravity is the ultimate explanation for the phenomenon...the proximate explanation being the person who falls and how this strikes us as funny. These are two very different, yet, related, perspectives. When the ultimate is made explicit, as if it was a proximate description, the result is often humorous. Evolutionary psychological explanations of human behavior are usually of the ultimate variety (sometimes called "distal"). Consequently, they often sound alien and somewhat removed from our experience. But, that is the way they are by nature. The genius of these films is that (knowingly or not) they "ride" on these ways of knowing and, sometimes, even derive humor from making this explicit. Allen's films are "about" intersexual relationships (almost without exception) and, therefore, are "about" reproductive fitness, in the ultimate sense.

Two cases in point:

We need the eggs (Annie Hall)

We need some sperm (Hannah and Her Sisters)

Allen's genius at "riffing" on these basic themes is extraordinary. However, if human psychology wasn't as fixated as it is on "needing the eggs" or "needing the sperm"....well....the humor would be as superfluous as legs on a snake.


  1. I also love this film, though Broadway Danny Rose is my favorite, with Crimes and Misdemeanors a close second. There is something so gut-wretchingly close to "true life" in Annie Hall that it becomes, as I believe you explain, something we are able to laugh at it, especially after numerous failed relationship experiences.
    Gravity can be a real bitch!
    I am really enjoying your blog.

  2. Thanks again, David....I appreciate your reactions. Spread the word if you know any cinema/psychology lovers out there!