Hannah and Her Sisters, Directed by Woody Allen
Orion Pictures, February 7, 1986 (US)
Screenplay: Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Michael Caine, Mia Farrow, Carrie Fisher, Barbara Hershey, Max von Sydow, and Dianne Wiest
God, the movie’s beautiful. . . .
God, the movie’s beautiful. It’s remarkably vibrant and alive. It looks stunning, showcasing Manhattan and the idiosyncrasies of the people emphatically calling her constructive charms home. From stacked commercial towers to individual compulsions stowed in every Upper West Side brownstone, marvels flourish. I just so easily become immersed in the film’s comedic and dramatic grace, wishing scenes would never end. When the screen fades to final black, I sigh, relishing life’s unpredictable journey, invigorated for days. And I desperately yearn to claim the cinematic brio a unique find, a treasure all my own.
Stop, you dopey fool! People already know about the picture. Woody’s an American icon. I was late to catch on. I mean, our sensibilities never connected deeply, until this offering roused impassioned appreciation. The director had legions of admirers by the time I turned around. I should just simmer down. But I cannot control my emotions. It, this darn movie, consumes me. Over twenty years have passed, since first viewing Hannah, and I still think about it … sometimes at the gym.
Oh, what am I gonna do? I hear myself mooning now, and I am disgusted. I act like some childish Star Wars fanboy. A dignified adult male does not look good losing his cool and swooning, especially when others were wed to Woody and his films, a half dozen movies or so before I had something to say.
The hypochondriac and neurotic one.
Like an expansive novel, fleshed-out characters populate the story from start to finish. Identification along the way is a chief source of pleasure. One sister is the nurturing, self-sufficient and successful sibling. The other is a recovering alcoholic in an imbalanced relationship yet always the object of desire. The third is the single arty free-spirit known to fall into debt chasing impulsive creative endeavors … like her on-again, off-again cocaine habit. The women celebrate Thanksgivings among family, granting acquaintance with their boozy showbiz parents whose conversations are intoxicated by theatrical flair. Additional characters and ideas are introduced—just as organic, charismatic, and sincere—throughout titled vignettes. I am instinctively drawn to the hypochondriac.
Doctor Abel (Ira Wheeler): You’ve had some dizzy spells. What about ringing and buzzing? Have you, uh, noticed any of that?
Mickey Sachs (Woody Allen): Yes. Now-now that you mention it, uh, I-I-I have, uh, buzzing and also ringing. Ringing and buzzing. I, uh, am I going deaf or something?
Doctor: And it’s just in one ear?
Mickey: Yes. Is it-is it, uh, healthier to have ringing in both ears?
And neurotic one.
Mickey: This morning, I was so happy, you know. Now, I-I don’t know what went wrong.
Gail (Julie Kavner): Eh, you were miserable this morning! We got bad reviews, terrible ratings, the sponsors are furious. . . .
Mickey: No, I was happy, but I just didn’t realize I was happy.
I’d delve into more detail, except I’m having a bad day. Gotta rush out the door for a doctor’s appointment.
… nobody, not even the snow, has such tiny fingers.
Literary references are de rigueur in a Woody Allen picture. Language is celebrated. Perhaps that is a reason why his films eluded me so long. Audiences must be ready. At ten years old, Platonic theory and poetry references breeze over an adolescent’s head like ocean air in the Hamptons on a warm summer afternoon. Being old enough to better understand text at the time that Hannah was released, though, is not ample enough an explanation for why the film established itself as different. Better. The best. In short, the distinction is that Woody’s signature elements gelled into a newfound sense of maturity. I guess we grew simultaneously. Which oddly reminds me of the verse “nobody, not even the snow, has such tiny fingers.” I ponder the relevance of that peculiar quote and the purpose of mentioning it here.
THE MEANING OF LIFE. Isn’t it absurd to expect a concrete answer, if any at all? Nevertheless, educators administer exams to nervous students holding their sharpened No. 2s. SAT. ACT. A, B, C, D, or E—None of the above. Choose right, earn acceptance to Yale, secure a well-paying job, procreate, and pass along the riches. Choose wrong; the future ceases. Multiple-choice. Sure sounds hopeful, when applied to the dreams fluttering about youth: Councilors encourage kids crammed with facts and figures to cull destiny from a universe of infinite possibility. Seize unlimited choices. Reality harkens back to a lesson learned, though, while the impressionable clutch sticks of wood filled with graphite, taking standardized aptitude tests. Responses are absolute. There’s nothing multitudinous about which circle should be filled in, blackened into an abyss that excavates through paper into a lifetime of quizzical bliss. There is only one choice. The right one: the answer.
Glad we met.
Twenty-three years later.
Working out on a treadmill, I push to outpace the heart attack that is surely going to bury me in my grave. My legs run, and they run, pumping blood through my veins. Blood vessels are blasted clear of the blockage waiting to cause a stroke. I take greater strides. My Nikes blur into ghostly streaks of white, red and silver, floating above the whizzing belt below. An electronic panel calculates one mile and a quarter passed. One hundred twenty-two calories burned. Pulse appears strong, if the palm sensors are properly calibrated. Surely, they’re not. I peer out impervious windows on the world. A row of large flat screen TVs hang suspended from the ceiling, plotting the foreground for my marathon course away from brimming nervous energy. Vivid hues from the glass monitors reflect back and repaint everything around as a brilliant living diorama of what constitutes a day.
To the left, I pass the former Governor of New York, George Pataki, discussing, so much as closed-captioning can dictate, delays related to building a memorial at the World Trade Center site. Ellen interviews a demure Jennifer Aniston three panes to the left, when a flash of John Mayer in a Borat inspired neon full-body thong swimsuit causes Aniston to duck her face in blushing embarrassment. My headphones are tuned into the club’s internal music channel, playing the latest video from Ne-Yo. Overload threatens the path ahead, and I doubt whether or not I can remain on the machine much longer, failing to reach another preset goal. Plus, there’s the tumor taking over inside.
I catch my breath, whisk away beaded sweat on my arms with a grayed gym towel, which has also absorbed the clouded perspiration of my fellow members, and gaze toward the floor. A large octagonal red button below the LED stats monitoring my session beckons. “Stop.” Twenty-three years later, I question to where such punishing exertion leads. The pressure to choose a conclusive answer causes me to break a clipped trot and stumble. I recover, but the closest I come to a sense of reconciliation is to remember that maybe I am doing some good in an existence best examined far removed from the classroom chair where rewards correspond with the indisputable. I seek solace nearer the movie theatre seat, where Mickey Sachs imparts his wisdom.
Mickey: I know, I know “maybe” is a very slim reed to hang your whole life on, but that’s the best we have. And … then, I started to sit back, and I actually began to enjoy myself.