Manhattan, the last of Woody Allen's movies to be made in the seventies, is probably my favorite. It is a gorgeous film to watch. I've probably seen that movie more often than any of his others. But when I watch it, some things bother me about the plot.
The first line of the movie is given by Allen's friend, Yale: "I think the essence of art is to produce a kind of working through-situation so that you can get in touch with feelings you didn't know you had."
What feelings does Woody Allen have? Is there any new ground being covered here?
The plot is basically that Woody Allen is dating a 17 year old girl for reasons unknown. He continually discourages her, which makes you wonder why he started seeing her in the first place. And then his friend introduces him to his mistress played by Diane Keaton. At first she seems to be annoying, snobbish and opinionated. Which makes her a perfect mate for Allen. They start seeing each other. And then things fall apart.
Allen breaks up with the seventeen year old but then Diane Keaton and Yale get back together and Allen regrets having left the seventeen year old and goes after her. I mean, it is really easy to write this off as neuroses. Allen has problems. He likes younger women. We'll see it over and over in the future, not only in his films but real life.
There is this wonderful scene towards the end where he is giving a list of all of the things that make life worth living. And this time around, when I watched it, I picked up on the opening phrase that got him talking about that stuff. He's recording himself, taking notes for a short story idea. And he says that it is about how people invent neuroses to keep themselves from facing life's larger problems. And maybe that is what Woody is doing. But if that is what he is doing, you'd think he'd be cured by now.
Another big scene of the movie takes place a little earlier where he confronts Yale. Yale is accusing Allen of being too perfect, like a saint. But Allen is saying that all he wants is to be thought well of. Which I don't get from him at all. I don't buy that he is a generally moral person and I don't beleive that he does either. He is a hedonist. He thinks with his body and whatever works, to borrow from a later film, he will do to give himself pleasure.
So, having said all of this, why do I like this movie? Or, to take the focus off myself, what is the redeeming quality? I don't know. It's more than just a beautiful film with a great soundtrack. It has something to do with the ending, probably. He's just realized he's ruined a perfectly good relationship and runs (literally) after Mariel Hemingway and when he sees her in the doorway, "She's Not For Me" by Gershwin starts playing. And it is so sad because Allen has started this pattern in his movies where he does not get the girl.
But, he's looking almost straight at the camera when Mariel gives the last line of the movie: "You have to have a little faith in people."