Woody Allen begs us to identify the characters he plays in films such as Manhattan and Annie Hall with himself. The characters have relationships with actresses that Allen has had relationships with in real life (Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton), they express admiration for things Allen is known to love such as the films of Fellini and Bergman, and there are other striking relationship parallels such as in Manhattan, the 42 year old Isaac (played by Allen)'s relationship with 17 year old Jill (Mariel Hemingway) which seems to echo Allen's real-life relationship with 17 year old Stacey Nelkin.
WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS
Much is made of the age gap and illegality of the relationship in Manhattan. At one point it is explained in psychoanalytical terms as resulting from Isaac's ex-wife leaving him for another woman, making him look for a young girl rather than form a relationship with an adult equal.
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While this is an interesting motivation for many age gap relationships, I think there is a much simpler explanation for this one: the Isaac character is a control freak who bullies woman and can do it more easily with a young girl.
Isaac accuses the Diane Keaton character (Mary) of being too cerebral several times, before going on to list Flaubert's novel "Sentimental Education" as one of the reasons it's worth staying alive for. What a fucker.
When we make the connection from Isaac to Allen that we're begged to make, this film becomes a lot more interesting. Not on its own terms (adorable Isaac falls in love with one girl after another and just doesn't know what to do) but rather as an inadvertently revealing portrait of a psychopathic, abusing male, able to act with impunity by bending the laws of the land just enough that he can get away with his damaging and deviant behaviour. Nice guy. Of course, this is just a fictional character so it seems odd that Allen would flirt with the similarities between Isaac and himself.
Personal Score: 5/10
This is part of a series of film reviews where I give my comments on IMDB Top 250 films as a writer. The idea is that over time these posts will build into a wide-ranging writing resource.
For more details about the approach I've taken, including some important points about its strengths and weaknesses (I make no claims about my abilities as a film critic or even the accuracy of my comments... but I do stand by the value of a writer's notes on interesting films), see my introductory post here.