Film / Manhattan
"And now look. This is what happens to us."

"An idea for a short story about, um, people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these real, unnecessary, neurotic problems for themselves cos it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about... the universe."

One of Woody Allen's best-known films, the 1979 comedy-drama Manhattan is almost universally beloved by fans and critics and famously loathed by the director himself.

In many respects it resembles Annie Hall: not only because a female protagonist is played in both films by Diane Keaton but also because it shows that the most important problems associated with relationships simply cannot be solved once and for ever - all this in a typical Allenian sweet-and-sour, self-ironic mood. However, in Manhattan the distinction between primary and secondary characters is much more fluent, so the movie is more about the particular situations than persons. One of the important subjects explored is maturity and its relation to the conflict between emotions and reason; however, this being a Woody Allen movie, it is mainly about love, human imperfection and the difficulties which stem from them.

The plot revolves around a couple of intellectual, semi-bohemian friends living in Manhattan, every one of whom has his own problems, intertwining with those of the others. Isaac "Ike" Davis (Allen) is a neurotic, self-ironic, impulsive, middle-aged aspiring writer, whose wife Jill (Meryl Streep), the mother of his son Willie, divorced him after discovering that she's in fact a lesbian and now is writing an autobiographical novel about their former relationship. Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), his 17-year-old lover, has to deal with her growing love towards Ike and the age difference between her and the majority of Ike's friends. Ike's friend Yale (Michael Murphy) dreams of becoming a writer, even though his wife Emily (Anne Byrne) strongly suggests that it's time to settle down and have kids; his life changes even more when he meets Mary (Keaton), an extroverted, erudite journalist. Mary quickly becomes infatuated, but it is hard for her to say whether the object of her feelings is Ike or Yale. Also in the mix are Mary's ex-boyfriend Jeremiah (Wallace Shawn) and Jill's new partner Connie (Karen Ludwig). First, Hilarity Ensues, then, as usual in Allen's works, things become more complicated.

Noted as one of the first films to be released on home video in the Letterbox aspect ratio, paving the way for widescreen video releases, primarily on LaserDisc. The letterbox format was actually requested by Allen himself, wanting to preserve as much of Gordon Willis' cinematography as possible.

Not to be confused with the 2014 television series Manhattan.


  • Aspect Ratio: At Allen's request, this film was never edited to pan-and-scan for VHS release or television airings.
  • Author Avatar: As usual in Allen's movies.
  • Better as Friends: Ike and Jill. It even seems they knew it already during their relationship:
    "My analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful I got another analyst."
  • Bi the Way: Ike's former wife dumps him for a woman.
  • Big Applesauce: See the title. The opening monologue—set to Rhapsody in Blue and synced with a montage of New York City at its most beautiful—is routinely quoted by anyone in love with the place.
    Issac: Chapter One. He was as tough and romantic as the city he loved. Behind his black-rimmed glasses was the coiled sexual power of a jungle cat. Oh, I love this. New York was his town, and it always would be.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with a shot of the sunrise over Manhattan, and ends with the sunset.
  • Broken Bird: Subverted, as Tracy gets dumped by Ike, but gets over it, presumably becoming stronger and more mature.
  • The Cameo: Wallace Shawn as Mary's ex-boyfriend Jeremiah. She's spent all film hyping his intelligence and sexual prowess, and Ike is astonished to meet what he calls "a humunculous".
  • Central Theme: The Irony that the adults are immature, whining, and neurotic, while the teenager is mature, level-headed and secure.
  • The City: As the title shows.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Filmed in glorious black and white, a rarity by 1979.
  • Directed By Castmember: Typical of Allen, who also stars as Ike.
  • Dramatic Stutter: Happens to Ike.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: In a meta sense. Mia Farrow makes a cameo in the film, and for the next decade and a half, Farrow would replace Keaton in Allen's films.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: Isaac and Mary.
    "Facts. I got a million facts at my fingertips. They mean nothing cos nothing worth knowing is understood with the mind. Everything valuable enters through a different opening, if you'll forgive the disgusting imagery. (...) The brain is the most overrated organ."
  • Freud Was Right: Played with.
    "What kind of dog you got?"
    "The worst. It's a dachshund. You know, it's a penis substitute for me."
    "Oh, I would have thought then in your case it would be a Great Dane."
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Too many to count, but most notably Ike trying to run his wife's lover over with a car.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Jill towards Isaac. (However, it is suggested that it may also be a case of Bi the Way in connection with Sorry, I'm Gay.)
  • Jewish Complaining: According to Jill, Ike was prone to do that.
  • Jews Love to Argue: As shown by the debates between Ike and Yale.
  • Kavorka Man: Jeremiah is talked up by Mary as being "devastating" in bed and an overall sexual dynamo. Ike meets him, and is astonished it's Wallace Shawn. He calls him a "little homunculus".
  • Letterbox: Manhattan has never been seen in Pan and Scan, because Allen had it written in the contract that if shown on TV, the original aspect ratio must be used. Original TV airings had pink letterboxes due to technical reasons.
  • Long List: Ike's "Why Life Is Worth Living" speech to his tape recorder, including Louis Armstrong and deli dishes, and ending with Tracy's face.
  • The Power of Love: Played with, in the conversations between Ike and Tracy about Tracy's travel to London.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue is used brilliantly.
  • Race for Your Love: Isaac runs/jobs across Manhattan to try and speak to Tracy before she leaves for Europe.
  • Reasoning with God: Invoked by Isaac in his cool and unusual compliment of Tracy's looks:
    "You're... You're God's answer to Job. You would have ended all argument between them. He'd have said 'I do a lot of terrible things but I can also make one of these.' And Job would've said 'OK, you win.'"
  • Scenery Porn: In spite — or because — of the black'n'white vision. The title says it all.
  • Smoking Is Glamorous: While out having dinner with Tracy, Yale and Emily, Isaac puts a cigarette in his mouth and lights it.
    Isaac: Mmmm... oh, man, that is so great.
    Tracy: [scoffs] You don't smoke.
    Isaac: I know I don't smoke. I don't inhale, because it gives you cancer. But I look so incredibly handsome with a cigarette that I can't not hold one.
  • Technically a Smile: When Tracy tells Isaac that she'll be back from London in six months, and that she'll still love him when she returns ("Not everybody gets corrupted; you have to have a little faith in people"), Isaac returns a smile of encouragement—but it's obvious he doubts it and his heart is breaking.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Very fitting to the Freudian Trio pattern: with Tracy as a child (or the Ego, in the process of development), Emily as a wife (or the Superego, exhorting to emotional maturity), and Mary as a seductress (or the wild Id).
  • Triang Relations: Where to begin?...
    • Type 1: Ike (a), Tracy (b) and Mary (c).
    • Type 3: Mary (a), Ike (b) and Yale (c).
    • Type 7: for some time, Yale (a), Emily (b) and Mary (c).
    • Type 9: Mary (a), Yale (b) and Ike (c).
    • Type 10: Emily (a), Yale (b) and Mary (c).