Film / Zelig

A 1983 Woody Allen film, Zelig is a mockumentary set during The Roaring '20s and into The Great Depression period, concerning Leonard Zelig (Allen), a "human chameleon"- a man who shapeshifts to fit in with those around him- and his encounters with the celebrities of the day. Zelig ultimately comes into contact with Dr. Eudora Nesbitt Fletcher (played by Mia Farrow) who tries to cure him of his uncontrollable shapeshifting. Throughout, commentary on Zelig's life is provided by well-known public intellectuals.

See also Been There, Shaped History, for which The Zelig is the alternate trope namer (and ur-example).

Not to be confused with the Italian comedy show, which has the same title.

Provides examples of:

  • Achievements in Ignorance: Any accomplishment Zelig makes when posing as someone else. More often than not he completely fails, because, well, he's pretending to be an expert. However, late in the film, he convinces himself he's a pilot and manages to fly across the Atlantic... upside down.
    Zelig: But I've never flown before in my life, and it shows exactly what you can do, if you're a total psychotic!
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Invoked with The Changing Man, as Woody Allen's character is played by handsome Garrett M. Brown, Mia Farrow's by Marianne Tatum.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The fictional Zelig biography The Changing Man.
  • All Psychology Is Freudian: Kind of mocked in that when first receiving treatment, Zelig takes on the persona of a psychiatrist and makes comments that echo a Theme Park Version of Freud.
  • Amnesiac Dissonance: Zelig is ultimately confronted with various victims of his shapeshifting- women he impregnated, a guy he performed surgery on, etc., none of which he remembers doing.
  • As Himself: Famous personalities comment on Zelig, such as Saul Bellow, Susan Sontag, and so on.
  • Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: The public in The Twenties and The Thirties... and now, according to the film.
  • Black Like Me: Zelig can alter his race.
  • Blank Slate: Zelig starts out as this, having no real personality of his own outside of the various identities he uncontrollably adopts (and has no memory of afterward)
  • The Cameo: Mae Questel singing "Chameleon Days" in her classic Betty Boop style.
  • Celebrity Paradox: The movie does a good job of justifying why its audience would never have heard of Zelig by treating him as one of many fads of the 1920s and 1930s, forgotten when the public discovered something new of interest.