Film / Zelig
A 1983 Woody Allen
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:
- Ear Worm: All the songs, but especially "Chameleon Days".
- Easily Forgiven: Played straight and averted with Zelig. Zelig goes from monster to hero to monster to hero as the public is portrayed as extremely fickle.
- Freudian Excuse: Invoked when Zelig claims Freud rejected his idea of expanding penis envy to men as well.
- Gold Digger: Strongly hinted of Leta Fox. Outright invoked by his half-sister and her lover.
- Hilariously Abusive Childhood: As recounted by Zelig under hypnosis, "My brother beat me. My sister beat my brother. My father beat my sister and my brother and me. My mother beat my father and my sister and me and my brother. The neighbors beat our family. The people down the block beat the neighbors and our family."
- I Have This Friend...: When Dr. Fletcher starts out trying to treat Zelig, he is unresponsive and takes on the persona of a psychiatrist. So, she pretends to be a patient asking about a problem of a "friend"- while she "admits" that she is describing herself, she's actually describing Zelig's own problems, which unsettle him enough to break down his persona.
- Innocently Insensitive: Well, Zelig is hypnotized into being Brutally Honest. He goes on and on about Eudora being a Lethal Chef with pancakes.
- Irony: Zelig died before he could finish reading Moby-Dick.
- Kavorka Man: Zelig seduced numerous women.
- Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Pretty much, Zelig's character/Freudian Excuse is this trope taken Up to Eleven. Because of his desperate need to fit in, Zelig started out by pretending to have read Moby-Dick when he hadn't, and this spiraled into mirroring the professions and even appearances of those around him. Eudora notes than when Zelig was posing as a psychiatrist, he spouted nothing but nonsensical double talk that could fool a layman.
- Literary Agent Hypothesis: See Celebrity Paradox.
- Master of Disguise: Zelig is somewhere between this and Involuntary Shapeshifting...
- Mistaken for Special Guest: See The Zelig.
- Mockumentary: Probably Woody's most accurate, as it never breaks the illusion that it's a documentary.
- "Mister Sandman" Sequence: "Keep Your Sunny Side Up" montage. Played straight as it is a Hope Spot, "then the roof fell in."
- Retraux: Lots of (remarkably convincing) fake 1920s and '30s footage, made with actual equipment from the period.
- Running Gag: Moby-Dick
- Seemingly Profound Fool: Zelig is somewhere between this figure, and a Know-Nothing Know-It-All.
- Shiksa Goddess: Dr. Fletcher is fairly plain (well, Hollywood Homely), but this trope applies in that Zelig is Jewish (and lower class at that), while she is from a wealthy WASP background.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Kind of. While the Nazis are presented as a real threat, and ready to murder Zelig and Fletcher, the pair upset Adolf Hiter's plan to include a joke about Poland in his speech.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Zelig becomes one when he develops his own personality at first. Instead of being easily swayed, he's violently over-opinionated.
- The Zelig: Trope Namer, an alternate title for Been There, Shaped History.