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Film / Manhattan

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"And now look. This is what happens to us."

"An idea for a short story about people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these real, unnecessary, neurotic problems for themselves because it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about the universe."
Ike, speaking into his tape recorder

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, who even asked United Artists not to release it.

The plot revolves around a group 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 (Academy Award nominated 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 (Diane 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.

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 fluid, 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.

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. Isaac is a television writer, something Allen started out as.
  • 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."
  • Betty and Veronica: Yale (Archie) has to choose between his wife Emily (Betty), who is reliable and would like to have children with him, and Mary (Veronica), his secret lover, who is self-contradictory: Mary tells him that she deserves better than a married man like him, but when he proposes to break up with Emily, she answers that she does not want him to divorce because of her.
  • Betty and Veronica Switch: Ike (Archie) has to chose between Tracy and Mary. At first, Tracy seems to be the Veronica. She is only 17 and Ike thinks that she is just a kid and that she will dump him as soon as she meets a boy of her age. Mary seems to be a safer choice, because she is older. Actually, just after starting a relationship with Ike, Mary meets Yale again in secret and soon she dumps Ike to get back with Yale. Ike realizes that Tracy really loved him, so he tries to convince her to resume their relationship. Tracy tells him that she hasn't had a new boyfriend in the meanwhile, that she has to go to London for 6 months, but that she will remain faithful to him, so they can resume their relationship when she comes back.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Mary breaks up with Isaac to return to Yale, despite her saying she didn't want to be a mistress and that she thinks he's a manchild, and the men's friendship is over. Isaac realizes Tracy is his true love, and though he's able to reconcile with her, she's still leaving for London for six months; however, she admits she hasn't had another boyfriend and assures him she'll be faithful to him, and he smiles dubiously at Tracy when she says, "Not everyone gets corrupted".
  • Book Ends: The film begins with a shot of the sunrise over Manhattan, and ends with the sunset, both accompanied by different movements from Rhapsody in Blue.
  • Bookworm: Ike, Yale and Mary are all serious readers and get into debates over the worthiness of authors.
  • 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".
    • Bella Abzug appeared as herself at a real function that was shot by the film.
  • 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.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Played with. Mary decides to go with Yale anyway, while Isaac is convinced that Tracy will forget all about him after her trip.
  • 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 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.
  • Homage: The final shot is a reference to City Lights, except instead of a hopeful smile, it's a doubtful one.
  • Incompatible Orientation: Jill towards Isaac. (However, it is suggested that it may also be a case of bisexuality in connection with Sorry, I'm Gay.)
  • Jailbait Taboo: Ike (42) is in a relationship with Tracy who is only 17. At some point, he says that he really enjoys this relationship as long as the cops do not show up. The film was rated R precisely for this reason; even with the (admittedly few) F bombs sprinkled in the dialogue, this might have been rated PG if not for this trope being a key plot element.
  • 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".
    • Despite being a nervous, rather average-looking wreck, Isaac has affairs with multiple attractive women, and even his lesbian ex-wife is beautiful.
  • 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.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Ike is divorced from Jill, who dumped him to get into a relationship with Connie. Ike is in a relationship with Tracy. Yale is married with Emily, but cheat on her with Mary. Mary and Ike develop a relationship. After Yale breaks up with Emily, Ike dumps Tracy to start a relationship with Mary. Mary breaks up with him to get back with Yale. Ike finally realizes he loves Tracy and proposes her to resume their relationship.
  • Love Epiphany: Ike realizes that Tracy is the one for him when, on the list of things that make life worth living, "Tracy's face" comes up.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Whereas Tracy likes to comfort Ike and make him feel relaxed, Mary likes to drag him out and show him around, such as pressing him to take a walk with her because the weather is nice, only for it to start thunderstorming immediately.
  • May–December Romance: Ike (42) and Tracy (17).
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: Ike tells Mary that "trouble is my middle name."
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Ike is a writer for television, but he would like to start writing novels. His friend Yale is also a writer. Mary is a journalist. Jill is writing a book about her divorce from Ike.
  • My Beloved Smother: Jill comments that being raised by two mothers won't hurt Ike's son. Ike replies most people can't survive having one mother.
    • Isaac also wrote a book about his mother called The Castrating Zionist.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Isaac, after his break-up with Tracy.
  • North American Stereotype: According to Mary, no one from Philadelphia is an atheist or cheats on their spouse.
  • Nervous Wreck: Ike, in a way typical for Allen's protagonists. After he quits his job, he descends into an anxious worry about, among other things, the fact that his father won't be able to get a good seat at the synagogue.
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: Ike trying to run over Jill's lesbian lover with his car, as well as Jill's eventually tell-all book.
  • 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/jogs across Manhattan to try and speak to Tracy before she leaves for Europe. He's shown trying to call her from a pay phone, and on occasion bending over, winded. He catches her about to leave, waiting for a taxi in her building lobby with all of her luggage.
  • Real Person Cameo: Bella Abzug appears in the film at a real-life fundraiser.
  • 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.'"
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Jill's book is one long speech against Isaac.
  • Romantic Comedy: Of Allenish variety, with a bunch of free-spirited, neurotic intellectuals intermixing.
  • Scenery Porn: In spite — or because — of the black'n'white vision. The title says it all.
    • Gordon Willis' cinematography for this film is considered one of his best efforts.note 
  • Shout-Out: Quite a lot, especially in the first conversation between Ike and Mary, where Mary references a slew of artists such as Heinrich Boll and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
  • The Shrink: Mary calls hers Donny.
  • Slice of Life: It's a small, intimate portrait of the interpersonal lives of a few people in New York.
  • 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.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Isaac invokes the trope, calling Mary "pithy and degenerate".
  • Strange Minds Think Alike: Ike and Mary start to bond because they're both neurotics seeing psychoanalysts who have a lot to say about life and art.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Mary explains that Jeremiah was her teacher. She had bad grades even if she was in relationship with him.
  • 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).
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Most of the main cast, a group of neurotic, abrasive intellectuals who hold very high opinions of themselves, even in moments of self-deprecation.
  • Visit by Divorced Dad: Ike and Willie spend a pleasant afternoon together, where Willie humorously tries to get the (now-unemployed) Ike to buy him a big model ship.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Tracy believes people can't be corrupted easily, and that young love can last forever. The older Isaac dismisses a lot of her idealism, saying she'll change as she gets older.
  • Writer's Block: The movie begins with a mild case of this, with Ike unable to get moving on his book.