Why do We Believe Alvy Singer?
September 25th 2008 @ 2:11 pm Uncategorized

As discussed in class today, Annie Hall is very much a subjective narrative mostly from Alvy Singer’s point of view. Putting aside to what extent this point of view reflects or does not reflect that of Woody Allen, the filmmaker, why do we as viewers put so much faith in the visuals of the film?

From the first cut to a childhood flashback, we are cued that Alvy is not a trustworthy narrational source. He thinks his childhood is happy, we see that he was depressed about the universe expanding. Paraphrasing Waylon’s comments in class today, Alvy “seeps” into the “real world” of Annie Hall when he consults the people walking on the street as to why they think he and Annie broke up. The so called ‘real world’ is not even entirely real. Alvy shows us a home directly underneath the roller coaster, and then admits to exaggerating on a regular basis. Quite clearly the whole film’s narration is signaled to be a fiction entirely influenced by Alvy’s neurotic consciousness. 

And yet, we believe what we see on screen. While watching the film, I never found myself questioning the “truthfulness” of the visuals. This is disconcerting. I see the apartment under the roller coaster, and I understand that Alvy really didn’t grow up there. And yet, I am just as sure that, in the storyworld, Alvy and Annie really did chase lobsters around the beach house kitchen.

Why? Why should I privilege some visuals and not others as the ‘real’ storyworld? Woody Allen has constructed a film where anything can be an exaggeration, a spin, or even an outright lie, and yet I trust that he relates the dialogue and action I watch correctly. Couldn’t the plot in Annie Hall have been a complete misrepresentation of a relationship to suit Alvy’s argument?

I don’t have an answer to these musings. And I don’t really think that the larger gag is that we’ve all been had by a clever subjective narrative trick. But it seems to point to a larger narrative issue. How (and why) do we, as viewers, decide which characters to trust? 

-Leslie Stonebraker
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