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The award winning film Annie Hall depicts the comedic story of two very different lovers. Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen, who also directed the film, and Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton create an interesting dynamic through their superb acting skills. Throughout the film the two characters clearly have distinct differences that, in the end, result in an unsuccessful romantic relationship as both end up with new partners. These numerous personal differences that weigh heavily on the relationship of this couple are clearly evident and expanded upon in an important scene set in Annie Hall’s parent’s home where Annie, along with Alvy, joins her family for their customary Easter dinner.
The scene opens with an establishing shot allowing the viewer to understand the context in which this scene takes place as the action has moved to a different location from the prior scene. The shot shows a beautiful, traditional style home with a well manicured lawn and trimmed bushes. The scene progresses inside the home with a medium shot fixed on Alvy who is chewing a mouthful of food while visibly nervous. He is looking around the room uncomfortably and his body language, which includes fast movements with his arms and touching of the face, really gives the viewer a clear understanding that Alvy feels out of his element. The next few shots help reinforce this awkwardness and general “out-of-place” sense that Alvy is clearly feeling. We then see shot’s of Annie’s mother, Annie and her brother, Annie’s father, and Annie’s grandmother. In addition to this camera work, the shot’s lack of music further focuses the viewer on this uncomfortable, lingering silence. Annie’s mother finally breaks the silence with a rather dull comment complementing the grandmother on her cooking. The rest of the family reinforces these views through little interjected dialogue that Alvy unsurprisingly agrees with despite the fact the family is enjoying a ham dinner, something Alvy, who is of the Jewish faith, usually abstains from. The lack of substance in the conversation continues for a short time in the beautiful dining room of the home until we see Alvy visually transform into a Hasidic Jew in the eyes of his girlfriend’s now seemingly racist grandmother. This clever technique is not only funny but it sets up the rest of the scene which highlights a clear religious divide occurring between the Hall family and Alvy. The awkwardness is not arising from Alvy being nervous from the fact he is in his girlfriend’s home in an unfamiliar situation, but from clear fundamental differences between the Hall family and Alvy .
We are able to see this when Allen makes a brilliant directorial move by then inserting both an aside and a split screen shot down the middle portion of the screen through which these differences are more clearly explained. In the aside, Alvy looks into the camera and begins to explain how model of a family the Halls seem, noting that they look like typical Americans and that they all seem very healthy, unlike his family. Alvy also reinforces the unspoken sentiment in the previous shot of him as a Hasidic Jew when he describes the grandmother as a “typical Jew hater.” He goes on to explain how different Annie’s family is from his family describing them as distinct as “oil and water.” We then see, in the split-screen format, both families simultaneously with Alvy’s family taking up nearly three-fourths of the screen. Through the analysis of this shot it is clear how different these two families’ experiences are.
Annie’s family lives in the beautiful house with a finely decorated dining room. Their conversation although dull is rather polite and throughout the shots depicting the family, the room is well-lit and has a warm feeling to it. In contrast, the split screen shows us the Singer family in their home located under the Thunderbolt roller coaster on Coney Island, a far less desirable home than the more wealthy Halls. The four family members are sitting closely together in a distinctly darker, more mundane home. They are talking rapidly about someone who supposedly has diabetes in addition heart problems and does not have a steady job. The two contrasting locations then begin a dialogue. Annie’s mother asks the Singer family “How do you plan to celebrate the holidays?” to which they respond by fasting something the Hall family clearly doesn’t understand due to their inexperience with the Jewish faith. Overall, the Singers are far more negative than the Halls, which along with the other previously mentioned differences are subsequently reflected through the characters of Annie and Alvy throughout the rest of the film.
The Easter dinner scene is one of the most memorable scenes in the movie in terms of both entertainment and film theory. Its successful combination of realism, seen through setting of a typical family holiday dinner, and formalism, evident in the usage of the aside and split screen, help the viewer realize the fundamental differences that lay between the two main characters of the film. The two different religious backgrounds and income levels create a palpable tension between all present in the scene effectively demonstrating the distinct differences that strain the relationship of Annie Hall and Alvy Singer in Annie Hall.
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