Woody Allen’s Manhattan is a dark mirror image of his Oscar-winning triumph Annie Hall. Both are romantic comedies set in New York and both feature Allen and Diane Keaton delivering hyper-literate and observational one-liners. Manhattan is filmed in black-and-white (unlike Annie Hall) and it suits the disparity between the two; Annie Hall is colourful, idiosyncratic while Manhattan is almost grim in its pragmatism. Neither film is a traditional, “happily-ever-after” romance, but where Annie Hall understands the lightness of being that love can inspire, Manhattan is deeply disillusioned about the notion of romance.
This isn’t to say that Manhattan doesn’t recognise the power of romance. The characters in this film – Allen’s semi-autobiographical character Isaac, his friend Yale (Michael Murphy), Yale’s mistress Mary (Keaton) and Isaac’s pubescent girlfriend Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) – all seem trapped in their relationships, for one reason or another, caged in benevolent prisons. Except that when these prisoners escape, they crave to return to the embrace of their cells; again and again, these characters return to relationships that they know are inherently flawed. Manhattan paints a pessimistic, potent portrayal of the challenges and complexities of romance; it understands that people crave companionship, even if it’s not exactly sure why.