After my series of posts lamenting the overdramatization of TV and movie dramas that misrepresent regular life (part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) and after loving Woody Allen movies for decades, I watched Hannah and Her Sisters for the first time. The movie reminded me what art can express when you aren’t trying to make everything jump off the screen. I can see why Roger Ebert called it Allen’s best movie. I don’t know how I didn’t see it for almost thirty years.
Like Harvey Pekar says, “ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” When you get that, dramatizing it detracts from what I consider the main point of art—to illuminate your understanding of life, nature, yourself, and important things like them.
One of Hannah and Her Sisters’ most important scenes is when the sisters have lunch. One can’t put her life together, another is sleeping with her sister’s husband, the other is emotionally reserved to a fault. We know people like them. We have experienced situations like this.
Maybe the sleeping-with-the-sister affair is rare, but we know of people cheating on spouses. Compare that with Crimson Tide or Ransom (in this post). You don’t need submarine officers deciding whether to blow up the world or a rich father threatening kidnappers who could kill his son to make a story compelling. If fact, they make it forgettable.
This scene of Allen’s character’s fears of terminal disease are based on diseases you and I might have illustrating reactions we might have. At a stretch you could say it has a special effect, more of a directorial misdirection, but you immediately realize the artistic statement behind it and understand.
The scene below shows Michael Caine’s character going all out of his way to “bump into” the woman he’s infatuated with. Every guy I know of identifies with something similar. I’m sure most women do too. And the awkwardness of the bookstore date leading to the tenderness of connecting on something special like a poem illustrates how relationships evolve.
Compare how the above scene illustrates a relationship’s evolution with the Revenge of the Nerds clichéd, dramatic, authoritarian change (in this link) or how the woman dominates the man in Zero Dark Thirty (in this link). They’re dramatic but overdone, at least in my opinion. My problem is that they present themselves as realistic.
The scene below stretches belief as much as any, but many of us have known a case of suicide. It relates to ordinary life. And who hasn’t had something fit. For Allen’s character, and Allen himself, movies make sense as something to reaffirm life’s value.
Movies like this tell us about ourselves. We learn and grow, not just get shocked. Learning about people, relationships, and ourselves only make them learn more.
Besides, what do you do any different after seeing a movie about a guy who beats his son’s kidnappers or a submarine pilot who saves the world? Are you somehow better prepared for averting nuclear disaster? Because it doesn’t prepare you for regular life. While it entertains you in the moment, I don’t see it helping you improve your life after it ends. Hannah and her Sisters increases your sensitivity to the nuances of life and relationships. At least I felt it did with me.
Read my weekly newsletter
On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees