Annie Hall revisited

I rewatched “Annie Hall” periodically. I think it’s one of those protean works that holds different meaning for you, depending on where you are in life. I first saw it when I was very young, and I remember thinking of it as a powerfully romantic experience.

Last night I saw it yet again, for the first time in a number of years. What struck me this time was how different it seemed. Yes, the lines are brilliant and witty, the timing of the humor spot-on, the cultural digs pitch-perfect and devastatingly on target, the romantic scenes by the river breathtakingly lovely to the point of being iconic.

Yet at its core, something seemed fundamentally different — the story of Annie Hall and Alvy Singer wasn’t really a romance. Yes, it had all the form of a romance, but this time I realized that both of the main characters are completely self-absorbed. Both have a romantic vision of the other, but each is trapped in their own narcissistic version of reality. This may not be exactly true of the character of Annie, since we are allowed to see her only through Alvy’s eyes. But it is certainly true of him.

I had thought, upon previous viewings, that the film was a rumination on how true love can fail to work out. But now I see it as a referendum on infatuation that mistakes itself for love — the kind of relationship in which one or more partners is unwilling to do the work of climbing out of their skin long enough to truly see the other.