“Manhattan”, or “Circus Mirror Fun” by Caitlin McGrane

Posted on March 22, 2013


It is a sad truth almost universally acknowledged that writers are neurotic. From Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw to Girls’ Hannah Horvath to Manhattan’s Isaac Davis (Woody Allen).

Isaac (Ike to his friends) is 42 and dating 17 year-old Tracy (Mariel Hemingway, granddaughter of Ernest). She’s kind, intelligent, sweet, and in High School. Isaac feels ancient with her, and despite her friendship with his friends Yale and Emily Pollack (Michael Murphy and Anne Byrne, respectively) he continues to be dismissive of her. Yale is having an affair with Mary (Diane Keaton), and Isaac’s ex-wife Jill (the magnificently languid Meryl Streep) is writing a book about their marriage. Isaac’s dissatisfaction with his television-writing job leads him to quit.


The poster for Manhattan.

Isaac’s perturbed by the perceived shortcomings in not only his own life, but his friends’ lives too. His relationship with Tracy bothers him because she’s young and he doesn’t think she understands life yet (au contraire); Yale’s affair with Mary bothers him because she’s an intellectual snob (possibly too good for Yale?); and his ex-wife’s book bothers him because she’s going to reveal intimate details about him (duh).

It is interesting to have watched Manhattan this week after the Girls season 2 finale. I read Jezebel’s article “In Defence of Hannah” regarding how possibly the problem with Hannah is that we see unlikeable parts of ourselves reflected in her. This sentiment is eerily similar to how I felt after Manhattan. I found Isaac detestable, Mary insufferable, and Tracy an accurate reflection of how falling in love with an older man can be heart-breaking. Watching this film was like looking into a circus mirror—the image was distorted with some parts of myself scarily big and others uncomfortably small.

Two of the greats of film, Woody Allen and Meryl Streep.

Isaac and Mary’s relationship is the kind that only two equally self-absorbed writers could have—according to film and TV. Yale and Mary’s affair is self-indulgent and smacks of narcissism. Isaac is egotistical in everything he does, even seeing his child seems like little more than an enjoyable chore that takes up a weekend here and there.

However, Isaac’s love affair with New York is the real story here. He is a man so absorbed in the city that he can’t see the wood for the trees. He can’t see all that he has around him, all the love and joy he has in his life. It all leads me to suspect that Allen’s intentions here are to remind us, as Ferris Bueller famously does, to stop and look around once in a while, for we might miss it all.

Caitlin McGrane is You’re Dripping Egg’s resident film critic. You can read her column, Here. Hare. Here., every Friday. 

What do you think of Woody Allen? We get it already New York City is great? To the comments!