Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Annie Hall follows Alvy as he searches for the secret to successful relationships and ultimately concludes that love is fleeting and ridiculous but absolutely necessary. He begins his narrative wondering out loud what caused his split with Annie. He ends it resigned to the idea that relationships are absurd but that people need them, absurdity and all. In between, he desperately tries to pinpoint what went wrong. Was it that book he read at age nine? His aggressive mother? The cocaine fiasco? After coming up empty, he even asks anonymous pedestrians to identify the key to happiness in relationships. The answers, of course, are unsatisfactory and belie the arbitrariness and absurdity of love. Alvy’s relationships with his two ex-wives also underline the dilemma. How can he now feel so underwhelmed by both of these women whom he once vowed to love until death? But despite its eagerness to point out these paradoxes, the film ends by celebrating the romance between Annie and Alvy, though failed, adding weight to Alvy’s final monologue about the necessity of relationships. Annie Hall simultaneously relishes and dismisses them.
Throughout the film, Alvy emphasizes the capacity of art to transform life into a more ideal version of reality. Narrative control allows him to revisit the past with revisionist intentions, imagine an animated version of his situation, and force geographically and temporally separate scenes and characters to interact. He also gets to call on a famous media expert (McLuhan) on a whim. Annie Hall also carries a tinge of regret, as though its narrator’s attempt to improve upon life is only halfhearted. Indeed, the fact remains that, regardless of the ending Alvy conjures up in his play, Annie and Alvy in reality do not last as a couple. Although the fantasy elements frequently add a layer of unpredictability and delight to the narrative, the basic elements and conflicts of the story are true to life.
Annie Hall places a great deal of emphasis on geographical location as the foundation of personal identity. Alvy is characterized as a New Yorker, fiercely loyal to his city and condescending to all other locations on earth. Annie is a transplant, still getting her bearings in New York after growing up in a WASP household in the Midwest. Alvy criticizes her birthplace and upbringing—and in some ways her character—each time he mocks her “Chippewa Falls expressions.” When Alvy and Annie fly together to Los Angeles, Alvy constantly rails against what he sees as that city’s cultureless superficiality. Virtually all of the characters in the L.A. party scene are portrayed as vapid and unctuous. The contrast between Alvy’s relief at returning to New York and Annie’s enjoyment of their L.A. trip is depicted as a distinct personality difference. And when Alvy tries fruitlessly to get Annie back, he criticizes Los Angeles, suggesting that she leave L.A. not just for him, but also for New York. The cities represent two different lifestyles and identities.