An insecure, self-reflexive Jewish comedian obsessed with death, Alvy is a clear stand-in for filmmaker Woody Allen. He is introduced in stark close-up, giving a humorous confessional in a tweed getup that mimics Allen’s usual style of dress and performance. Alvy’s occupation, location, and personal idiosyncrasies resemble those of Allen, making it hard to distinguish the filmmaker/actor from his protagonist. As a fifteen-year veteran of psychoanalysis, Alvy frequently looks to past events to explain his present actions. He became a nihilist at the age of nine after reading that the universe is expanding and suffered criticism as a child for acting on early sexual impulses and kissing a female classmate. These flashbacks set up Alvy as a pessimist who has little luck with sex or relationships. He also almost immediately refers to what he considers the primary joke of his adult life: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” All of these themes—Alvy’s pessimism, self-loathing, and failure to succeed in love—are established within the first ten minutes of Annie Hall.
Although Alvy’s self-deprecating quick wit and intimacy with the viewer establish him as an endearing character, his irksome qualities are evident, too. He is anal (“a polite word for what you are,” Annie says), neurotic, overbearing, insecure, aggressive, domineering, pretentious, and unusually averse to unfamiliar situations and places. Often, his actions are counterintuitive: he rejects the “intellectual” Manhattan community of which he is a part; he travels across the country to L.A. to participate in a television awards show, and then chickens out; he encourages Annie to sing until she gets noticed; he is not attracted to women who are attracted to him. He is aware and indulgent of his angst, cracking jokes about it constantly. Because Alvy is driven by the notion that art can revise life, he allows fantasy to enter his narrative throughout the film. As Alvy says after directing a rehearsal of his play that is based on his relationship with Annie: “You’re always trying to get things to come out perfect in art because it’s real difficult in life.” Allen, who based the film on his failed relationship with Diane Keaton, clearly would agree.