Alvy: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.”
Alvy delivers this joke directly into the camera in a stark close-up at the opening scene of the movie, in the middle of an intimate and humorous monologue. It pays tribute to key figures in Allen’s life: Groucho Marx, to whom the quote is usually attributed, and Sigmund Freud, in whose Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious the notion originally appeared. From Marx, Allen learned comedy. From Freud, Allen learned about the unconscious and its hold on his present actions. This quotation immediately establishes Alvy’s character as riddled with psychopathological hang-ups, especially in the realm of romantic relationships, and sets up the main theme of the film—that love is absurd and in many ways futile. It also sets up the narrative line of the story, serving as a springboard into the memory of Alvy’s failed relationship with Annie, as told in retrospect.
The quotation is reinforced throughout the film as Alvy jumps back and forth among his various relationships with women. He avoids sex with his first wife, Allison, because she is willing and therefore unattractive to him. He constantly mocks the New York intellectuals who are his peers. He makes fun of his Jewish family and, of course, makes fun of himself all the time. He also pokes fun at Annie’s old boyfriends—a group he eventually joins himself. When Annie wants to make a commitment and moves into his apartment, Alvy pushes her away, yet he attempts a reconciliation with her after she loses interest in him and moves on. Alvy realizes he acts out the conflict articulated in the quotation, but he is unable to stop the pattern and maintain a healthy, lasting relationship. At the end of the film, he concludes that such relationships are virtually impossible and that love itself is absurd.