Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
New York City symbolizes all that is Alvy Singer: it is gloomy, claustrophobic, and socially cold, but also an intellectual haven full of nervous energy. To Alvy, New York represents home, culture, life, and safety. It is his favorite place in the world, and he will defend it until death. Alvy is not comfortable anywhere else and longs for his city when away. The New York of Annie Hall is portrayed as a cultural mecca where Alvy feels free to cross the street without looking and ask strangers about their love lives. Indeed, Annie Hall is as much a love song to New York City as it is to the character Annie Hall. The film celebrates New York for its accessibility and intellectual climate. It is also viewed as the antithesis of the cultureless void that Alvy considers Los Angeles to be.
Los Angeles harbors only superficiality, self-indulgence, and empty glamour, according to Alvy and the film. On his visit with Annie, Alvy has a visceral, nauseated reaction to L.A. The city is blindingly bright, but sun is “bad for you,” Alvy says. Annie points out the streets’ cleanliness, and Alvy jokes that all the trash is put on television. Each overheard conversation at Tony Lacey’s party is a jab at Hollywood stereotypes: “All the good meetings are taken”; “I forgot my mantra”; “we’re gonna operate together.” Alvy views Annie’s move to L.A. almost as a personality defect, but it’s also a life-changing decision for her, one made entirely without Alvy’s input. When Alvy flies out to California to attempt a reconciliation, he makes snide cuts at Los Angeles and glorifies New York. Annie defends L.A., which has become a symbol for her freedom, saying “What’s so great about New York? I mean, it’s a dying city. . . . Alvy, you’re incapable of enjoying life, you know that? You’re like New York City.” Annie has articulated her realization that Alvy will never change and that their relationship is dead.
Drugs appear in the film several times as a symbol of open-mindedness, youth, escape, and freedom. Annie uses them to enhance sex and for relaxation. She tries to persuade Alvy to smoke marijuana after sex, to no avail. Alvy is uncomfortable around mind-altering substances, saying they generally cause him only embarrassment. His claim is proven true when he does try cocaine at a friend’s apartment and ends up sneezing away thousands of dollars worth of the drug. Alvy feels too old and unhip to use drugs, which points to the profound contrast between Alvy’s narrow-mindedness and Annie’s interest in new experiences. Alvy views drugs much as he views L.A.: as glamorous and self-indulgent. He doesn’t understand Annie’s predilection for them. When he persuades Annie to have sex without marijuana, the results are hilarious, with Annie’s spirit literally rising up from her body in boredom in a double-exposed scene. While comic, this scene reveals Annie and Alvy’s sexual problems and the couple’s growing rift.