Speaking of Woody Allen films, one could well apply the proverb employed by Tolstoy at the beginning of his epic novel Anna Kareninna, and suggest that Allen's aim in dissecting family life lies in noting the fact that, although it is a universal truth that all families are unhappy, every family is unhappy in its own unique fashion. Indeed, it is the uniqueness of the individual quirks and desires of the familial characters that Allen explores with such an extensive and piercing vision that often enables him to accurately portray many individuals in a large and sweeping cast; despite the sometimes imposing size of his casts, his humor and his incisive and trenchant insight into the very machinations that make us human, enables him to portray vivid characters that, in merely a few brief scenes, spring to life. His characters display rich and realistic emotions that betray an uncanny sensibility about what motivates the human sensibilities on Allen's part. Indeed, it is because of this deft and subtle manipulation of his characters that Woody Allen is able to get down all of the elements of family life so powerfully and correctly, with a stunningly accurate vision that details the foibles and the attributes of familial interactions with an almost shocking reality. Indeed, in creating his vision of family, he typically tries to make family members have certain similar concerns, though allow all of them to deal with these concerns after a fashion that is not entirely clear. Indeed, like the way that both Anna and her brother Oblonski both have affairs, the familial and genetic bond in Allen's work also leads to his tendency to portray characters of the same family being liable to fall subject to the same urges and to be possessed of similar desires.
One excellent example of this tendency can be seen in his film Hannah and Her Sisters, which depicts a series of sisters in a family and discusses the different sorts of struggles and concerns that they must face in their, daily, professional, and family lives. Indeed, as suggested above all of the sisters in the movie -- though very different in terms of their dispositions and the way in which they engage the world -- all share a similar series of interests. Particular in Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, all of the sisters seem to have a similar interest and occupation in the arts, but all of them seem to share an equally anxious and ambiguous relationship in connection with artistic pursuits; nonetheless these anxieties about artistic expression, though similar in origin, all express themselves in a variety of exceptionally different ways. Indeed, Hannah, who is the title character, though, in many ways, not the film's principle character, is an extremely successful stage actress who has gone into semi-retirement in order to raise her children and take care of her family. Despite her success she seems to be more invested in those around her then herself, and, thus, while she has been successful in the arts, she also seems as though she slightly unnerved by creative fields and would rather direct her creative energies toward her family and her children than back toward her successful acting career. Holly, on the other hand, appears to be the sort of woman that, one hundred years ago, Freud would almost certainly have called hysterical -- she is seriously depressive has an ongoing battle with drug addiction and seems to flit between artistic occupations, dabbling even in writing a bit, but seems unable to settle on any particular path. Thus, like Hannah, she too seems to have a desire to express herself in a creative fashion, but due to her neuroses, she continually jumps between fields in the arts in an anxious attempt to avoid actually doing any single one. By taking this path she can avoid having to create a work that can be aesthetically judged in any terms and continue to live in the pure potential of creation without suffering any of the negative judgments that can be involved in creative and artistic undertakings. Last of the sisters is Lee, who also seems to be interested in the arts, but, in her case, instead of being an artist herself she lives in a deeply twisted and difficult living arrangement with a painter named Frederick, and the two are engaged in a cycle of abuse and dependence. Indeed, it seems that, rather than undertaking a creative endeavor herself, she decides to expend her energy in having a difficult relationship with an artist, thus effectively sublimating her eros into thanatos. Indeed, Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, thus provides an excellent example of the manner in which he manipulates his characters such that familial relations often find themselves obsessed with the same issues, but all of those involved express their neuroses about these issues in different way. In Hannah and Her Sisters, all of the sisters seem interested in the creative process, but find their attempts derailed by certain anxieties that they use to channel their desires elsewhere. Thus, they are linked in their common tendency to employ self-defeating strategies that ultimately serve to inhibit their own creative processes, short-circuiting them before they have even begun to undertake a true and valid creative endeavor.
Woody Allen's movie Radio Days, made roughly a year before Hannah and Her Sisters, is a much lighter film that is essentially free of the gravitas and existential concerns that plague the characters of many of his other movies. As such it is a sort of light comedy, a nostalgia pieces that harkens back to the early days of Radio and attempts to convey some of the excitement and amusement that came with radio as a popular medium. Indeed, it also speaks to an interesting, intriguing, and short-lived era, in which people listened to radio as a group, but television had yet to appear as the dominant form. Life in Hannah and her sisters, however, the characters in Radio Days are all moved by an essential passion or concern, in this case, the radio:
Everyone loves listening to the radio. Young Joe is entranced by the adventures of a superhero called the Masked Avenger. Uncle Abe thrives on zany sports stories and Aunt Cell likes to listen to the ventriloquist. Aunt Bea is a spinster who loves to dance to the music on the radio. This family and many others listen to a gossip columnist named Sally White, who has achieved her position due to some good luck and diction lessons.
Here, then, we see the exact same sort of familial fixations and obsessions as in Hannah and Her Sisters, but, since this is a light comedy, we see the obsession with radio without the pathos that more typically plagues Woody Allen's characters. Indeed, this movie seems to be more about the way in which a middle class family was able to cpnnect with each other through this new and exciting medium, and sort of suggests that at this point, the radio became the modern equivalent of the hearth; it was a place of communal gathering for the family that every member could enjoy in their own and unique fashion.
Mighty Aphrodite, a Woody Allen film that is almost a decade older than the previous two discussed, involves an entirely different version of family, though family is explicitly what is at issue itself within the narrative of the movie. Indeed, part of the issue has to deal with the fact that movie's basic reason to be lies in the background of Allen's character being convinced by his wife to adopt a young child, and Allen's subsequent obsession with identifying and encountering the real mother of the child who, it turns out, is in fact a prostitute. Since Allen's family in…