Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
The use of cultural stereotypes in the film pokes fun at the politically correct climate of 1970s New York. As a Jewish comedian, Alvy (like Woody Allen) has a vested interest in labeling himself and others for comedic purposes. The film plays around with stereotypes, treating them both seriously and ironically, using them as a tool to quickly label characters but also revealing the limits and cruelty of such labels. Annie Hall invokes stereotypes to reinforce and dispel prevalent cultural stereotypes. Alvy’s Jewishness is one example. In a conversation with Rob, he bemoans a remark he heard at lunch that he interprets as anti-Semitic. Later, at dinner with Annie’s family, he momentarily transforms into a Hasidic Jew, full beard and all, representing visually the Jewish stereotype that Annie’s family seems to hold. The film also uses stereotypes to define Alvy’s ex-wives quickly and cleverly and to reinforce the idea that L.A. is full of superficiality, as all Californian characters live up to the stereotype. Interestingly, Annie is the only character in the film who actively resists being stereotyped, defending her Midwestern upbringing and attraction to L.A. when Alvy uses them to attack her character.
In its heavy reliance on fantastical elements, Annie Hall features numerous instances of transformation, both visually and within the narrative. There are obvious examples, such as Alvy’s Hasidic Jew experience and the brief cartoon sequence, but other more subtle examples are scattered throughout the film. Annie transforms significantly during her relationship with Alvy, blooming from blushing wallflower to ambitious artist. She is open to new experiences and comfortable with the transformative experiences that drugs allow, using marijuana during sex so that she can, in a sense, perform better. Rob, too, transforms, moving to L.A. and embracing its lifestyle. Alvy, on the other hand, is apparently afraid to change. He refuses to use drugs, claiming they make him “unbearably wonderful,” and clings to his city and his life as though an upheaval would drastically harm him. Indeed, even his brief visit to L.A. results in physical illness. Nonetheless, though Alvy is resistant to change in his real life, he adopts it often in his art, riffing on life in his jokes and revising events in his play to fit his desires.
Performance is important to Annie Hall, especially in terms of its comedic aspects. The film is framed between two humorous monologues, suggesting that the film itself should be regarded as an entertaining performance rather than taken too seriously. Fundamentally, the film is a comedy and therefore intended to induce laughter; indeed, at its most basic level, it is simply a number of brief comic sketches pieced together. Performance is important not just for the viewer’s sake but also for the main characters, who occupy performative roles. Alvy is a comedian; Annie, a singer; Rob, an actor. By emphasizing performance as a career and as the function of the film, Annie Hall suggests that all social interaction, particularly as pertaining to romantic relationships, is performance. Surely, Alvy’s constant jokes, even in casual conversation, are a form of performance. And of course there are the scenes involving sex, failure to have satisfactory sex, or failure to have sex at all. Alvy avoids having sex with Allison because he simply can’t fake it anymore; Robin blames New York noise for preventing her successful performance; Annie needs pot to enjoy sex; Alvy is insecure about his performance generally, and after his first time with Annie, lavishes their coupling with praise. Sex is treated as a performance that can go very well or very, very badly.