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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) on IMDb

Plot Overview

“Hannah and Her Sisters” opens with a Thanksgiving celebration, to the strains of, “Bewitched” (“Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered”), which music will present itself again a couple of times in the film. Hannah's sister Lee (Barbara Hershey) is bewitching (“God, she's beautiful”) to Hannah's husband (“She's your wife's sister”) Elliot (Michael Caine). Her other sister Holly (Dianne Wiest) bothers Hannah by asking her for money to finance a succession of careers: actress, caterer, writer. Hannah her­self (Mia Farrow) is bewildered when her husband won't tell her what's been eating him lately—he gets testy when asked—and she can't figure out how Holly (who talks to Lee) got so much personal info about Hannah and Elliot to put in her novel. The story is told in three chapters, composed of vignettes, that take place mainly during three Thanks­givings over the space of two years. The first one is a period of bewitchment, the second of botheration, and the third of bewildering resolution.


You've heard of bigamy, monogamy, and polygamy? Woody Allen's story here calls for coining a new term: pergamy. The Greek prefix per means: ‘mixed, objection­able’ as used in perverse, perturbation. We add it to the suffix -gamy for marriage to get pergamy, pergamous. In a large family Thanks­giving gathering, one finds connections: father–son, husband–wife, entrepreneur–business-partner, sister–brother-in-law, child–uncle, etc. The connections by marriage they end up with here are off the charts, whence the new term. Or maybe not so new; we find it addressed in the Bible as the name of a town:

(Rev. 2:12-17) “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling­block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”

“He that hath an ear” would correspond to Hannah's ex-husband Mickey (Woody Allen) who's a hypo­chondriac visiting a doctor about a hearing difficulty in his right ear only. For that matter the medical symbol the caduceus is also the ancient emblem of the city (in Turkey) Pergamos.

“Thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is” is applicable to Pergamos being the new seat of the mystery religions—before they moved to Rome—after Cyrus conquered Babylon their original seat. Indeed, Mickey—who started Jewish—ventures from Catholicism, to Hare Krishna, and finally to “Duck Soup” (“Hail, Freedonia!”)

“Antipas was my faithful martyr” would correspond to Lee's live-in lover Frederick (Max Von Sydow), a reclusive artist whose work is betrayed by a potential buyer: ¶Frederick: “This is degrading. You don't buy paintings to blend in with the sofa.” ¶Dusty: “It's not a sofa … it's an ottoman!” The name Antipas means ‘against all’, and Frederick socialized with nobody (except Lee.)

“The doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling­block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” That's from an Old Testament story. (Numbers 22–24) Balaam was a sooth­sayer hired by Balak king of Moab to curse the Israelites moving through the land. That didn't work out very well. Plan ‘B’ was to have good-looking Moabite women camp at the verge of the Israelites, to entice them to fornication and to take up Moabite idols. In “Hannah and Her Sisters”, Holly and her friend April (Carrie Fisher) were catering an event when one of their clients with the munchies, an architect (Sam Waterston), came back to the kitchen to scarf some goodies, then he took the girls on a tour of New York's quasi-shrine architecture, ultimately to sleep with one or both of them.

“The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate” would correspond to some­thing from Frederick's diatribe against: tele­vision “fundamentalist preachers. Third grade con men telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak with Jesus, and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up.”

“To eat of the hidden manna” would correspond to John 6:56-58. “Him that overcometh” would be as in 1John 5:4-5. The Christian message, such as it is, is best conveyed in the movie by the tradition of Thanks­giving wherein we thank God for his bounty, ultimately for the savior, which is not specifically spelled out, although we do see a crucifix (and other Christian emblems.)

Production Values

This Woody Allen film, “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) was written and directed by Woody Allen. It stars Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Michael Caine. Also featured were Carrie Fisher, Maureen O'Sullivan, Larry Nolan, Daniel Stern, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The acting was all spot on. Farrow's real life mother Maureen O'Sullivan pegged it as Hannah and sisters' alcoholic, flirtatious, movie mom Norma.

This film was rated PG–13. Directed by an experienced Woody Allen it was technically superb. It had natural-seeming lighting, and the voice-over worked.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I don't particularly care for the neurotic New York Jew played by W.A. in so many of his films, but at least he doesn't appear here in most every scene. The song “Old Fashioned” sung during an audition provides an anchor (“I'm old fashioned”) to help one escape the weirdness that seems to make up the warp and the woof of this movie. It's a good film, though, if you can stand Woody Allen.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: No action, no adventure. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars.