Filmsite Movie Review
Manhattan (1979)
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Plot Synopsis (continued)

Manhattan (1979)A few hours later at 7:15 am, Isaac phoned Yale about his hook-up with Mary at the museum's feminist movement gathering. When Emily briefly entered the bedroom, Yale pretended he was speaking to Isaac about finding a cheaper apartment with Tracy. Then, Isaac tried to get a reading of how serious and committed Yale's affair was with Mary: "And you still feel the same way about her? You still feel as hung up on her?" He grimaced when Yale appeared to affirm their relationship.

At the cosmetics counter in Bloomingdale's department store (on Third Avenue at East 59th Street) where Mary was making a purchase, Yale checked out her version of her date with Isaac: "He said he had a great time with you." Mary was non-committal, and then complained about their affair: "It's just ridiculous. You're married." When Yale suggested moving out and breaking up his marriage to be with her, she rejected the idea: "I'm not looking for any big involvement here...I guess I should be seeing someone who's not married." To divert the subject away from breaking up, he suggested having quickie sex in a hotel before teaching his writing class in an hour: "Let's go somewhere and make love." She easily submitted:

Can't you just hold me? Does your love for me always have to express itself sexually? What about other values, like warmth and spiritual contact? A hotel, right? Jesus, I'm a pushover anyway.

In a ratty T-shirt, Isaac visited Jill's apartment to pick up his son Willie (Damion Scheller) for their shared custody, and he briefly spoke to Connie (Karen Ludwig), Jill's lesbian/bi-sexual live-in companion. Jill mentioned that she hoped Isaac would be free the weekend of the 16th to take Willie, since the two were scheduled to vacation in Barbados. Isaac had to bring up the question of her tell-all book again, and pleaded for her not to publish it: "Are you still gonna write that stupid book? I mean, are you serious about that?" Jill answered: "I'm very serious about it. It's an honest book and you have nothing to be ashamed of."

And then in their continuing argument, he mentioned that he knew she was bisexual when they were married, but he was mistaken for believing that marriage and his own personal sexual power would turn her into a straight heterosexual. The consequences were that they had to break up, because of Jill's lesbian preference for a female:

Ike: It's a mystery to me.
Jill: Well, you knew my history when you married me.
Ike: Yeah, I know, my analyst warned me, but you were so beautiful that I got another analyst.
Jill: Do you think we can be ever just friends?

They spoke about an earlier incident of Ike's erratic behavior when he was jealously spying on Jill and Connie when they "were falling in love" - he was "lurking" around and staking out their cabin when he almost ran over Connie with his car during a rainy night (and instead ripped off the whole front porch of the cabin).

After picking up Willie, the two took turns dribbling a basketball down the sidewalk. They stood in front of an F.A.O. Schwartz toy store (on 5th Avenue), viewed from inside the display window. Inaudibly, they debated with each other about two toy sailboats for purchase (one large preferred by Willie, and one small preferred by Ike).

At the fancy Russian Tea Room (on West 57th Street), Isaac and Willie were standing in line when the head-waiter handed a jacket to Isaac to wear over his T-shirt. Isaac revealed his preference for fine dining, and for the attractive models who were in line in front of them: "And besides, did you see those two women here? They have very beautiful women that eat here."

In the next sequence - a Sunday morning, a distraught and nervous Mary (with Waffles barking in the background) called Yale to ask if he was available to go for a walk - but he had plans to be with Emily's parents. She next called Ike to see if he was free - he appeared remote as he was seated outside on the garden terrace of his apartment (viewed through venetian blinds from a vantage point inside). He admitted guiltily that he hadn't read the article on "China's faceless masses" (Isaac was also literally obscured in the camera shot) because he had been diverted by the magazine's lingerie ads ("They're really erotic").

Mary said she was going "stir-crazy." After getting together, the two found themselves caught in a sudden cloudburst of rain in Central Park during a threatening electrical thunder-storm. Sheltering themselves with newspapers over their heads, they ran for refuge to the entrance of the Hayden Planetarium (part of the American Museum of Natural History) at Central Park West at 81st Street).

Inside the Planetarium, the two shook off the rain, looking totally soaked and disheveled. They became silhouetted in the darkness in front of a huge illuminated photograph of a nebula, he complimented her beauty: "You look kind of nice, actually. You're sort of pretty." Further along in the even darker interior of a moon exhibit, they walked within a realistic moonscape with craters and rock sculptures. Their conversation was mostly off-screen and in voice-over. Mary expressed her irritation with Yale who had bailed on their Sunday get-together, and also cancelled their Saturday night date to a Vivaldi concert. Isaac was about to remind her - and she concurred - that Yale's behavior wasn't unusual for an "affair with a married man." Mary revealed more of her own marital difficulties:

My ex-husband was having an affair while we were married.... And I never mentioned anything because I felt that I was deficient in some way, that I was bad in bed, or I wasn't bright enough, or I was physically unattractive. But I'll tell you something. In the end, he was just a louse....Oh, God, was he brilliant. I was so crazy about him. He really opened me up sexually. He taught me everything. Women found him devastating.

As they chatted, they walked by a large photograph of the ringed planet of Saturn. In the increasing darkness, the silhouettes of their two figures began to disagree about the value of intellectualism (in voice-over), and then became enveloped in total blackness in the other-worldly setting:

Ike: Nothing worth knowing can be understood with the mind. Everything really valuable has to enter you through a different opening, if you'll forgive the disgusting imagery.
Mary: I really don't agree at all. Where would we be without rational thought? Come on.
Ike: No, no, you rely too much on your brain. The brain is the most overrated organ, I think.
Mary: I know, you probably think I'm too cerebral.
Ike: Well, you are kind of on the brainy side. What's the difference what I think about you? God knows what you must think about me.
Mary: I think you're fine. Are you kidding? You do have a tendency to get a little hostile, but I find that attractive.
Ike: Oh, yeah? Well, I'm glad you do.

In close profile, backlit by hundreds of stars in the limitless space of the universe, he admitted that she was sensitive and insecure, but still quite wonderful. However, he declined to go for a bite to eat (mumbling: "I gotta see somebody this evening"), and claimed he wouldn't have any free time in the next week because of work on his book.

Driving home in Yale's convertible on the Henry Hudson Parkway after spending all day Sunday with Emily's parents, Yale nervously lied about a phone call after dinner, claiming it was David Cohen requesting that Yale do a review of his next book on Virginia Woolf. He realized that Emily was becoming increasingly suspicious about his distractedness, and was still thinking about having children.

In a Greenwich Village, Bleecker Street Pizzeria that same Sunday evening, Isaac met with Tracy. She shared news that she was offered a chance to go to London and study with the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, but she quickly added: "I don't wanna go without you." Isaac encouraged her to take up the opportunity - without him. [Note: In juxtaposition with the previous scene, Isaac was encouraging her to go, not because she was so young and that it was a dead-end relationship, but because he was planning to move on to Mary]:

Hey - I can't go to London and study. I mean, it's crazy, especially Shakespeare. You know, I don't look good in leotards or anything like that....Of course you should go. I mean, that's great. You'll have a great time in London. It's a great town and you're a wonderful actress. And it's a terrific place to study. You know, it's-uh - you'd be the toast of the town. You'll have a good time. Really, you shouldn't pass that...Well, you know, we'll always have Paris.

He discounted her serious and genuine feelings about him when she asked: "So what happens to us?" She blamed her own age: "You won't take me seriously just because I'm seventeen." He agreed with her: "Yeah, exactly, because you're seventeen. I mean, look at it, it's ridiculous. You're seventeen now. When you're thirty-six, I'll be, uhm.." She answered: "Sixty-three."

[Note: If they were 25 years apart in age, he would be 61, not 63.]

He nodded in agreement: "Sixty-three, right. Thank you. You know, it's absurd. You'll be at the height of your sexual powers. Of course, I will, too, probably, but I'm a late starter." To make her feel better, he gave her the choice of what they would do that night - the movies, dancing, or "absolutely anything."

In the next idyllic sequence to the tune of "He Loves and She Loves," the two were riding in the back of a horse-drawn carriage-hansom in Central Park, with the sounds of the horses' hoofbeats on the cobbletones. Tracy expressed how it had been her wish: "I don't think it's corny. I think it's fun, I really do." Isaac joked about the contrast to the first time that he rode through the park - alone: "On my prom night, I went around this park five times, six times. If I had been with a girl, this would've been an incredible experience."

With his arms around Tracy, he kissed her and praised her god-like, inviolate ideal and innocent perfection:

Tracy: Quit fighting it. You know you're crazy about me.
Isaac: I am. You, you're God's answer to Job, you know? You would've ended all argument between them. I mean, he would've pointed to you and said, 'I do a lot of terrible things, but I can also make one of these.' And then, Job would've said, 'Eh, yeah, okay. Well, you win.'

Meanwhile, Mary's relationship with Yale was souring, signaled by her dog Waffles wimpering and barking during their entire heated conversation in her apartment's kitchen and living room. She delivered an ultimatum: "Now, look, this is crazy. I mean, I just can't do this anymore. It's really bulls--t! You know what I mean? You're married!...What the hell. It's a no-win situation. It's just - I'm beautiful and I'm bright and I deserve better!" Yale proposed taking "some action" such as ending his marriage, but Mary continued: "I just don't know how I got into this situation. I guess we met at the wrong time or something like that! It happens...We're just going no place." She repeated her lame joke about roots in Philadelphia:

I'm from Philadelphia. My family's never had affairs. My parents have been married forty-three years. Nobody cheats at all!...This is really is a bad time... for me....I've gotta think things through here.

Isaac rented a cheaper apartment and was in the midst of moving in, with stacked boxes and cartons of his belongings piled into his living room, as he supervised (but was obviously intimidated or emasculated by) a trio of burly, sweaty furniture movers.

The jazzy music suddenly ended, and Ike was in his new cramped bedroom next to Tracy in bed that evening. He was complaining about intrusive, unusual noises: "What's that sound? Can you hear that?'s like somebody's playing the trumpet... Right?" To take his mind off the strange new noises, Tracy suggested experimenting with a new sexual technique: "Let's fool around...Let's do it in some strange way that you've always wanted to do, but nobody would do with you." But he continued joking about her sexual appetite, didn't take her seriously, and went right back to his griping and whining: "Listen to this. Can you hear this? Am I crazy?...That's a rumbling. Listen to that goddamn...Where the hell is that coming from?...It's coming from the walls someplace. It's a strange - let's, could we check into a hotel? I don't wanna sleep here tonight."

Attempting to be helpful, she suggested: "I could help you fix this place up if you'd give me a chance," but he refused, and then noticed rusty pipe water:

I don't wanna fix it up. And I don't want you living here. Tonight is a special occasion. It's my first night in the apartment, so, you know, it was okay. I wanna break in the place and I was afraid to sleep alone. Hey, what is this? There's brown water...I'm paying seven hundred dollars a month. I got rats with bongos, and a frog, and I got brown water here. Look at this...This is disgusting, like colorless liquid.

He ignored her crucial question about their future together: "You keep ignoring me. What's gonna happen to us?" He finally answered her, prophetically confirming that their relationship would soon be ending (and he would turn into a "fond memory"):

You're gonna go to London exactly as we discussed it. You're gonna take advantage of that opportunity and study acting over there, you know. And you'll think of me always as a fond memory. It'll be nice.

At a crowded outdoor cafe (on Fifth Avenue), Yale authoritatively announced to Mary that they should end it: "You know we have to stop seeing each other, don't you?...It's not fair to you and I don't know what the hell I'm doing....You're not happy the way things have been going." Although Mary knew that their affair was doomed to end sometime ("I knew it was going to end this way, but now that it's happened, I'm upset, OK?"), she was still upset by the news.

[Note: Behind Mary, a waiter served an older man and a younger woman - a parallel reminder of the age difference in the relationship between Tracy and Isaac. And behind Yale, a more age-matched younger couple was happily dining, presumably in the early stages of their relationship.]

He made his point by jabbing his index finger into the table: "You don't wanna make a commitment, and I don't wanna break up my marriage and then find out that, that we're no good together. I've gotta start thinking about Emily." To assert her own self-worth and deny that she was actually vulnerable, Mary professed:

Of course I'm gonna be all right. What do you think I'm gonna do, hang myself? I'm a beautiful woman. I'm young, I'm highly intelligent, I got everything going for me. The point is that, uh, I don't know. I'm all f--ked-up. I'm just - s--t. The point is: What the hell am I doing in this relationship anyway? My phone never stops ringing. I could go to bed with the entire faculty of M.I.T. if I wanted to. It's just, I don't know, I'm wasting myself on a married man.

As a parting gift, she gave him two tickets that she had bought to a Rampal concert that evening that he could now share with Emily. When Yale suggested handing them off to Isaac instead, she snapped: "F--k off, Yale," and ripped up the tickets.

In the next scene, Mary was distraught and depressed, confiding to Isaac in his new apartment. He was still exasperated by the brown water in a glass he handed to her, for her Valium pills (that he feared would cause abdominal cancer). She confirmed her worst feelings about her failed affair with a married man: "I guess I deserve everything I get....I knew it couldn't possibly work out." Isaac criticized her therapist Donny as completely "unorthodox" and troubled himself:

Isaac: You don't get suspicious when your analyst calls you up at 3:00 in the morning and weeps into the telephone?
Mary: All right, so he's unorthodox. He's a highly-qualified doctor.
Isaac: He's done a great job on you. Your self-esteem is like a notch below Kafka's.

She sniffled about her victimization by Yale: "He led me on. That's the point of it. Why am I reluctant to criticize him?" When Isaac stood up for Yale, she responded: "You guys all stick up for each other."

That evening, Tracy and Isaac were in bed, happily eating Chinese food out of white containers while watching television. They were criticizing the toupee and artificial-looking face-lift of two people on the tube, when Tracy wondered about the fakeness of plastic surgery: "Why can't they just age naturally instead of putting all that junk on?" She had acquired Isaac's love of making quirky comments while watching television, his interest in photography (he had given her a camera), and a love of watching old movies (they planned to watch a W.C. Fields late show movie).

The next day at the Uptown Racquet Club (on Park Avenue) during a squash game, Yale confided in Isaac about his abrupt recent break-up with Mary: "I just had to cut this thing off finally. I'm not the type for affairs. You know, I finally figured it out....She's a terrific person. She deserves more than a fling with a married guy." Ike agreed: "Yeah, she's great. She's a little screwed up but great." Yale encouraged Isaac to call Mary and consider seriously dating her: "That's right up your alley, you know. I think you oughta call her." At first, Isaac poo-poohed the idea, but then after Isaac admitted he wasn't "serious" about Tracy, Yale encouraged him further: "Call her up. Listen, she's an unhappy person, you know. I mean, she needs something in her life. I mean, and I think you guys would be good together." Isaac was flattered and agreed: "I think I could be a good influence on her. I think that under my personal vibrations, I could put her life in some kind of good order." Yale applied more pressure in ousting Mary from his life, reminding Isaac of Mary's compliments about him as "attractive" and "smart."

[Note: Isaac had erroneously thought the same thing about his courtship with ex-wife Jill - that under his "personal vibrations," he could straighten out her bisexual orientation, but she had turned from bisexuality to homosexuality.]

On a mid-afternoon, Mary and Ike exited from the CINEMA STUDIO movie theatre (on Broadway at West 66th Street, now non-existent) after a showing of Inagaki's Chushingura (1962, Jp.), and Dovzhenko's Earth (1930, USSR), onto a busy sidewalk and were in a lively discussion. The two soon ended up at her apartment, where he noted her almost-empty refrigerator with a rotting half of a corned-beef sandwich inside. She confessed: "Listen, I don't have time to cook." Impulsively, he pulled her forward and kissed her flush on the mouth - and then explained how he had vainly tried to be "real cool and casual" about liking (and kissing) her: "Well, it's something I wanted to do for the longest time," but he had refused to become emotionally involved with her because of his integrity, and because Yale was going out with her at the time: "I would never in a million years interfere in anything like that." [Note: Ironically, the same respect was not afforded Isaac by Yale when he stole her back.]

He told her about his real feelings when they were at the Planetarium, in one of the film's most quoted lines:

You were so sexy, you know. You were all soaking wet from the rain, and I had a mad impulse to throw you down on the lunar surface and commit interstellar perversion with you.

She tried to resist and temporarily divert his sexual interest by admitting her many problems: "I cannot get my life in any kind of order...I can't go from relationship to relationship. It's senseless. I can't do it....I've got too many problems. I'm just really - I'm not the person to get involved with. I'm trouble." They kissed again -

They next found themselves wandering through the gallery rooms (of sculptures and paintings) at the Whitney Museum of American Art (on Madison Avenue at 75th Street), to the tune of a rare orchestral version of "Do, Do, Do", where she described her ambivalence about men:

My problem is I'm both attracted and repelled by the male organ...So it doesn't make for very good relationships with men, that's all.

Isaac described his disastrous first marriage to Tina, a kindergarten teacher who had left him, started using drugs, moved to San Francisco, took EST training, and then became a Moonie; the last Isaac had heard of her, she was working for the William Morris Agency.

[Note: Isaac was consistently attracted to flighty women with low self-esteem - first Tina and now Mary - who would also soon leave him on a whim.]

As they admired a sculpture together, Isaac critiqued it using the same pretentious language he had first despised in Mary: "This, I think, has a kind of wonderful otherness to it... It's kind of got a marvelous negative capability...a kind of w-w-w-wonderful energy to it." After wine with a seafood dinner at a restaurant in Brooklyn, the two returned by taxi to Manhattan, and slightly drunk, he admired her beauty: "You look so beautiful I can hardly keep my eyes on the meter..." They kissed as they entered Mary's apartment for more romantic embraces and an overnight together. With the lights off and in total darkness, and with Mary on his lap, Isaac sighed:

I was just thinking there must be something wrong with me, because I've never had a relationship with a woman that's lasted longer than the one between Hitler and Eva Braun.

The next day outside The Dalton School (at East 89th Street and Park Avenue), a prep school on the Upper East Side, Ike awaited the dismissal of the students, including Tracy, whom he accompanied to the nearby soda fountain. She had handed him a wrapped gift that he opened as they sat at the counter sipping ice cream sodas - he was grateful for her "incredible" present of a harmonica. She told him it was her way to "open" him up to a new learning experience. She clearly stated the reasons for their pure and simple love for each other (with humor, caring, concern, and great sex). He went into another long explanation for why they should break up. In addition to their disparity in age, he added that he had fallen for someone else. [Note: The real reasons for his reluctance to continue their fulfilling relationship was his fear of commitment, and his concerns about his own aging and death.] His desires to push her away caused her extreme heartbreak and upset when she realized that his urgings for her to go to London were entirely self-serving and duplicitous, due to his diversion to another woman:

Ike: Tracy, you're throwing away an enormous amount of real affection on the wrong person...I don't think we should keep seeing each other...Because I think you're getting too hung up on me, you know?..You can't be in love with me. We've been over this. You're a kid. You don't know what love means. I don't know what it means. Nobody out there knows what the hell's going on.
Tracy: We have laughs together. I care about you. Your concerns are my concerns. We have great sex.
Ike: But you're seventeen years old. By the time you're twenty-one, you're gonna have, you'll have a dozen relationships, believe me, far more passionate than this one.
Tracy: Well, don't you love me?
Ike: The truth is that I love somebody else...
Tracy: You do?
Ike: This was supposed to be a temporary fling, you know that.
Tracy: You met someone?...Have you been seeing someone?
Ike: No, yes, someone older. Yeah, I mean, you know, old, not as old as I am, but in the same general ball park as me.
Tracy: Gee, now I don't feel so good....You keep stating it like it's to my advantage when it's you that wants to get out of it.
Ike: Hey, don't be so precocious, ok? I mean, don't be so smart. I'm forty-two years old. My hair's falling out. I'm startin' to lose some hearing in my right ear. Is that what you want?
Tracy: I can't believe that you met somebody that you like better than me. (She began crying)
Ike: Why should I feel guilty about this? This is ridiculous. I've always encouraged you to go out with guys more your own age, guys, kids from your class....Hey, come on, don't cry.
Tracy: Just leave me alone.

Later that evening in his empty bed, Ike picked up the harmonica, felt regret after playing a few notes, and stared off into space.

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