Michael Caine as Elliott in Hannah and Her Sisters
Best Supporting Actor at the 59th Annual Oscars (1986)
“For all my education, accomplishments and so-called wisdom, I can't fathom my own heart.”
More like Hannah and Her Cheating Husband, am I right??
If you’ve ever dated men (I’m sorry for your struggles), you already know Elliott. He’s a guy who can’t deal with his own feelings, and hurts everyone around him because of it. He’s married to Hannah, but has fallen out of love with her, and in love with her sister, Lee. (Yes, this is definitely Woody Allen trying to tell Mia Farrow, who plays Hannah, that he wants to dump her). Because Elliott is so conflict-avoidant, he deals with the whole thing in the worst possible way. He clams up around Hannah, and gets really defensive when she genuinely asks him if he’s interested in someone else, and his dealings with Lee are almost worst. He makes up all of these excuses to see her before finally blurting out his love, and then decides to try to ghost her, but even that doesn’t work because he’s such a doofus.
If Elliott sounds awful … well, he definitely is, but the storyline works because we also get a real look at Elliott’s humanity. It’s clear that he really doesn’t want to behave this way: he hates the idea of hurting his wife, but he’s also incapable of sitting with his own emotions, or engaging in an honest conversation. At every turn, he’s unable to rise to the occasion and act right, to his own frustration, as well as the audience’s. And I like that we never get to the psychological roots of Elliott’s behavior: who among us hasn’t tried to make the emotionally healthy decision, only to undermine ourselves, for reasons beyond our own understanding?
As I alluded to above, Elliott is this film’s Woody Allen stand-in, and thank God he’s played by Michael Caine, who does a much better Allen than Allen himself. In general, I quite like Michael Caine. He plays all of his characters with a charming twinkle, and he also feels put together without being overly buttoned up. It’s the perfect energy for Elliott, someone who is collected on the surface, but a roiling mess of emotions inside. I love the understanding that Caine brings to this character: he’s behaving really terribly to the kind people around him, but we have a sympathy for him. Caine has to connect to his emotions to play a man utterly divorced from his feelings. It’s subtle but powerful work.
I’ve given my thoughts on the film overall in Wiest’s entry, so let’s talk a little bit about the other characters in this film. Barbara Hershey is great as Lee, the third sister, giving an idiosyncratic performance as a woman who knows her own mind as well as Elliott knows his. Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O’Sullivan also deserve a shoutout as the parents of the family, who have a small but very clearly fleshed out and fascinating storyline. And then there’s Hannah herself: Hannah’s an odd one, because she mostly serves as a cypher for others to orbit around, but it’s generally unclear how she herself feels. Regardless, Mia Farrow gives her a likeable solidity.
Was the Oscar deserved?
Yes, I love what Michael Caine brings to this film.