In classic noir fashion, characters are often placed in shadow, hidden (overcome) by their natural surroundings. But this, along with the film's prevalent lighting preference for contrast over shades of gray, is where the noir aspect of Manhattan's visual style ends. There is no implementation of compositional diagonals or oblique camera angles; every frame is controlled and void of randomness. And source lit interiors are preferred to the formalized patterns of artificial studio lighting. Manhattan's is a style-as- lack-of-style, a modern interpretation, responding to noir's post-war visual rantings.
It can be said that the strongest themes winding through Manhattan concern how people create facades and identities, attempting to convince themselves and others of their worth and stature. (Classic noir characters babble tough-talk and manipulate, here they intellectualize and manipulate.) The film's narrative systematically erodes these fronts; it concludes as Isaac, realizing that his most comfortable relationship had been with the young and unassuming Tracy, rushes to her apartment in an attempt to convince her to cancel a six month schooling trip to London. Tracy, in turn, explains that she will not be gone for long, and will return to resume her life with him. In the film's final moments, Tracy, in a role reversal of partners, takes the position of the life-experienced elder. Following Isaac's Allenesque rambling of cynicism and nerves, and in a tone of both innocence and confidence (two traits void in any true noir tale), she tells Isaac to "have a little faith in people." And his reaction, long, silent and with skeptical acknowledgment, paired with Tracy's wisdom, is the perfect conclusive moment, negating the perceived importance of the films revolving emotional charade.
Text by Kirk Hostetter