Zelig: A Cinematic Study on the Desperation of Acceptance


Everyone knows that guy who completely bullshits his way through every conversation he has with every different person he’s with. And if you don’t, then you’re probably that guy. Now just imagine how much shittier it would be to be around him if he not only BS’d the conversations, but also physically turned into whatever the person he was talking did. Meet Leonard Zelig.


Woody Allen’s 1983 mockumentary gives us a documentary-style look at a man in 1920’s America who changes and adapts like a chameleon to be more like those around him. In Chinatown, he’s a Chinese man who speaks perfect Mandarin, in uppity, Boston cocktail parties he’s a republican yet, in the kitchen of the same party, a sympathetic democrat talking to those working in the kitchen. He’s adaptable and even more so, a completely blank canvas. Who is Leonard Zelig? Nobody knows, not even him. He had no sense of individuality.


The fact that this film was set up as a “documentary” lets the viewer look at the film as more of a study than just an hour and 20 minutes of entertainment. Looking in on Dr. Fletcher’s psychotherapy sessions with Zelig made it feel like we were watching Freud or Rogers working through a session. It was almost like Woody Allen was begging for people to study Zelig and understand what was wrong with him.


During one of his sessions with Dr. Fletcher, Zelig goes into a trance and is able to be completely honest about his personal past. He explains that he was essentially at the very bottom of a very abusive totem pole between his family and his neighbors. While this may have been more of a personal call of Woody’s about cultural assimilation amongst Jews, it was also an incredibly deep and heartfelt look in to understanding the mind of someone with this desperation to be accepted or liked.


Sure, maybe some are just narcissistic and have an undeserving sense of self-righteousness, but maybe some never experienced acceptance in its most basic and necessary forms. Maybe that’s why that dick we all know lies his way through every conversation. Or maybe that’s why Jimmy Fallon obnoxiously fake laughs his way through every interview he does. (Shout out Jimmy Fallon man, but I mean let’s just be real) Like I said in the Lolita study I did last week, which if you haven’t read it, get it together and go read that shit already, great pieces of cinema create a framework for you to understand situations and people who are unlike us. Now, it lies on us to use this understanding to create a solution for these issues. 


- Young Gosling