It is impossible for me to watch When Harry Met Sally and retain my well-adjusted single woman persona. Maybe it’s the Harry Connick Jr. music, or New York in the fall, but my guess is that it’s Harry and Sally.
My gosh, when he leaves her in the morning I turn into a pajama-clad, pint-holding, tissues-crumpled, sad-sack. I can almost feel myself becoming a cliche as I tell Harry Albright, “don’t break her heart”, repeatedly.
Of course, he never listens.
But by the end, as the credits roll and I return to my jean-clad, beer-swilling, regular-self with tear tracks on my face, it occurs to me not how important romance is, but how important relationships are.
Hold on to your shorts, I’m about to commit one of my own pet peeves by moralizing this movie. When Harry Met Sally is the epitome of this romantic relationship fixation we have in our culture.
Indulge me as I shred apart a favorite movie.
It’s brilliant in its simplicity and yet wrong. All relationships disappear as soon as they can no longer apply on a sexually interesting level. Sally’s married friend has all of one scene. Harry and Sally each have a best friend who is single, naturally these two fall for each other (oops, spoiler alert on a 30-year-old movie) and there are no other players — except ex-partners.
We realize how perfect Harry and Sally are together because we’re never distracted by anyone else, and neither are they. Maybe we all live small lives with only an intimate circle of friends, but I don’t buy it. I’m an introvert and even I can claim at least three-five close friendships. How come these two leads can’t say the same? what kind of relational retardation have they experienced? Are they so co-dependent on each other after ten years that marriage was the only option? After all, their best friends are married, wouldn’t it just be more convenient?
I know, I know, when you love someone everyone else disappears, but (I hate to say this because I love this movie passionately), maybe that’s the real tragedy. Maybe it IS tragic to be so consumed and absorbed by someone else to the point that your supporting cast is only 20 characters long (not counting “uncredited” and “documentary couple”, but indeed counting “Joke teller at wedding”).
I know what you’re going to say. It’s a movie. The limited cast is what makes it so realistic, so raw, so comedic and relatable. I know, I get it. I do. But what movies do us the disservice of validating is our persistent belief that true love is a completely consuming experience. That there is nothing outside of life for us except to be consumed in romance, or with romantic prospects.
Sally has a career, right? What is it? What exactly does Harry do? Do they have families at all? Have either of them experienced loss in their life? Severe health concerns? What impact does society have on them? Has Harry ever had financial worries? Sally, ever changed a tire on the freeway ?
We watch the movie and we feel they are well-rounded, but we know so little about them outside of each other. What if Sally’s that woman at work who always steals your sandwich from the fridge? Or Harry’s the kind of guy who prints off jokes and posts them outside the men’s room? We think we know them because we know them with each other. And we think they’re perfect because we only ever see how they effect each other.
But isn’t it remotely possible there are other people that bring out different better sides of them? Other people DO exist, do influence your life, do add color, confusion, pain, happiness. Perhaps a woman that makes Harry less morose, or gets him to a shrink. Perhaps a man who makes Sally less uptight, less “I like it the way I like it.” Sure they accept each other’s flaws, and that’s wonderful, but do they change each other? Do they make each other better people? Or does that not matter? Is the main goal to marry someone who expects nothing?
Or maybe it’s just a romantic comedy with clever dialogue and engaging characters.
It’s definitely that, I mean. Forget everything else I said. There is no conspiracy of film to make you aware of how mediocre your life is by comparison. Or drive home that you should be dissatisfied and waiting for your happy ending. That’s definitely not happening.
Eh. It’s like any other media isn’t it? It is what you make of it, I suppose.
What I DO know is that the old couple near the beginning, the high school sweethearts who connect after THIRTY-FOUR YEARS apart…I want to see that movie. I wonder what Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan are up to these days…