When Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) meet, on a road trip from the University of Chicago to New York City, they don’t get along. Their clashing dispositions are the personification of that eternal conflict between the irresistible force and the immovable object. Sally, with her perpetually sunny and upbeat outlook, will find a high note in a death march; and Harry, ever cynical, skewers her optimism with his own sardonic take on the world. In the inevitable ebb and flow of their rambling conversation they eventually land on the subject of men and women.
More than one voice in this discussion
While the genesis of director Rob Reiner’s “When Harry Met Sally…” was born out of Reiner’s experiences as a single man and his posing of the question, “Can men and women really be friends?” hindsight shows that his was not the only voice contributing to the discussion. Some of the themes–and how those themes are broached–can be seen in the subsequent movies of writer/director Nora Ephron, who wrote the screenplay for “Harry Met Sally.”
Vive la différence
The “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” argument is certainly not new or original. How Ephron chooses to portray those differences make her take on the subject both entertaining and insightful. For example, Harry and Sally don’t ostensibly talk about what it means to have a full and exciting love life; instead we get insights into their character as they argue over which lover Ingrid Bergman should run off with at the end of “Casablanca.”
By way of contrast, in the films of Blake Edwards (“Victor/Victoria,” “10”) you will often see an argument among the main characters about the differences between men and women. In fact, their disputes sound more like debates as each character argues his point with almost Shavian precision. Whereas the disagreements between Ephron’s characters are often reduced to squabbles, which makes them funnier and more human.
Movie love (or love in the movies)
Another pet theme of Ephron’s often discussed among critics is mistakenly identified as her examination of love in the movies. Her target is actually about how, as an audience, we respond to the depiction of love in the movies. There are a couple of references to this in “When Harry Met Sally…” and it is developed further in “Sleepless In Seattle.” As Rosie O’Donnell and Meg Ryan are bawling over the fate of the lovers in “An Affair to Remember,” Ephron appears to be poking fun at how we react to the roller coaster of emotions we experience while watching a movie.
Is she being critical of these emotions of empathy? Is she questioning the validity of such a response? By the end of “Sleepless” her position is clear as our response to Ephron’s film is similar to the reaction her characters have to the movie they’re watching.
In the world of Nora Ephron there is a legitimate place for the tugging of the heart and the lump in the throat. Even if we haven’t reached a similar epiphany in our own lives when we witness it on the screen we believe it can be attained, that such a connection with another human being is possible. At the end of “Harry Met Sally,” when Billy Crystal says, “…when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible,” we nod, we sigh, we say Yes.
June 22nd is date night as Alfredo’s Beach Club will screen “When Harry Met Sally…” on Granada Beach, around 8 PM. It is a part of their summer series of free outdoor screenings, Moonlight Movies on the Beach.
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