Eric Goldin | ‘When Harry Met Sally’ and Its Simple Brilliance

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A great film or theatrical play, aside from providing entertainment, must have social commentary and make us think about the world we live in. Ideas expressed within the themes and messages of a story should be simple enough for everybody to easily understand their basic premises, but they also need to have a certain amount of complexity where many thought-provoking conversations are able to branch out. 

When a person goes out to the movies on a Friday night, they’re probably not interested in thinking academically, but nevertheless, I believe everybody is yearning to take some kind of deep meaning out of what they’re watching. A film can’t be so convoluted that it’s a chore to watch; however, it also can’t be so dumb that it becomes utterly forgettable. Some movies do well at the box office initially but are quickly disregarded within a couple of months – while others are astonishing works of art that stand the test the time. 

This year was the 30th anniversary of the film “When Harry Met Sally.” On the surface, this movie is a simple romantic comedy meant to give viewers a bunch of laughs and make them feel good. When studied closer, however, the story contains many gems of rich, powerful, and intelligent observations about life. 

While it is true that this movie can be enjoyed and consumed very easily without any need to think about it very deeply, the thing that makes it so legendary is the social commentary in the plot. The initial premise of this film asks a very simple question: Can a man and a woman be “just friends?” 

The concept of this is not difficult to understand, which means anybody can partake in the conversation, but the discussions we have about it can be very lengthy and deep.  

Billy Crystal’s Harry asserts that men and women can’t be “just friends” because a guy is always thinking about sex. The character Harry believes that platonic relationships are impossible because the male sexual drive overrides any desire he has to be in a regular friendship. 

Meg Ryan’s Sally disagrees, and at the beginning of the film, while the two of them are driving to New York, they get into a fun conversation about this topic. They develop a great friendship during the course of the movie, but ultimately over time, they end up having very deep romantic feelings for each other, and at the end of the film, they get married. 

This can be interpreted in different ways: To some people it proves that any friendship between men and women is inevitably going to develop into a sexual relationship. Other people might point out the fact that Sally and Harry had a lengthy friendship before their romantic or sexual feelings blossomed, and conclude that men and women can indeed be just friends. The great thing about this movie is a person can interpret it in their own way, and talk about it with their friends and family members. Long hours can be spent conversing about this simple topic. 

The main theme is something that is fun and engaging for most people. If “When Harry Met Sally” was about solving calculus equations, the general public probably wouldn’t think very fondly of it. The fact that the theme is an important social concept, but yet still very enjoyable to talk about, is what put this movie in the pantheon of great classics. Without the core ingredient of a witty and significant topic, it would be a mediocre production and get lost in the scrap heap of history.

The unforgettable deli scene is the perfect example of the value this film brought to the public. During the scene, Sally shows Harry that women can very convincingly “fake it” during sex. Many people simply enjoy the humor of this exchange and the hilarious reactions from the patrons in the restaurant – especially the woman at the end who utters one of the most memorable lines in history, “I’ll have what she’s having.” 

More intuitive minds have studied this part of the movie, and have analyzed what it meant for the public at the time. Female sexuality was once a very taboo subject, but this movie helped the public be more open to the conversation. When I first saw this scene, it made me hysterical with laughter. Upon more viewings, I started to think about concepts like male ego and the pressure women face to please their romantic partner. This one moment of the film highlights the pure brilliance of it: at the same time that you’re roaring with laughter, you’ll be thinking of important social phenomena. 

The thing that sets “When Harry Met Sally” apart from other romantic comedies is the fact that it can be used as a conversation starter for subject matters regarding men and women. It tackles important issues and helps open the door for larger conversations. These are the kinds of movies that can be watched again and again. This film has a timeless charm and is simply brilliant. 

Eric Goldin is a Santa Clarita resident.

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