When Harry Met Sally turns 30: A classic romcom that stands out due to its interaction between yin and yang
When Harry Met Sally showed that a man and a woman, though fiercely individualistic, can be together given they are willing to give their relationship time.
The primary reason why Rob Reiner's When Harry Met Sally (which completes 30 years today on 21 July) is considered a classic is because it was the first romantic comedy of its kind. It is to the global audience what Aditya Chopra's 1995 directorial debut Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge was, or rather is, to the Indian audience.
While Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge incorporated a lot of external factors, like family approval and the macro angle of Indian culture at threat on the verge of liberalisation, When Harry Met Sally mostly introduced one hurdle in the way 0f the protagonists' love story — themselves, and their prejudices of love, friendship, and life. It only focused on the interaction between the yin (universal male energy) and the yang (universal female energy), and all the combustible reactions that come out of it.
It is literally a love for all ages — the love blossoms at a measured pace over more than 12 years, from the time when the protagonists (Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal) are in their 20s to when they have matured in their early 30s.
"A man and a woman can't be just friends," the unforgettable line from the original, that also found its way in the Hindi remake, Kunal Kohli's 2004 directorial debut Hum Tum, could not have been a more incorrect statement. The fact that they end up together, 12 years later, is as comforting as it is heartwarming. A similar trope was used between Ross and Rachel in the Warner Bros' TV show Friends a few years later.
The reason it took more than 12 long years for Harry and Sally to get married has a lot to with their mutual differences, and the fact that both of them were fairly individualistic people in their own right. Sally, right from the start, was very rational and practical. In the third phase of her life, even after the break-up with Joe, she maintains her approach towards the parting. "Every time I think of the break-up, I feel I did the right thing," she chirpily tells Harry, after bumping into him at a bookstore when they are both in their early 30s.
However, she also claims that there exists a "dark side" to her "like every next person" after Harry casually remarks that she is devoid of that side. "I am a happy person," she tells herself, reassuring that a "dark side" does not lend Harry any emotional depth. However, Harry, being a man who wears his heart on his sleeve, reveals his "dark side" to be "reading the last page of the novel" he purchases first because he is uncertain whether he will make it alive by the time he finishes the book. While Sally brushes the example off, the fact is that she craves a "dark side", a person to share her sexual energy with.
In a remarkable scene, when Joe informs her of his marriage, she gives in to her insecurity. Heartbroken, she calls Harry to her home late at night. It is then that Harry observes Sally in her most vulnerable state for the first time. She swims in pity as he attempts to console her.
"I'm soon going to be 40."
"But that is going to be eight years later!"
"Yeah, but it is standing right there as a dead end," she says, explaining why men and women have different needs biologically.
When he does not acknowledge that menopause is slowly and surely drawing close to her, she tells him, "It's not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73!" He then says, "But that is the age where he would not have been able to get it up." The scene ends up in the two making out, though Harry believes that it was his attempt to pacify Sally.
When they are young college graduates, Harry does not get why Sally is so held up in matters of sex. He doesn't get why sex cannot be a casual affair between the two, not taking account that the two have just met each other for the first time. While he is unapologetic about his pervasive sexual energy, he is not the best at investing emotionally in a longstanding relationship because his myopic view towards a relationship lets him believe that the only outcome of a relationship is sex. So why invest emotions?
In one of the most iconic scenes to ever grace the screen, Sally tells Harry that a woman and a man have different priorities in bed. While both of them sit over a meal in a restaurant, Sally fakes an orgasm, quite audibly, in order to prove to Harry how real it looks. Her endeavour is to make Harry realise just how many women he believes he 'fulfilled' the sexual needs of. She makes a hole in his big fat male ego by revealing how easy is it to not only lure men to bed, but also fool them. She demonstrates why he may flaunt his male sexual energy all the time, but she, being a woman, knows her body better.
On a side note, an elderly woman, sitting at a table next to them, tells the waiter, "I'll have what she's having," in one of the most memorable lines ever written.
So with the male energy and the female energy conversely different from each other, how do they converge eventually? It takes time.
"Twelve years and three months to be precise," as Sally remembers accurately. Their union seems special because both Harry and Sally learn how to prioritise their relationship over and above their individualistic needs. It takes them over a decade to get to that point, but it sure does happen. To see the two young people grow up, reconsider their rather narrow-minded ideas, and adapt to change, serves as a reminder that in order to find love, we also need to go over similar phases.
It is perhaps why When Harry Met Sarry became a template for rom-coms for years to come.
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