Saturday, 8 December 2012

Review: Deconstructing Harry

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers on the film Deconstructing Harry by Woody Allen.

I am not one to buy films or TV programs as DVD’s or CD’s.  While I meticulously buy the books I read in paperback format, having decided to eliminate the expense of ever buying a hardcover if a paperback is available and being very reluctant to commit myself to electronic format that robs me of the pleasures of the feel of the cover and pages and also tires my sight, I have not extended the habit to proceed to acquiring film media.  I like to view my films either in a cinema, and those that I miss or omit as not deserving a visit to the big screen I borrow, preferably by mail order.  As of this writing I own a single series of TV programs – the full eight “Monk” series – in digital format on iTunes, and I own a single DVD of a somewhat obscure Woody Allen film titled “Deconstructing Harry” and I own it for the reason that, however obscure, it resonates with me so intensely.

I love Woody Allen movies with such vehemence that I do not hesitate to augment the old adage commonly used to describe his works, that “you either love them or hate them,” with my own addendum “if you hate them you are a tasteless fool,” at least with respect to his top ten ranked films amongst which Deconstructing Harry falls.  It is the main storyline that moves me so much.  The story is about a man who is does not function well in real life situations and who has ended up alone with a life that is somewhat of a mess.  One of his main failures is that he is a serial philanderer who is so weak that he ruins his relationships in deplorable ways, at times by resorting to prostitutes.  We also know that he has been thrown out of his university for some unknown mess up.  He messes up the relationship with his son also by inappropriate misguidance that he gives and by being a horrible role model that his mother is not willing to let him have contact with him.  The protagonist Harry Block, played by Woody Allen himself, is a writer and he uses his writing to express the anxieties and situation he experiences in real life, often conversing with the characters that actually come to life for him.  Woody Allen forms an allegory of his inability to function well in social situations and in real life, and his failures in relationships and social situations by the creation of the character of “the man who is out of focus” played adorably by Robin Williams.  He literally slides out of focus and cannot be seen clearly by his family, friends, or colleagues, and his children have to be fitted with glasses purely to see their dad.

We know, however, that the one thing he does well is writing.  He has won awards for his writing and his old university who kicked him out is now preparing to honour him with an honorary degree.  The main storyline is that he is preparing to go to his award ceremony, but he has no one to take with him.  He is desperate to take his son to the honorary ceremony that marks the one thing that he is proud of and is a success at, but his pleadings with his bitter ex-wife fail.

On his way home alone he runs into an acquaintance, Richard, who also strikes a chord in one because of his loneliness in the big city of New York.  Richard is so alone that he has no one who will come with him to hospital to check up on his heart which he is worried about, although what is so dysfunctional about him that he is so alone is not extrapolated.  He asks Harry to come with him to the health examination, and afterwards Harry invites him to accompany him to the award ceremony, which invitation Richard declines at the time.

Harry goes home alone and resorts to his old vice by hiring a prostitute, Cookie, and ends up inviting her to stay the night at his house and accompany him to the award ceremony the next day.

The next day, as they set off for the event, Richard turns up and wants to come although one is left to wonder whether this is because of gratitude or loneliness with a definite bias towards loneliness.  Cookie is dressed in a revealing pink two piece number that screams she is a prostitute with a definite bias towards loneliness.  On the way they decide to stop by Harry’s son’s school and forcibly take him from the woman picking up the child.  Harry turns up at the award ceremony with the police after him for kidnapping the child, with Richard dead in his back seat, and a prostitute dressed in pink work gear.  He literally slides out of focus in a panic at how badly he has handled the situation of a ceremony so important to him by “turning up with a dead body and a hooker”, and it is Cookie who takes charge and talks him into focus by returning his attention to the award he is about to receive for the writing he loves and is so good at.  The movie ends on the note of the man who is literally “out of focus” except when he is doing his work as a writer, the one thing he is successful at in his life.

This work resonates so intensely with me because I feel out of focus except when I am writing or working on my electronics as an engineer.  I should hasten to add I do not draw a parallel to Harry Block literally – i.e. I do not resort to prostitutes and such likes; but I feel socially anxious often and I function best through my work.

Posted on behalf of Jac Wright.

Jac Wright, Author, The Reckless Engineer
Woody Allen (Harry Block) has the Writers' Block.

Jac Wright, Author, The Reckless Engineer
Robin Williams is Out-of-Focus in Deconstructing Harry

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