by Blythe Roberson | October 10th, 2012
When Harry Met Sally is a commercial film. Its mission is to be entertaining, to ensure as much watching as possible. As a commercial romantic comedy, its entertainment stems from its romance (Harry and Sally ending up happily together) and from its comedy (“baby fish mouth”). The film is romantic, it is comedic, and thus it was a commercial success.
But to When Harry Met Sally’s fans, it is not about commercial success but about the question of whether men and women can be friends. This is the hook of the movie, the foundation for its romance and jokes. Within the first fifteen minutes, Harry makes a statement which the rest of the film debates: “Men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.” Sally argues that she has platonic men friends, but Harry says these friendships are invalid because those men secretly want to have sex with her. It’s a universal rule, he says. All men want to have sex with all women, regardless of whether or not the man finds the woman attractive. And according to Harry, it doesn’t matter if the woman doesn’t want to have sex with the man, “because the sex thing is already out there, so the friendship is ultimately doomed, and that is the end of the story.”
The film’s hook and its commercial obligation to romance create a tension. Before the question is even asked, we know whether Harry and Sally can be friends; they can’t. They inhabit a rom-com, and so they ultimately have to end up together romantically.
Harry and Sally do, for a good portion of the film, have a strong platonic bond. They are the only friends in the film who talk about subjects other than romance. They joke about dead people’s apartments, talk in silly accents, and do karaoke at Sharper Image. Harry and Sally are as comfortable together as they are with themselves; they are one soul in two bodies. While the idea of “soul mates” is now associated...