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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

When Harry Met Sally Still Hooks Viewers After 35 Years

Can men and women be friends? The burning question at the heart of “When Harry Met Sally” still smolders after 35 years.
From+the+Maroon+media+archive%2C+%E2%80%9CHull+Gate+from+the+Joseph+Regenstein+Library.%E2%80%9D+
Camelia Malkami
From the Maroon media archive, “Hull Gate from the Joseph Regenstein Library.”

In a world of the three-month rule and situationships, Rob Reiner’s 1989 classic When Harry Met Sally is a love story that is relatable to modern audiences and simultaneously allows us to remain hopeful that love will come at the right time and place. But even after 35 years and a drastically different dating pool, the question still remains: Does the sex part get in the way? This classic film leaves the answer up to you as it takes its watchers on the journey of the love that blooms when Harry meets Sally.

The main theme that is associated with many classic movies, but is particularly well done in this film, is the friends-to-lovers trope between main characters Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan). Sally’s high-maintenance and type-A personality clashes with Harry’s nonchalant, bad-boy disposition almost immediately in the opening scene. This introduction is instantly engaging due partly to a steamy make-out clip along with camera shots of the familiar Cobb Gate surrounded by ivy—a nice addition for those of us who want to romanticize life on the way to our Reg study sesh. Once the pair arrive in New York City for their respective jobs, we receive shots of skylines and the Washington Square Park arch with the Twin Towers peeking through—a shot that might’ve been fairly common in the late 1980s but is nostalgic for modern viewers.

The obvious dilemma throughout Harry and Sally’s journey is the fact that Harry states from the beginning that men and women can’t be friends because of the infamous “sex part.” Aside from the slightly stereotypical undertone, this belief sets up the rest of the story quite well if you’re looking for a cult classic that doesn’t veer far from the limits of a traditional romantic comedy. Despite Harry’s philosophy, fate brings the two together multiple times: once when both parties are in relationships, and again when Sally and her beau are broken up and Harry and his estranged wife Helen are in the process of a divorce. The film progresses fairly quickly; within 30 minutes, Harry and Sally are already established friends who spend much time together, a clear foreshadowing that Harry’s philosophy will be corroborated.

Focusing more on the comedy of the film, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the famous “I’ll have what she’s having” scene. It is heartwarming to see how comfortable the two have become compared to the start. In the same vein, this specific scene is refreshing because we see Sally appear less stringent and Harry more composed, which is a retrospective character development that is hard to miss. Looking past the scene as a milestone in friendship, it functions well as a purely comedic moment while also perpetuating a theme that mildly shifts the narrative: the fundamental differences between men and women. The scene explicitly depicts Sally faking an orgasm in the middle of a crowded restaurant, with Harry not stopping her but watching shockingly with bulged eyes. Now, of course, the physicality and sexuality of the scene make for great comedy, but the conversation that occurs before illustrates a stark difference in the way women and men view sex. It is interesting that Harry truly doesn’t believe a woman has ever “faked it” before, and the way in which this is reconciled in the movie is satisfying and witty.

Although I am certainly not an expert when it comes to cinematography, the shots throughout the film only added to the production. What makes a film a classic is not always about being egregious or particularly unique, and When Harry Met Sally is a film that is surely respectable in this sense. As a viewer in 2024, I can appreciate a simple split shot or a 360 moment, and this film provides famous moments utilizing these. One of my personal favorites depicts a four-way phone call between Harry, Sally, and their friends, Jess and Marie, after Harry and Sally “mistakenly” have sex. The cinematography of this scene adds comedy because from the split scene, we can see Harry and Sally are not together. Therefore, they have no idea that the other is virtually only feet away, which the split shot illustrates beautifully.

As the movie nears its’ 35th anniversary and as couples cuddle up to watch a movie to celebrate Valentine’s Day, When Harry Met Sally should be at the top of the list—especially for those with any connection to the University. Not only does it remain true to the spirit of rom-coms, but it also gives a sense of hope to those of us that believe in fate. So, does the sex part get in the way? Absolutely, but it wouldn’t be a cult classic if it didn’t.

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  • T

    Tasha Allen / Feb 15, 2024 at 6:42 pm

    Excellent read!

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  • C

    Canetha Buchanan / Feb 15, 2024 at 1:55 pm

    Great read!

    Reply