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Film / Deconstructing Harry

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"Who are you?"
"It's me, Ken!"
"... Ken?"
"Look at this guy! You created me, now you doesn't recognize me?"

A 1997 comedy film written and directed by Woody Allen, who also heads an All-Star Cast including Kirstie Alley, Richard Benjamin, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Garner, Paul Giamatti, Amy Irving, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, and Robin Williams.

Successful author Harry Block (Allen) has been routinely mining his real life for material. After his latest divorce, he's been dating a young fan of his work - who just left him. Now he has to deal with an upcoming trip to his alma mater, and some of his characters start checking up on him in real life. A pretty poignant case of Hard Truth Aesop follows.



  • Actor Allusion: Judy Davis' character (Lucy) is dealing with a broken marriage and being jilted for a younger woman; the same fate she suffered in Woody Allen's Husbands and Wives a few years earlier.
  • Affably Evil: The Devil.
    "To Evil! It keeps things hummin'."
    • Arguably, the main character himself.
  • An Aesop: The real Aesop is that we usually don't know when we're happy, and even when we think we're miserable, not everything is bad.
  • Asian Hooker Stereotype: While the Asian prostitute is an extreme stereotype, her attitude, personality and accent are all purely American, which probably means she's just roleplaying the Trope.
  • Author Avatar: To some degree, each and every main character from Harry's stories resembles him. He gives up having an Author Avatar in his last story and admits that it's actually As Himself.
  • Black Comedy: One of Harry's stories, "Max's Dark Secret". Max butchered his family with an axe, then ate them. Played for Laughs.
    Elsie: Whatever you do, first hear Max's side.
    Dolly: Max has a side?! He killed his family and eats them up, the man has a side?!
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  • Brick Joke: One of Harry's (perhaps unfinished) short stories deals with an actor (Mel) going out of focus as he's shooting what appears to be a TV commercial. Later on, the same thing happens to Harry, in lieu of a panic attack.
  • The Cameo: Robin Williams as the out-of-focus actor, Tobey Maguire as a young Author Avatar.
  • Canon Sue: In-universe: "Ken", the main character in Harry's last novel, comes off as a charming, laid-back guy, all too happy to explain what went wrong in Harry's life. He's right every time.
    Harry: How do you know so much?
    Ken: Well... I'm just you. Thinly disguised. You gave me a little more maturity. And a different name.
    • On the other hand, "Leslie", who is a shrewish fundamentalist in his stories, comes off just as intelligent and insightful.
  • A Chat with Satan: An Affably Evil Satan who isn't above Poke the Poodle - he has air conditioning in Hell because "it fucks up the ozone layer!"
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Everyone in the film.
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: In Harry's novel, Ken is having sex with Leslie at a time when they think everyone has left the house. Then his blind grandmother comes in, and he refuses to stop. They manage to escape undetected as she can't see them, but only narrowly.
  • Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: Joan might have needed a lot of help after being cheated on with one of her patients and getting divorced; we know she didn't take it well.
  • Death by Childbirth: Happened to Harry's mom; his father never quite forgave him for that.
  • Driven to Suicide: "My brains on your fucking carpet!" Averted in that she thinks she shouldn't kill herself, but Harry.
  • Easy Road to Hell: The fifth floor of Hell is for subway mothers, aggressive panhandlers, and book critics; the sixth is for right-wing extremists, serial killers, and lawyers who appear on television. On the floor Harry gets off on, he meets the guy who invented aluminum siding.
  • Functional Addict: Harry sees himself as one, as far as booze and anti-anxiety pills are concerned. Other characters don't agree.
  • The Fundamentalist: Played with, twice:
    • In one of Harry's stories, this is the reason his marriage to his former psychoanalyst failed: after the birth of their son, she rediscovered her Jewish roots, became obsessed with faith and tradition, and ended up leaving Harry for a dashing Israeli patient. In real life, though, Harry cheated on Joan with one of her patients.
    • Then there's Bert, Harry's brother-in-law, an observant Jew who Harry despises to the point of becoming estranged from his sister. They later briefly reconnect.
      Harry: And there he is, direct from the Wailing Wall!
  • Gallows Humor: Harry indulges in this. For example, he says the two most wonderful words in the English language are "It's benign."
  • Gilligan Cut:
    The Devil: And one thing you're not, is a kidnapper.
    (cut to)
    Joan: KIDNAPPER!!!
  • High-Class Call Girl: The Asian prostitute in one of the stories-within-a-story.
  • Hellevator: Going to Hell starts with a long, boring ride down one.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Mostly played for laughs, of the smug variety.
  • Jump Cut: Used during the film and a clue that the entire film is one of Harry Block's stories.
  • Prison Rape: Larry warns Gabe he'll be buggered by every con in jail. The prison guard warns Gabe that if he doesn't bless Larry and Fay's wedding, he'll toss him in a cell and bugger him himself.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Seems to have played a major role in Harry and Fay's romantic relationship; he considered her "a fan, then a pupil", but in the end he fell in love and she didn't truly reciprocate his feelings. Fay invokes Pygmalion to describe their relationship.
  • Recycled In Space: Wild Strawberries only Darker and Edgier.
  • Show Within a Show: Harry's stories within the film - and then The Reveal that the entire movie is the new story by Harry about himself.
  • The Shrink: Joan and her fictional counterpart.
  • Sidekick: Harry's friend and colleague Richard.
  • Take That Me: Harry's imagination tells him he's a fuckup who misjudges everyone he knows, including his own sister.
  • There Is a God!: Woody Allen's character, an atheist, uses this in reference to Bobby Thomson's game-winning home run in the 1951 National League playoffs. "When he hit that home run it was the only hint I had that there may be a God."
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Joan's poor patient deals with her going batshit insane, screaming at Harry in the next room with Cluster F Bombs.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Played with: Cookie comes off as a self-assured, reasonably content sex worker, who accepts Harry's offer of money in exchange for accompanying him to his old college, even if she met him a couple hours before (and therefore has no idea whether he could pose a danger to her). She's also treated far more nicely than any other female character in-universe.
    Harry: Every hooker I ever speak to tells me that it beats the hell out of waitressing. Waitressing's gotta be the worst fucking job in the world.
  • Villainous BSoD: Once the group arrive at Harry's alma mater, they find out his friend Richard - who they thought was simply dozing off - has died in his sleep, presumably of a heart attack; Harry panics and briefly goes out of focus.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Happens at least twice, with characters from Harry's stories ("Ken" and "Helen", the latter being a mix between his ex-wife and his sister) lecturing him on the mistakes he made in his personal life.
  • Whole Plot Reference: The film is similar to Wild Strawberries and , in that it is about a professor in the former and an artist in the latter struggling with his current relationships and remembering his old ones, interspersed with dream sequences, as well as his work being based on events from his life.
  • Write Who You Know: invoked With almost no exception, Harry's characters are thinly-veiled versions of people he knows; considering in real life he's a bit of a Magnificent Bastard, every time he's got a new novel out, at least one of his personal relationships goes very sour.
    "And of course there's Jane, or, as you pathetically disguised her... Janet."
    • Even he occasionally can't tell the difference between real life and fiction.
    Lucy: Oh big fucking deal, you gave her large breasts!
    Harry: Leslie, please...
    Lucy: Lucy. I'm Lucy, motherfucker. Not Leslie.
  • Your Cheating Heart: In his own words, Harry's cheated on each and every one of his wives.

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