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Monday, January 30, 2006

No. No. No. No. No. Yes.

It is I, Smeliana, here yet again. You thought I'd disappeared. In fact, I just have a job and an active social life. I know. I know. I'm sorry. But I'll try to make it up to you. I just saw When Harry Met Sally, again. And, if I may spoil the inevitable but brilliant romantic comedy ending, I'll pontificate for a moment.

I'm going to assume that we all know the movie. And it's wonderful. It's fabulous. The comic timing, the editing, the pacing, the colors, the juxtopositions, the split screens, the racial/ethnic undertones, the City are all incredible. Just so good.

Harry and Sally are just complex enough that the film can hold up over time and it has several canonical scenes spurring debates throughout the ages. (I mean, the movie is almost 17 years old. That's practically FOREVER.) I'm in no mood to pander to you and tell you all of the ways in which this film is gold. I have a very specific question.

What's with the ending?

Harry comes to his senses and realizes exactly what he's supposed to realize; he loves Sally and wants to be with her. He even spouts a perfect "I Love You" Monologue:

I love that you get cold when it's 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.


How much do I want someone to say that to me? Hell, I could even write it beforehand and give it to him; I wouldn't want him to strain himself. My response (and Sally and I are VERY similar) would be to promptly pick myself up off the floor (I would have buckled at "sleep at night"), grab him, kiss him, and say, "Really? Go on..."

But no. Not Sally. She says that she hates him. She hates him because he says things that make it impossible to hate him. At this point, I'm with her, a bit. Alright, Sally. You want to be mad. Mad is a graspable emotion. It makes sense and has a standard protocol. It's fun to hold onto. There's always something to do. But he's so great, and so you're struggling. Rightly so. Struggle, struggle, struggle.

But then she just repeats, "I hate you. I hate you. [shakes head, tears up, and mouths again] I hate you." And then he kisses her! And they kiss! And then you have the pullback to the crowd and the cut to them discussing their marriage and happiness.

Am I the only one who finds this disconcerting? Do I hate conflict that much? Why does he kiss her? She just told him she hates him! Shouldn't that wound him a bit? Shouldn't he care if she hates him? Or shouldn't he worry that she still wants to hate him? If I confessed my love to my best friend and then he said he hated me and started to cry, I couldn't kiss him. I would cry too. "What did I say? What did I do wrong? I love you!"

The repeated, "I hate you" would just be such a blow to my ego that I couldn't kiss him right after. Is Harry cockier than I am? Is he so confident that she can't cancel out his determination? Is this a case of "when you know, you know"? Is love when both of you understand that the words coming out of your mouth are false?

I don't know how I feel about that. Maybe I've never had true love. Maybe I'm more emotionally specific than most people. Maybe my skin is too thin. But I don't think I could kiss someone after they say they hate me.

And what does it mean that it's okay that he did it? What kinds of gender ramifications does it have? "Don't listen to the crazy woman. She doesn't know what she's talking about! Kiss her! Win her!" Could it ever work the other way? He would say, "I hate you" and that would be it. Over.

Do you think this is unsettling?

8 comments:

Rami Raff said...

I really do enjoy When Harry Met Sally, although it could be argued did as much damage as Star Wars (another movie I love)to the way movies are made, written and marketed. But again, this is grist for another article mill. I think you're not too far off the mark in saying that no GUY would ever respond the way Sally responds. In my experience though women can really be EXACTLY this contrary no matter what you say to them. Oh sure she obviously LOVES Harry but he has to work till the end. He has to show that his love is so certain that even up till the last possible moment no matter what anyone says, even Sally, his love will be true. Does Sally deserve a solid kidney punch for this thinking, most certainly. Does Meg Ryan deserve a kindey punch? You bet. The problem is about the fundamental conflict between MOST men and MOST women (god help me if anyone thinks I'm speaking in generalities). The key to this understanding lies in how men and women's genitals are shaped. I have been developing this arguement for several months and if I can think of some illustrative movie examples maybe I'll turn in a full length article myself.

BB said...

I don't think the issue is that whatever they say is false, but rather that what they say does not matter so much. That they both love each other is obvious, and Sally clearly hasn't quite come to terms with her love. So she says "I hate you" because she's confused and feels a need to push him away despite her desire to get closer. So in a way, her saying "I hate you" is an expression of her fear, which is a fear of being in love and therefore is an expression of her love. Feel free to disagree with me, but I have had several experiences with women who love me, and push me away because of it. They've never told me "I hate you" per se, but the pushing away has happened enough that it seems fairly common.

Anonymous said...

I've never been in love, but I could learn to love Meg Ryan.

-J

Anonymous said...

Another example of a woman saying "No" and the man thinking that the woman is saying "yes" or that through action he can change the "No" into a "yes." and in this case, maybe he is right.
who knows. the heart is mysterious

all I know if you love someone and they say: "I hate you" you are not obligated to take it at face value.

Lovely Cake said...

I think based on the precipitating events (them sleeping together, her falling for him, him pulling away, her being horrified and hurt and him knowing it), her reaction ("i hate you") and his counter-reaction (kissing her) make perfect sense. If Sally was so angry at Harry but totally forgave him without reservation as soon as he uttered the "I love you" speech, we would groan and say "Sally! Grow a backbone! Maintain your dignity and self-control! Make him work for it!" I don't think she resists his charms in the interest of manipulating him; rather, she's torn between her obvious love for him and the fact that he recently broke her heart! Having been hurt by him and left so vulnerable, of course she tries to maintain some distance with the i-hate-yous, even as she feels herself unable to resist the undeniable pulls she feels for him.

As for Harry being impervious to her i-hate-yous, he already knows she loves him. Not only has she demonstrated her love for him by being so upset by the sleeping-together fiasco, it's written all over her face, in the crinkle in her forehead and those weepy little eyes. Besides, Harry is persistent, especially once he knows what he wants. Far be it from me to make generalizations (like Rami) but in the history of the world, men have a reputation for tunnel vision - going after what they want and throttling it to the ground until they get it.

That said, I do not think the scene would work with the genders reversed. Not at all.

AzS said...

The one scene I can remember when things are reversed (off the top of my head) is in "Gone With the Wind", at the end, when Scarlett tells Rhett she loves him, and he responds, almost with relief, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" -- of course, there, he means it, and he continues to walk out the door, out of Scarlett's life, and out of the film. I can't think of a female character who follows up on that kind of treatment with upfront passion...

...although, bouncing tangentially off of Rami's mention of Star Wars... I don't remember Han Solo and Princess Lea's interaction perfectly, but it seems as though, early in "Empire Strikes Back", there's something hostile going on (I remember some quick, funny dialogue and lots of tracking shots underneath Hoth... Anyone have a better memory for the scene than I do? Is this relevant, or am I grasping at fog?)

-AzS

major4th said...

I agree with BB that what they both say means bubkis in the affirmation of their love. When Sally repeats "I hate you," she most likely doesn't mean that she actually hates Harry like a different Harry hates Voldemort. She's repeating the playful-hateful interplay of the rest of the movie. Like a 4th grader with a crush, Sally pushes Harry and is negative towards him rather than giving in to emotion (oh no!) and losing her pseudo-high ground.

I am surprised you didn't equate her "I hate you" mantra met with a forceful kiss to Billy Crystal becoming a rapist. Maybe that's what it's all about! Yeah, that he needed to prove his love by proving her feelings wrong and getting physical at an uber-fancy NYE party in front of all those well-dressed white people.

Or he just needed to yell at her to jostle her head a bit with important facts like her nasal movement.

I used to be very negative about this movie as the queen of evil chick flicks but now I very much like it. It's actually gotten me through two of my top 5 breakups (I feel like John Cusack in High Fidelity). And I really like the Dendur scene.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it bothers AzS that no one comments on her posts but everyone comments about Smel's.