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Deconstructing Harry
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Jean Doumanian
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen
Kirstie Alley
Bob Balaban
Richard Benjamin
Eric Bogosian
Billy Crystal
Judy Davis
Hazelle Goodman
Mariel Hemingway
Amy Irving
Julie Kavner
Eric Lloyd
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Tobey Maguire
Demi Moore
Elisabeth Shue
Stanley Tucci
Robin Williams
Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
Editing by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by Buena Vista International
Release date(s) United States December 12, 1997
United Kingdom April 17, 1998
Running time 96 min.
Country USA
Language English
Budget $20,000,000

Deconstructing Harry is a film by Woody Allen released in 1997. The title of the film comes from the philosophy of Deconstruction, of which many elements are represented throughout the film. This film tells the story of a successful writer called Harry Block, played by Allen himself, who draws inspiration from people he knows in real-life, and from events that happened to him, sometimes causing these people to become alienated from him as a result.

The central plot features Block driving to a university from which he was once thrown out, in order to receive an honorary degree. Three passengers accompany him on the journey: a prostitute, a friend, and his son, whom he has kidnapped from his divorced wife. However, there are many flashbacks, segments taken from Block's writing, and interactions with his own fictional characters.

Contents

Plot

One night, Lucy (Judy Davis) gets a taxi to the home of author Harry Block (Woody Allen). She has just read Harry's latest novel. In the novel, fictional Leslie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is having an affair with her sister's husband Ken (Richard Benjamin). Lucy is angry because the novel is patently based on her and Harry's own affair. As a result, everyone knows about it. Lucy pulls a gun out of her purse, saying she will kill herself. She then turns the gun on Harry and begins firing. She chases him out onto the roof. Harry insists that he has already been punished: his latest girlfriend Fay (Elisabeth Shue) has left him for his best friend Larry (Billy Crystal). To distract Lucy, Harry tells her a story he is currently writing: a semi-autobiographical story of a sex-obsessed young man named Harvey (Tobey Maguire) who is mistakenly claimed by Death.

In therapy, Harry realizes he has not changed since he was a sex-obsessed youth. Harry discusses the honoring ceremony at his old university, taking place the next day. Harry is miserable that he has nobody to share the occasion with. After the session, Harry asks his ex-wife Joan (Kirstie Alley) if he can take their son Hilliard (Eric Lloyd) to the ceremony. She refuses, stating that Harry is a bad influence on Hilliard. She is also furious at Harry for the novel he wrote. In it, the character Epstein (Stanley Tucci) marries Helen (Demi Moore), but the marriage begins to crumble after the birth of their son.

Harry runs into an acquaintance, Richard (Bob Balaban), who is worried about his health. After accompanying Richard to the hospital, Harry asks him to come to the university ceremony. Richard appears uninterested. Harry then goes to meet his ex-girlfriend Fay, who reveals that she is now engaged. Harry begs Fay to get back together with him. He asks Fay to accompany him to his ceremony, but it clashes with Fay's wedding, scheduled the following day.

That night, Harry sleeps with a prostitute, Cookie (Hazelle Goodman). Harry then asks Cookie to accompany him to his ceremony.

In the morning, Richard unexpectedly arrives to join Harry and Cookie on the journey. On a whim, Harry decides to "kidnap" his son Hilliard. Along the way, they stop at a carnival, then at Harry's half-sister Doris's (Caroline Aaron). Doris, a devoted Jew, is upset by Harry's portrayals of Judaism in his stories, as is her husband (Eric Bogosian). During the journey, Harry also encounters his fictional creations Ken and Helen, who force him to confront some painful truths about his life. Just before arriving at the university, Richard dies peacefully in the car.

Distressed, Harry literally slides out of focus, becoming blurred like one of his own fictional characters. Cookie helps him restore focus. The university's staffers gush over Harry, asking what he plans to write next. He describes a story about a man (based on himself) who journeys down to Hell to reclaim his true love (based on Fay) from the Devil (based on Larry).

Harry's relating of the story is interrupted by the arrival of the police. They arrest Harry for kidnapping Hilliard, for possessing a gun (it was Lucy's), and for having drugs in the car (belonging to Cookie).

Larry and Fay come from their wedding to bail Harry out of jail. Harry reluctantly gives them his blessings. Back at his apartment, a miserable Harry fantasizes that the university's ceremony is taking place. Harry realizes that he cannot function in life. He can only function in art.

Cast

Actor Role
Woody Allen Harry Block
Richard Benjamin Ken - Harry's Character
Kirstie Alley Joan - Harry's former wife
Billy Crystal Larry/devil - Harry's character
Judy Davis Lucy
Bob Balaban Richard, friend that dies of a heart attack
Elisabeth Shue Fay, Harry's last girlfriend
Tobey Maguire Harvey Stern - Harry's character
Jennifer Garner woman in the elevator - Harry's character
Paul Giamatti Prof. Abbott
Stanley Tucci Paul Epstein - Harry's Character
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Leslie - Harry's Character
Mariel Hemingway Beth Kramer
Robin Williams Mel - Harry's Character
Hazelle Goodman Cookie
Eric Bogosian Burt - Harry's brother in law
Demi Moore Helen - Harry's Character
Caroline Aaron Doris, Harry's sister
Amy Irving Jane

Awards and nominations

Woody Allen was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Deconstructing Harry. The film was also nominated for a Golden Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical.

Influences

The film is a general reworking of his earlier 1980 film Stardust Memories, which also had an artist go to a ceremony in his honor, while reminiscing over past relationships and trying to fix and stabilize current ones[1].

Allen is well-known as an admirer of many European directors whose primary body of work was completed sometimes decades before his first script, and his films in particular often draw upon the works of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. The rough outline of the plot of Deconstructing Harry, that of an academic on a long drive to receive an honorary award from his old university while reflecting upon his life's experiences, essentially mirrors that of Bergman's Wild Strawberries[2]. An author thinly disguising his or her private life as the lives of the fictitious characters is borrowed from Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly.

It is also widely acknowledged that Allen based the name of Harry Block on Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), the protagonist from Bergman's The Seventh Seal[1]. Some critics, including Roger Ebert, have suggested that the character of Harry Block is based on real-life author Philip Roth and not on Allen himself[2]. The name "Block" may be interpreted as ironic and narratively appropriate, because the character suffers from writer's block.

External links

Notes

  1. ^ a b David Desser, Lester D. Friedman: American Jewish Filmmakers . University of Illinois Press 2003, 2nd edition, ISBN 9780252071539, pp. 105
  2. ^ a b http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19971224/REVIEWS/712240301/1023
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