It's a shame that so much negative criticism focuses on Deconstructing Harry's bad language, because this is one of Allen's funniest, smartest and most perceptive films. In fact, it may actually be his best film full stop only Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanours can challenge Harry. But although the bad language and crudity may affect some people's enjoyment of the film, for me, as someone who loves bad taste, it's a major benefit, especially as it's a side of Allen we rarely see. I mean, we're used to the romantic Allen and the neurotic Allen, and we've even had serious Allen, but here you have Allen almost becoming Philip Roth. It's very enjoyable to watch.
In this film, Allen's alter ego is Harry Block, a writer in the mould of Philip Roth who, in the words of one his exes, turns everyone else's suffering into literary gold. And this assertion is corroborated by the opening scene, a section from one his books where a man and a woman who are having an affair, during a barbecue, decide to have sex in a bathroom while their spouses are eating in the garden. It's a very funny scene, especially as an attempted blow-job is interrupted by a false alarm (the woman grinds her teeth when the man spots his wife) and as some doggy-style sex is interrupted by the woman's blind grandmother coming into the room (when asked what's happening, the woman tells her grandmother that she's making Martinis while they continue banging away). But while the scene is absolutely hilarious, it does also have a point. This is a scene from Harry's life. He's using it in his work. Therefore his ex isn't too happy to find this episode in his book. Of course, Harry tries to explain that it was 'loosely based' (the grandmother was an embellishment), but that doesn't cut much ice with his ex, who's having all of the sordid details of her affair revealed to friends and family. So the film touches on ideas of a writer's responsibility. What's exploitation and what's inspiration?
One of the most revealing sections of the film is when Harry talks to his therapist. He discusses his attitude to women. "I'm always thinking of f****** every woman I meet
I see a woman on a bus. I think what she looks like naked. Is it possible I might f*** her?" Essentially Harry is a man who has never grown up. He can't commit and he can't sustain a relationship with a woman, a fact backed up by his string of exes and his affection for prostitutes. Indeed, for him, whores are perfect. You don't have to woo them, they don't nag you and they do whatever you want; all you've got to do is pay them. And in the film, Harry takes Cookie, a black prostitute ("Do you know what a black hole is?" Harry asks her. "Yeah, that's how I make my living.") with him to an honouring ceremony at his old school.
Harry also takes a friend along with him and his young son well, he actually 'kidnaps' his son. And the whole journey, the whole act of going back to remember the past, brings back memories of stories he wrote, stories that are thinly veiled versions of actual events. One of the funniest is a story of a man who married his therapist. At first everything is great, the woman understands the man like no other woman in the world. But once they have a child she becomes "Jewish with a vengeance". No longer is she smart and funny and sexy; all of a sudden she's a dowdy nag who's rediscovered her religion. And in one hilarious moment she even prays before administering a blow-job. Again it's highly amusing, but again it has a point; Harry wants everything to remain perfect. He can't understand why people have to change. I mean, even having a child doesn't change him. He talks to his son about naming his penis. He may be getting on, but he's still really just a kid.
Harry's whole life philosophy is neatly summed up by his half-sister: "You have no values. With you it's all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm and orgasm." To which Harry quips, "Hey, in France I could run for office with that slogan, and win!" But although Harry may be deemed to be juvenile, he's entirely correct about religion. He tells his devout sister that they're clubs and that their function is to exclude people. And then he asks her whether it bothers her more when a Jew gets killed or a gentile. She says a Jew death bothers her more "They're my people." "They're all our people," he replies. I'm with Harry. Religions are nothing but divisive. Plus they encourage people to prove how devout they are as if you can be more Jewish than someone else, or more Catholic etc. It all becomes a competition.
But amongst all this, the only thing that Harry can do to remain sane is to write. Somehow life doesn't make any sense but fiction does. I guess it's a problem most writers have. To able to write you have to observe, but the more you observe the less you understand why people behave the way they do. Plus the more you observe the more you actually remove yourself from life. However, self-examination does allow Harry to become more perceptive as regards himself. In fact, his characters help him out a lot, as they offer insights that he couldn't possibly come up with alone. So although the film's coarse, it ends up being quite optimistic. Salvation lies within.
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