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When Harry Met Sally

Falling in Love over Meals

by Kerry Walsh

Complexities of ordering at a Chinese restaurant

The movie When Harry Met Sally (1989) is a classic example of a man and woman who attempt to disregard their sexual tension between each other, and try to be friends, but instead they end up together and married. However, in the beginning of the movie, the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy is represented amongst Harry and Sally. While Sally is logical and almost detached from love (Apollonian), Harry is fully immersed in his relationships, and very emotional when it comes to love and sex (Dionysian). One can see this difference in the way that Harry and Sally order their food—Sally is meticulous when she orders, while Harry does not even care what he eats, it depends more on the company that he is with, i.e. Sally. The image above is one clear example of the dichotomy between Harry and Sally when they order; the waiter is looking at Harry in a “How do you deal with this” way because Sally is making a complicated order, and Harry is just shrugging his shoulders because he has no reason to give to the waiter about how he puts up with Sally. But, eventually, it can be boiled down to the fact that Harry loves her, regardless of their differences, and begins to accept her unusual way of ordering food.

From the beginning of the movie, one can see the difference between Harry and Sally. The film opens with Harry making out with his current girlfriend, giving her assuring “I love you’s” in-between their locking lips, while Sally is busy mulling over the idea of what she will find once she reaches New York City—she is not concerned with fixating her time on love like Harry does, and even gives looks of disdain and discomfort to the couple. Another notable eating habit of Harry’s is when he eats grapes in Sally’s car—carelessly spitting the seeds out the window, while Sally almost scoffs at him and says that she “doesn’t eat between meals.” Grapes, since ancient times, have been associated with Dionysus, the god of wine, associating Harry’s character with Dionysus.

One of the times at which this this dichotomy appears is whenever Harry and Sally are out to eat, and in the differences in how they order food. Sally on the one hand, complicates her order of how she wants her pie with ice cream, and “if the whipped cream is from the can, I just want the pie and ice cream.” Harry, on the other hand, orders a number three on impulse, without even knowing what comes on, or with, the meal. An interesting thing that occurs while they are eating is that they always debate about sex in one way or another. The first meal centers on what good sex is, while in another instance, Sally demonstrates to Harry through a loud orgasmic scene, that women sometimes fake orgasms in order to make a man feel accomplished, like he “got the job done.” Harry does not believe Sally until she fakes an orgasm right there in the diner, for everyone to watch and see; only then does Harry realize that women are more complicated than he thinks. What the orgasm and the “good sex” scene have in common is to show how loose Sally’s arguments are—she does not have a strong example of “good sex,” and proves that a woman, like herself, can be detached from sex and from love.

The overall arching theme of the movie attempts to answer the question: “Can men and women be just friends?” This movie ultimately replies with, “No, because sex and emotions get in the way of things,” which is the argument that Harry makes straight from the beginning while the two are driving to New York City. Harry and Sally’s relationship seems at first friendly, but when Sally finds out Joe is getting married, and she becomes emotional, that is when they have sex and the friendly relationship is placed with a more romantic one. Afterwards, Harry continues to act on impulse, especially when it comes to Sally, notably when he runs to her on New Year’s Eve to tell her that he loves her and her strict regimens.

The final moment when the viewer realizes the two are perfect for each other is the moment when they are being interviewed and they talk about the coconut cake—how Harry compromises for chocolate sauce on the side, because that is what he knows that Sally would want. Essentially, another theme from the movie is “love equals food,” because over time, with consistent meals shared together, Harry and Sally have adopted some of each other’s habits, especially Harry, in the case of Sally’s strange ordering and eating habits. In the end, the two characters fulfill their Apollonian and Dionysian roles, but with a twist of compromise that the coconut cake symbolizes, which is their love for each other.



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