When Harry Met Sally: Some Questions, Some Answers
Some questions that gradually arose in my mind about Nora Ephron’s movie, When Harry Met Sally.
(1) Why the University of Chicago and why the chosen professions of Harry and Sally? The U. of Chicago was the home of Leo Strauss and those labeled “Straussians.” Harry is to become a political consultant so we might assume that he was a political science major. Sally is off to become a journalist so she can, as Harry puts it, write about things that happen to other people. And dealing from his “dark side”, Harry says that nothing may ever happen to Sally and she could die a death that would go unnoticed for weeks. Straussians, neo-cons by another label, like to argue that they are about, not reporting reality, but creating it. They are not journalists. They will be noticed, as will their deaths.
(2) Harry’s “dark side” is about what? Well, another tenet of the Straussians is a critique of what they call “modernity,” a critique that includes how dark modernity is as it was created by Machiavelli who was a teacher and proponent of evil, and its uses. As Harry tells Sally, he was going to be ready when the shit hit the fan and she wouldn’t be, because she is basically “a happy person.” Obviously, Sally hasn’t thought through the human situation.
(3) Why the movie “Casablanca?” Among some Straussians, Casablanca has achieved a cult-like status. Casablanca translates as “white house,” so obviously, the Straussians argue, the movie is about US politics. And in their take on the movie, the action of the movie, meaning how Rick moves from a non-committed political exile living out the war in Casablanca trying to be uninvolved to a committed participant, with Louis, the Frenchman, in the war. And what Harry dubs the best last line in any movie, “Louis, this is just the start of a great friendship,” indicates that Rick has now rejected his “isolationism” for interventionism – or perhaps imperialism along with the already imperialistic French. This forebodes US taking up the wars in Southeast Asia, dubbed “Indo-China” by the French, after the French are forced to leave. Not commented upon by the Straussians is the fact that Rick’s embrace of “internationalism” means he must give up Elsa. In Straussian terms, Rick’s new politics rest on the “thumotic,” the spirited part of the soul, forcing him to relinquish the claims of the erotic as evidence by his love for, his pining for Elsa. She has to leave because if she stayed, Rick would not be able or willing to do what is required by his internationalism.
(4) This is where the romance in the movie merges with what might be its underlying political agenda. To make a long story shorter, at first Harry embraces and acts on his virility by and while having sex with women, to the point that after his screwing them [the word “screwing” seems appropriate here] his first thought is “How long do I have to lie here before I can leave,” claiming all men – read “all real men”- think that. Harry also brags to Jess that he can take women to places that “aren’t human,” that he made a woman “meow.”
(5) This scene is followed in the movie by the deli scene where Sally demonstrates that women can successfully fake orgasms and in fact do so with some frequency. As this is true, it means that Harry’s vaunted virility, his prized masculinity isn’t quite as powerful as he thinks it is. It also means that despite what Harry thinks, when making love - actually for Harry that means when having sex – he is not the one controlling the scene. In fact, the women are in control or can be in control should they want to be, even while letting the male think he is in control and subduing her, taking her to places “not human.” Not so much! [Reminds me of one of my favorite stories. At one time, I watched a show called “the Dating Game,” where blind dates were set up, executed and then talked about on TV. In between segments, there were on-the-street interviews with questions asked. Once the question was: What is the best way for a man to pick up a woman? One woman said: Men don’t pick up women. Women pick up men but they just let the man think he picked them up. It was for me a light bulb experience!]
(6) Eventually, Harry realizes that “the sex thing” does not make impossible for men and women to be friends, which is the meaning of his proposal to Sally New Year’s Eve when he says, “I came here tonight because when you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible!” And when Harry says he doesn’t understand Auld Lang Syne, Sally offers a throw away explanation and then adds, “Anyway, it’s about old friends.”
(7) So, then I might conclude that the erotic is superior to, better than the thumotic, making love and friendship is superior to, better than making war; the erotic soul is better than the spirited soul and the poets are superior to the guardians. And for that reason Socrates’ best regime in the Republic is fundamentally flawed. And insofar as the Straussians embrace Rick’s new politics in Casablanca, their conception of the best regime is also fundamentally flawed.