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When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally (1989) is a typical, traditional, romantic comedy that was aired in 1989. It intensely observes relationships between males and females such as sex and friendship. For Harry Burns and Sally Albright their relationship is not love at first sight but one that takes many years to grow.

Plot of the film

The movie begins with a balding man and his white haired wife seated on a love seat. The old man is speaking about his successful marriage. He talks of how he married his wife two weeks after meeting her, and fifty years later they are still married.

The next scene is of the University of Chicago in 1977. Harry Burns and his girlfriend Amanda Reese are kissing passionately. Harry Burns is twenty six while his girlfriend Amanda is twenty. Sally Albright (21) drives up behind them in a yellow station wagon. Amanda and Sally are best friends. After graduation, Sally will be driving Harry to New York from Chicago. It will take them a total of eighteen hours to get to New York.

Sally is a smiley blonde exceptionally organized girl seeing as she has already planned the entire trip. Her structured and clean nature makes her look uptight. On the other hand, Harry is a slob which he shows when he is eating some grapes and forgets to roll down a window when he is spitting out the seeds. Because of their opposite characters, they immediately do not like each other.

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Sally is a cheerful person and wants to go to Manhattan to enter a journalism school so that she may become a reporter. Harry, on the other hand, is infatuated with death. This makes them altogether opposite beings (Berardinelli, 459). The two, Harry and Sally, argue over the movie Casablanca (1942). They argue on their different perspectives of how the film ends. Sally asserts that she had better left with Victor Laszlo than stay with Rick, the self-sacrificing romantic. Harry believes that it is better to be in a passionate marriage than to be the first lady of Czechoslovakia.

They go into a roadside café where Harry shows his argumentative sexist side. Sally claims to have had fabulous sex with Shel Gordon, which Harry refutes. The waitress comes over and Sally is particularly concerned about how her food should be prepared (Loukides, 4). Harry is decidedly curios of Sally’s relationship with Sheldon but feigns disinterest. However, he continues to hunt for more information.

After their meal, Sally takes out her calculator and calculates the portion of the bill and a tip. Harry, on the other hand, just stares at her and flirtatiously comments on how pretty she is.

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They leave the café and Sally believes that Harry is “hitting on” her. Harry tries to get her even more riled up by proposing that they sleep together. This makes Sally mightily offended. Eventually, Harry believes that men and women cannot be just friends since sex will always come into the picture and ruin the friendship.

They continue with their journey and go over the George Washington Bridge into New York. They part ways near Washington Square and hastily say their awkward goodbyes.

Five Years Later

The scene starts at La Guardia Airport where Sally and her boyfriend Joe are making out at one of the departure gates. Harry, now smartly dressed in a suit and tie, passes by them (Loukides, 6). He backs up when he notices Joe, his acquaintance. Harry is now a political consultant. He greets them but does not recognize Sally though he looks at her quizzically. Sally, on the other hand, recognizes him. Harry boards the plane for Washington and Sally tells Joe of her unpleasant memories of her drive from college to New York.

Surprisingly, they are also headed to Washington, so they board the same plane with Harry. Harry hears Sally fussing about the food she had ordered and just like that he remembers her. They make good acquaintances, and he even moves to the seat next to her. Sally has known Joe for only a month, and they are not planning to get married. On the other hand, Harry is madly in love and is set to get married to a lawyer, Helen Hilson.

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Harry has had a change of heart concerning relationships of men and women. He even proposes that they have a dinner with Sally as friends in Washington. However, they both realize that they still do not like each other, and they go their separate ways again.

Five Years Later

Sally is in a restaurant in New York with her friends Marie and Alice. Marie frequently has dates with married men but has had no success. Joe and Sally have just broken up after growing apart. Marie is upset by her friend’s predicament and tries to get Sally another man using her Rolodex. She thinks if Sally waits too long she may miss a virtuous man. Sally declines the offer as she wants to wait a while and mourn over her breakup with Joe.

Harry is at a New York Giants game where he tells his friend Jess that his marriage to Helen is coming to an end (Berardinelli, 460). This is because Helen wants to try a separation period where she and Harry can date with other people. Jess feels remorseful for Harry. Harry tells him how she, Helen, had been planning to move out and had even hired movers. Harry thought Helen was in love with a tax attorney. She proves him right when she moves in with him. This leaves Harry decidedly cynical and disillusioned about marriage.

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Harry and Sally meet again at a Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop. It had been ten years since they first met. After learning about each other’s ill-fated relationships, the two decide to have coffee. In the restaurant they talk of how sex comes to an end after marriage and how Sally lacked commitment for her relationship with Joe. They both agree to go out for dinner sometime.

Harry and Sally watch Casablanca (1942) together, and Sally denies having preferred Victor Laszlo over Rick Harry. Harry yields to her assertion but is still sure that she had made that choice.

They spend a lot of time together after that, and their friendship grows rapidly. They share a lot of their thought with each other. Harry even tells Sally that he has a recurring dream that his love making skills are being judged at the Olympics. Sally also tells Harry of her fantasy of having a faceless man rip off her clothes.

They discuss how uncomfortable it is to go back into the dating world after having awful dating experiences.

During baseball hitting practice, Harry explains to Jess how he and Sally have a platonic relationship even though he finds Sally attractive. He is tremendously proud that, for once, he has an attractive female friend, who he does not want to have sex with.

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In the next scene, Harry and Sally are in a restaurant, and Harry tells Sally that he can have sex with a woman and come up with a multitude of reasons why not to see her again. Sally feels insulted by his thoughtlessness and sexist attitudes. Harry also has enormous pride in his sexual prowess. Sally disapproves and demonstrates to Harry how women are able to fake orgasms. The whole restaurant quieted down to look at Sally. This demonstration is out of character for introverted Sally. Harry and Sally spend Christmas and New Year’s Day together. On New Year’s Eve, Harry and Sally are dancing together at a party. One can see that their platonic feelings for one other were becoming romantic. After the countdown, they look at each other awkwardly and then they hugged and pecked. However, Harry and Sally continued to insist that their relationship was quite platonic. With this, they set each other up with blind dates. Harry sets Sally up with Jess while Sally sets Harry up with Marie. They plan to plan for the double date at the West Broadway Restaurant.

In the restaurant, the two blind dates start off on a wrong foot to show just how incompatible they were for each other. Jess and Marie, however, start a conversation together and obviously like each other. After the meal, Jess and Marie leave Harry and Sally, and they drive off in a taxi.

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Four Months Later

While shopping for Christmas gifts for Jess and Marie, Harry and Sally meet with Harry’s ex-wife Helen. She has moved on from the tax attorney and has a new boyfriend Ira. Harry is awe-struck and dumbfounded by the meet. After this encounter, Harry is particularly disturbed. He is also frustrated at Sally because, unlike him, she is not bothered by her failed relationships.

Jess and Marie have already moved in together, and they throw a party at their house. Both Harry and Sally attend with different dates (Berardinelli, 460). Harry is highly disturbed when Julian (Sally’s date) kisses her. Sally is also not happy when Harry kisses his date Emily. After the party, Sally receives the news that Joe is set to get married. This distresses her, and she calls Harry who comes over to console her. At this point, she sobs over her loss of Joe and blames herself for it. Sally also laments that she is about to be forty and has no husband and no children yet.

In her emotional rollercoaster, Sally kisses Harry, and they go even further to have sex. This strains their relationship and after a while, Sally will not even talk to Harry. Sally had mistakenly interpreted Harry’s love as pity for her that night.

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On New Year’s Eve, Harry is walking to Washington Square where Sally has dropped him off all those years ago in college. After a flashback of that day, he starts running to find Sally who is attending a party. When he finds her, he kisses her and professes his undying love for her.

Human development themes

Sex and friendship

This movie confronts the issue of sex and friendship like no other film had before. It seeks to answer the question if a man and woman can be friends without having sex. Harry is of view that man and women cannot be friends without having sex. He amends this view later that man and woman can be friends if they both have partners. By the end of the movie they both have sex and this taints their friendship to the level that they do not even talk to each other (Loukides, 7). However, love conquers everything and they come together in the end.

Difference in romance

This is shown by the short breaks, the seven short breaks the movie takes where elderly couples are interviewed. The first couple married two weeks after they first met and were married after that for over fifty years. The second couple, who were even older than the first one, met in high school and thirty four years later met again. They have been married ever since. The third elderly couple was married for thirty four years though they divorced for five years after they had been married for four years. The next elderly couple remembers how they grew up and later met in an elevator. The fifth couple had a live at first sight encounter. The sixth elderly couple is Asian and they had an arranged marriage. They had been married for fifty five years. The last elderly couple who are interviewed had taken twelve years and three months before they got married.

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These interviews show the different ways people meet and how long it takes for them to get married. It also gives a hope to those who are married and yet to get married. This is because they are all elderly couples who have been married for exceptionally long periods of time.

Conflict in gender relations

Sally believes in friendship but Harry does not. Sally is also infuriated by Harry who sleeps around with women and leaves the next day with a boatload of excuses. Also, when they both have sex, Harry leaves the next morning with an excuse to go to work. Harry wants independence while Sally wants intimacy.

However, there is a similarity in the gender relations. This comes to play when both Harry and Sally find out that their exes have moved on and have stable relationships. This fact seems to disturb them exceedingly

Social Class

The movie shows more of the upper class tendencies. Both Harry and Sally graduated from the University of Chicago, and they both are working professionals. Sally is a journalist, and Harry is a political consultant (Loukides, 5). Sally is also shown wearing designer clothing such as the Armani felt hat.











Gender relations between the same sexes

Harry and Jess talk about women while in a batting range and also in a football match (Berardinelli, 462). Sally and Marie also talk about men while sipping champagne in a 5 star restaurant.


The film shows seven interviews of couples who have been married for many years. It shows a diverse range of ethnic groups: White, Asian and African American. This offers optimism to the watcher since whatever ethnic group one may belong to, love may last for an exceedingly long time.

Erikson's stages of psychosocial development

Erik Erikson gives details of eight steps through which a developing human should pass from the childhood to old age (Sonderegger, 114). The film “When Harry Met Sally” is able to cover only 3 of those stages.

Love (Young adulthood, 20 - 24 or 20 - 40 years)

At this stage confusion has come to an end though it somewhat lingers (Sonderegger, 114). In the beginning of the movie when Harry met Sally, Harry boasts of how he has slept with many women. He wants to be free and, therefore, has not settled down. Sally also is going out with Joe but is not planning to get married to him. Somehow they both are still confused on their intimacy.

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By the age of 30, Erikson asserts that we may sometimes become isolated due to intimacy. This is because we are afraid of rejection. Harry shows his insecurities in the movie through the recurring dream of his sexual prowess being judged in the Olympics. Both he and Sally are not able to return to the dating scene after their previous awful dating encounters.

However, at this stage people become committed to friendship or marriage. Harry and Sally have a highly committed friendship at this similar age of their lives.

Care: Generativity vs. Stagnation (25 - 64 or 40 - 64 years)

Generativity is the concern of directing the next age group. At this stage people seek satisfaction at being productive and helping the next generation. This stage does not involve only getting a family and raising children (Sonderegger, 115). It goes beyond to involve being productive and actively steering the next generation. Stagnation may lead to the displeasure with one's life. This is shown in the film where Sally is upset that she has not been able to get children or even a husband, and she is almost forty.

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Wisdom: (Late adulthood, 65 - death)

As one grows older, his or her productivity slows down. If one lived a successful life, he or she is able to develop a sense of integrity (Sonderegger, 116). However, if one was not productive while younger he or she may be filled with despair at this point of life. In the movie this stage is shown by seven elderly couples who are interviewed and all feel supremely accomplished for their successful, long marriages.

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