“Harry: The ironic thing is that the school that kicked me out is honouring me soon.
Shrink: Why did they kick you out?
Harry: Because I wasn’t interested in college. I wanted to be a writer and that’s all I cared about. Also, I tried to give the Dean’s wife an enema. They didn’t take kindly to that.”
‘Deconstructing Harry’, written and directed by Woody Allen in 1997, is an American comedy that unpacks the obsessions and neuroses of Harry Block, a writer played by Allen who has been invited to his old university to receive an honorary degree. Block’s life is filled with ex-lovers, each with a reason to dislike him, and a son who he is forced to kidnap to take him to the ceremony. Together with his friend Richard and an escort called Cookie, they set off to honour Block. The film is told through mixture of increasingly farcical entanglements between Block and his exes, and sideways shifts into his fantasy/fictional world where stories he tells about his life are shown with other actors playing their ‘real’ counterparts. In this way, Allen uses the film to unravel his central character, as promised in the title. He draws inspiration from Fellini, particularly in a scene where Block descends into hell, but the biggest influence is Bergman and ‘Wild Strawberries’. Like that movie, ‘Deconstructing Harry’ has a mixture of fantasy and reality but says much about nostalgia and how the past shapes us. Unlike Bergman, Allen’s film is full of bawdy jokes and inventive uses of the technology of film. In one particularly notable scene, Robin Williams plays a version of Block who finds himself ‘out of focus’, a shorthand for depression and anxiety. It’s a witty, complex film that has all the visual excesses of Fellini and the philosophising of Bergman, but perfectly grafts Allen’s angsty self-obsessions and anxieties.
Would I recommend it? Yes – watch with ‘The Purple Rose of Cairo’ for another Woody Allen movie in which fiction becomes reality, or maybe even Fellini’s ‘City of Women’, for another man beset by lovers.