Deconstructing Harry

It's hard to watch Deconstructing Harry without taking into consideration all that director Woody Allen has been through in the past few years: his estrangement from Mia Farrow, her lawsuits, accusations and autobiography, and particularly Allen's marriage to Farrow's adoptive daughter, a girl for whom he must have been a father figure for some years. Through all that, he continued to make movies like Mighty Aphrodite and Everyone Says I Love You. But until now he has not made a movie that seems to address his personal viewpoints about life as an aging artist who has incurred a great deal of animosity from a lot of people for the choices he makes in his private life.

Deconstructing Harry is an unapologetic exploration of the artist as asshole. Allen casts himself as a famous and popular writer who has alienated every friend he's ever had, in part because he uses his relationships in his writing, and in part because he's pretty much an amoral jerk. The admission of amorality is, to my mind, a new twist in the Allen persona.

As a movie, Harry is entertaining, complex, and very funny in places, and stands as one of Allen's best movies purely as a form of thoughtful entertainment. It has a lot to say about the price some artists seem to pay. And what it says is not all that appealing. Allen's Harry is a perfect creep, never accepting responsibility for the pain he inflicts on virtually everyone who chooses to get involved with him. It isn't that he doesn't spend a certain amount of time pondering the reasons why he's such an asshole, but that he accepts his behavior as the price he pays for artistic success. Perhaps anyone who's contemplating getting involved in him in future should view this movie as a caveat.

There's something else disconcerting about Harry: he has the sexual maturity of a 12-year old, and no interest in trading that in for anything like a "relationship". When a main male character's primary relationship is with his own penis, the women in the film can only come off as sex objects. And they do. While Allen's women have lives, thoughts, hopes and behaviors of their own, they are nearly always primarily sex objects. I can't fault Allen for this specifically because he freely admits it is the case, he freely admits that he understands women are human beings first, but he just doesn't care. To him they represent sex, or rather, they are gifts from himself to his penis, with whom he has the only relationship of any duration.

Hence, while there are aspects of Deconstructing Harry that I find distasteful, even irresponsible and somewhat shocking, still I must recommend it as a really good and honest film, multi-layered and, sadly, unrepentent. It just makes you feel sorry for Woody, the man, as you admire Woody, the artist.