Deconstructing Harry

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Deconstructing Harry
Deconstructing harry.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWoody Allen
Written byWoody Allen
Produced byLetty Aronson
Jean Doumanian
CinematographyCarlo Di Palma
Edited bySusan E. Morse
Distributed byFine Line Features (North America)
Buena Vista International (International)
Release dates
  • December 12, 1997 (1997-12-12) (limited)
  • January 2, 1998 (1998-01-02) (USA)
Running time
96 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million
Box office$10.6 million

Deconstructing Harry is a 1997 American black comedy film written, directed by, and co-starring Woody Allen, alongside Caroline Aaron, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis and others. The film tells the story of a successful writer named Harry Block, played by Allen, who draws inspiration from people he knows in real life, and from events that happen to him, sometimes causing these people to become alienated from him as a result.

The central plot features Block driving to a university from which he was once thrown out, in order to receive an honorary degree. Three passengers accompany him on the journey: a prostitute, a friend, and his son, whom he has kidnapped from his ex-wife. However, there are many flashbacks, segments taken from Block's writing, and interactions with his own fictional characters. Deconstructing Harry received moderately positive reviews from critics.


One night, Lucy gets a taxi to the home of author Harry Block. She has just read Harry's latest novel. In the novel, the character Leslie is having an affair with her sister's husband Ken. Lucy is angry because the novel is patently based on her and Harry's own affair; as a result, everyone knows about it. Lucy pulls a gun out of her purse, saying she will kill herself. She then turns the gun on Harry and begins firing. She chases him out onto the roof. Harry insists that he has already been punished: his latest girlfriend Fay has left him for his best friend Larry. To distract Lucy, Harry tells her a story he is currently writing: a semi-autobiographical story of a sex-obsessed young man named Harvey who is mistakenly claimed by Death.

In therapy, Harry realizes he has not changed since he was a sex-obsessed youth. Harry discusses the honoring ceremony at his old university, taking place the next day; he is particularly unhappy that he has nobody with whom to share the occasion. After the session, Harry asks his ex-wife Joan if he can take their son Hilliard to the ceremony. She refuses, stating that Harry is a bad influence on Hilliard. She is also furious at Harry for the novel he wrote. In it, the character Epstein marries Helen, but the marriage begins to crumble after the birth of their son.

Harry runs into an acquaintance, Richard, who is worried about his health. After accompanying Richard to the hospital, Harry asks him to come to the university ceremony. Richard appears uninterested. Harry then goes to meet his ex-girlfriend Fay, who reveals that she is now engaged. Harry begs Fay to get back together with him. He asks Fay to accompany him to his ceremony, but it clashes with Fay's wedding, scheduled the following day.

That night, Harry sleeps with a prostitute, Cookie. Harry then asks Cookie to accompany him to his ceremony.

In the morning, Richard unexpectedly arrives to join Harry and Cookie on the journey. On a whim, Harry decides to "kidnap" his son Hilliard. Along the way, they stop at a carnival, then at Harry's half-sister Doris's. Doris, a devoted Jew, is upset by Harry's portrayals of Judaism in his stories, as is her husband. During the journey, Harry also encounters his fictional creations Ken and Helen, who force him to confront some painful truths about his life. Just before arriving at the university, Richard dies peacefully in the car.

While filming, Harry's fictional alter ego, Mel literally slides out of focus, becoming blurred. The university's staffers gush over Harry, asking what he plans to write next. He describes a story about a man (based on himself) who journeys down to Hell to reclaim his true love (based on Fay) from the Devil (based on Larry). Harry and the Devil engage in a verbal duel as to who is truly the more evil of the two. Harry gets as far as arguing that he is a kidnapper before the story is interrupted by the arrival of the police. Harry is arrested for kidnapping Hilliard, for possessing a gun (it was Lucy's), and for having drugs in the car (belonging to Cookie).

Larry and Fay come from their wedding to bail Harry out of jail. Harry reluctantly gives them his blessings. Back at his apartment, a miserable Harry fantasizes that the university's ceremony is taking place. The film ends with Harry getting over his writer's block by starting to write a book about a man who, like him, can only function in art, not in his life.



Woody Allen offered the role of Harry Block to Elliott Gould, Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Hopper and Albert Brooks, all of whom turned it down. Allen took the role himself.[1]


Deconstructing Harry garnered a 73% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 37 reviews[2] and a 61 out of 100 on Metacritic.[3]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Woody Allen was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. The film was nominated for the Satellite Award for Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical.


The film is a general reworking of his earlier 1980 film Stardust Memories, which also had an artist go to a ceremony in his honor, while reminiscing over past relationships and trying to fix and stabilize current ones.[5]

Allen is an admirer of several renowned European directors, and his films in particular often draw upon the works of Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. The rough outline of the plot of Deconstructing Harry, that of an academic on a long drive to receive an honorary award from his old university while reflecting upon his life's experiences, essentially mirrors that of Bergman's Wild Strawberries.[6] Also, the film is similar to Fellini's , in that it is about an artist struggling with his current relationships and remembering his old ones, interspersed with dream sequences, as well as his work being based on events from his life.

It is acknowledged by some critics that Allen based the name of Harry Block on Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), the protagonist from Bergman's The Seventh Seal.[5] Some critics, including Roger Ebert, have suggested that the character of Harry Block is based on real-life author Philip Roth and not on Allen himself.[6]


  1. ^ "The Lost Roles of Albert Brooks". 30 June 2011. Archived from the original on 4 July 2021. Retrieved 8 September 2021.
  2. ^ "Deconstructing Harry (1997)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  3. ^ "Deconstructing Harry Reviews". Metacritic. Archived from the original on March 30, 2017. Retrieved February 2, 2017.
  4. ^ Harvey, Adam (2007). The Soundtracks of Woody Allen. US: Macfarland & Company,Inc. p. 50. ISBN 9780786429684.
  5. ^ a b Desser, David; Friedman, Lester D. (2003). American Jewish Filmmakers (2 ed.). University of Illinois Press. p. 105. ISBN 978-0-252-07153-9.
  6. ^ a b "Deconstructing Harry :: :: Reviews". 1997-12-24. Archived from the original on 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2012-09-01.

External links[edit]