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Deconstructing Harry

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Title: Deconstructing Harry  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tony Sirico, Letty Aronson, Elisabeth Röhm, Jean Doumanian, Jacqui Safra, Camille Grammer, Eric Lloyd, Satellite Award for Best Film, Lynn Cohen
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Deconstructing Harry

Deconstructing Harry
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Woody Allen
Produced by Letty Aronson
Jean Doumanian
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Caroline Aaron
Woody Allen
Kirstie Alley
Bob Balaban
Richard Benjamin
Eric Bogosian
Billy Crystal
Judy Davis
Hazelle Goodman
Mariel Hemingway
Amy Irving
Julie Kavner
Eric Lloyd
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Tobey Maguire
Demi Moore
Elisabeth Shue
Stanley Tucci
Robin Williams
Cinematography Carlo Di Palma
Edited by Susan E. Morse
Distributed by Fine Line Features (USA)
Hollywood Pictures (UK)
Release dates
  • December 12, 1997 (1997-12-12) (US)
  • April 17, 1998 (1998-04-17) (UK)
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20,000,000
Box office $10,569,071

Deconstructing Harry is a comedy film written and directed by Woody Allen and released in 1997. This 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 happened 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.


One night, Lucy (Judy Davis) gets a taxi to the home of author Harry Block (Woody Allen). She has just read Harry's latest novel. In the novel, the character Leslie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) is having an affair with her sister's husband Ken (Richard Benjamin). 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 (Elisabeth Shue) has left him for his best friend Larry (Billy Crystal). To distract Lucy, Harry tells her a story he is currently writing: a semi-autobiographical story of a sex-obsessed young man named Harvey (Tobey Maguire) 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 to share the occasion with. After the session, Harry asks his ex-wife Joan (Kirstie Alley) if he can take their son Hilliard (Eric Lloyd) 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 (Stanley Tucci) marries Helen (Demi Moore), but the marriage begins to crumble after the birth of their son.

Harry runs into an acquaintance, Richard (Bob Balaban), 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 (Hazelle Goodman). 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 (Caroline Aaron). Doris, a devoted Jew, is upset by Harry's portrayals of Judaism in his stories, as is her husband (Eric Bogosian). 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.

Distressed, Harry literally slides out of focus, becoming blurred like one of his own fictional characters. Cookie helps him restore focus. 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 - both being played by Billy Crystal). Harry and the Devil engage in a verbal duel as to who is truly the most 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. Harry realizes that he can only function in art, not in life. The film ends with Harry returning to his writing.


Actor Role
Woody Allen Harry Block
Richard Benjamin Ken - Harry's Character
Kirstie Alley Joan - Harry's former wife
Billy Crystal Larry/devil - Harry's friend
Judy Davis Lucy
Bob Balaban Richard
Elisabeth Shue Fay, Harry's last girlfriend
Tobey Maguire Harvey Stern - Harry's character
Jennifer Garner woman in the elevator - Harry's character
Paul Giamatti Prof. Abbott
Stanley Tucci Paul Epstein - Harry's Character
Julia Louis-Dreyfus Leslie - Harry's Character
Mariel Hemingway Beth Kramer
Robin Williams Mel - Harry's Character
Hazelle Goodman Cookie
Eric Bogosian Burt - Harry's brother in law
Demi Moore Helen - Harry's Character
Caroline Aaron Doris, Harry's sister
Eric Lloyd Hilliard, Harry's son
Amy Irving Jane
Viola Harris Elsie
Shifra Lerer Dolly - Harry's Character

Awards and nominations

Woody Allen was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen for Deconstructing Harry. The film was also nominated for a Golden 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.[1]

Allen is well known as an admirer of many European directors whose primary body of work was completed sometimes decades before his first script, 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.[2] Also, the film is similar to , 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 that Allen based the name of Harry Block on Antonius Block (Max von Sydow), the protagonist from Bergman's The Seventh Seal.[1] 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.[2]


  1. ^ a b David Desser, Lester D. Friedman: American Jewish Filmmakers . University of Illinois Press 2003, 2nd edition, ISBN 978-0-252-07153-9, pp. 105
  2. ^ a b "Deconstructing Harry :: :: Reviews". Retrieved 2012-09-01. 

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