Last summer Nora Ephron died at the age of 71. Ephron wrote (among other things) movie screenplays, including one of my all-time favorites, the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally. Many people remember that movie for one particular scene that took place in a restaurant. In case you weren’t going to ‘R’ rated movies yet in 1989, you can ask someone about that scene. I remember the movie for different reasons, and I still consider it one of the best pro-marriage films ever made.
The question the movie asks is ‘Can a man and a woman remain ‘just friends’ without sex getting in the way?’ Over the course of the film Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) become really good friends, and they keep resisting their sexual attraction for each other in order to maintain their friendship. Harry believes that is the only way they can remain friends. Over the years they have many sexual relationships with other people, and they each even get married (and then divorced). But with no one else do they ever form a friendship and a bond like they have with each other. Eventually Sally realizes this, and she begins to want something more with Harry– and not primarily sex. Perhaps she wants that too, but most of all she wants to make a commitment to a long term relationship. Harry, ever the womanizer, wants to keep his options open, and continues to resist making a commitment.
Interspersed throughout the movie are several cute little clips of elderly couples, sitting together on a couch, talking. These people are totally unrelated to the story, except that they are talking about their marriage, about their own long term commitment to each other. For example, in one clip the lady says, “Just think, we grew up on the same block and didn’t even know each other until we were 18, but when we met, we knew we had to be together and we’ve been together for 62 years.” In another clip the man says with a chuckle, “Ya, she’s old and wrinkly now, but she is still my sweetie-pie.” Another couple looks at each other lovingly and says, “We have been through some rough times together, like when we had no money and no job, and then when our little boy died; but we held each other up, and now we need each other more than ever.” It’s just wonderful!
The difference between a moral film and an immoral film is in what it makes you want for the characters. Many films make you want the main characters to do the wrong thing– to leave the unattractive wife or the boring husband and find true romance in an adulterous relationship. That kind of film encourages and promotes immorality. Other films, films that encourage morality, make you want the main characters to do the right thing.
What does this movie make you want for Harry and Sally? It makes you want them to get married! That would be the right thing to do. If they were to just jump into bed together it would cheapen the whole thing. And, it would be wrong. Even teenage boys can get that message from the movie. The type of relationship that Harry and Sally have, along with all those old couples talking about their marriage, makes you want to grab Billy Crystal by the shirt and say, “Marry her, you idiot, can’t you see that she loves you and you love her too? Quit being such a jerk, and make a commitment, and then you can have what those old couples on the couch have, and that’s a whole lot better than all the one night stands that you think you must have but keep finding so unsatisfying!”
When Harry Met Sally makes you want the characters to do the right thing, and then, it makes you want to do what is right.
Exodus 20:14 — “You shall not commit adultery.”
Mark 10:6-8 — (Jesus said), “…At the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Hebrews 13:4 — Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
O God, you have forbidden us to commit adultery. Grant that we so fear and love you, that we lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, and that husband and wife love and honor each other. Amen. –Adapted from the Small Catechism by Martin Luther