Study Guide

When Harry Met Sally What's Up With the Ending?

What's Up With the Ending?

It's a swoon-worthy one, that's for sure.

Just when you think Harry and Sally are kaput for good, you remember that, hey, this is a romantic comedy. It only ends one way. And as luck would have it, Harry realizes that, too.

Old Acquaintance Won't Be Forgot

It's New Year's Eve. Harry's by himself, having been rejected by Sally, who doesn't want to be his "consolation prize." So Harry takes a stroll—but everywhere he goes, he thinks of Sally. As he reminisces over his relationship, he realizes that he loves her. Like, really, really loves her.

And that's when he takes off running.

Beat This, Romeo

When Harry finally finds Sally at a New Year's shindig, the two have an exchange that builds to the movie's triumphant, romantic finale. We think it's best if you watch it, but we'll also recreate it for you in full:

HARRY: I've been doing a lot of thinking. And the thing is, I love you.

SALLY: What?

HARRY: I love you.

SALLY: How do you expect me to respond to this?

HARRY: How about you love me too?

SALLY: How about I'm leaving.

HARRY: Doesn't what I said mean anything to you?

SALLY: I'm sorry Harry, I know it's New Year's Eve, I know you're feeling lonely, but you just can't show up here, tell me you love me and expect that to make everything alright. It doesn't work this way.

HARRY: Well how does it work?

SALLY: I don't know but not this way.

HARRY: Well how about this way. I love that you get cold when it's seventy one degrees out, I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich, I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts, I love that after I spend a day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes and I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Years Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.

SALLY: You see, that is just like you Harry. You say things like that and you make it impossible for me to hate you. And I hate you Harry... I really hate you. I hate you.

Yeah, yeah, the speech is romantic and all, but aren't all rom com declarations of love? Well, yes. But what makes this speech particularly effective is how rooted it is in each of the characters. Sally's worried about being Harry's consolation prize, so the first thing he does is tell her that he's not there because he's lonely. He's there because he wants to spend the rest of his life with her. And he doesn't just want to spend the rest of his life with anyone—he wants her, quirks and all.

Sally accepts his proposal (of sorts), but not with some cheesy speech of her own. She simply keeps repeating how much she hates him, when we know she means the exact opposite.

Best Friends Forever

Of course, now that these two are locked in a romantic relationship, it's time we returned to the movie's central question: can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way?

There are two ways of looking at this:

  1. No. (Duh.) Clearly, when Harry and Sally slept together, it ruined their friendship. Their only options were either not talking at all, or falling in love. They chose door number two.
  2. Yes. Fosho. Here's the thing: sure, Harry and Sally are in a romantic relationship by movie's end, but that doesn't mean they're not also friends. In fact, it's that friendship that's at the core of their love. After all, the scene ends with them remarking that "Auld Lang Syne," with all its confusing lyrics, is, at the end of the day, about old friends. And that's just what they are.

The Last Word

We've discussed elsewhere in this guide the fact that When Harry Met Sally revolutionized the romantic comedy genre. It does that by toying with the genre's conventions (like having three meet-cutes instead of one). The movie's final scene does just that. Instead of ending with the big smooch and swelling music, When Harry Met Sally cuts to the two of them being interviewed, just as all the old couples have been throughout the movie. Only we already know their story. So instead, we're treated to a cute moment in which they describe their wedding, and Sally launches into one of her nitpicky food rants.

What's so effective about this scene is that it reminds us that these two are, at the end of the day, relentlessly themselves. And finally, Harry agrees about ordering things on the side. Swoon.

Will They or Won't They

Fun fact: in an alternate version of the script, Ephron and Reiner ended the movie with Harry and Sally very much not together. But ultimately, Reiner decided to go the full romance route, and here's why:

Well, the best memory I have is I met my wife while I was making that movie. And what's weird is that, in the initial ending, they didn't get together. It wasn't until I met Michelle that I thought, "OK, that's how it could work for me," and I changed the ending to where they got together. In the original ending, they drifted apart and then ran into each other one day on the street years later and chatted about where their lives went, they walked away, and the camera pulled up. It would not have been as satisfying, I think.

Basically, Reiner's telling us that he went for the classic boy-gets-girl ending because he was living that dream as they worked on the movie. And while we appreciate the fact that having Harry and Sally part ways might be a bit more true to life than ending the movie with a big romantic speech, which—sorry, everyone—doesn't happen all that often in real life, we ultimately agree with Reiner: the happy ending is so much more satisfying.

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