RANGER AGAINST WAR: Handsome Harry <

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Handsome Harry

[Note: This is a belated OP- LP post. 
We will have another post up later.]
It resembles him. Still, I remember him as handsomer.
To the point of illness: that's how sensitive he was,
and it illumined his expression.
Handsomer, he seems to me,
now that my soul recalls him, out of Time
--Aboard the Ship, C. P. Cavafy

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all 
--Hamlet (III, i), Shakespeare  

"Oho!" they cried, "The world is wide,
But fettered limbs go lame!
And once, or twice, to throw the dice
Is a gentlemanly game,
But he does not win who plays with
Sin In the secret House of Shame." 
--The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde

Handsome Harry (2009) a quiet but powerful film which didn't get much play, but it deserves to be seen.  It is the story of a brutal act committed by three Electronic Technicians in the Navy during Vietnam wartime and how this violence has played out in each of their lives.

The plot revolves around the titular Harry, who is charged by the dying ET Thomas (Steve Buscemi) to ask for forgiveness from a fellow, Kagan, whom they severely brutalized while in a drunken fervor. Harry initially tells him not to be a "pussy" and to suck it up, but the layers of Harry's involvement and complicity are slowly revealed as he pursues the truth of the attack.

The origin of the violence resides in each man, dis-integrated in his own way, living within a more or less comfortable rationale to make life bearable. All the men had married a "nice"  woman, and had one child, but their bow to conformity did not provide consolation. The repercussions from the brutality meted out 30 years ago upon one of their own has haunted each man, but we discover the first cause in Harry himself.

As Harry visits each ET like an amateur sleuth, he is pulled from his safe, low-affect existence; repressed emotions will eventually out.

Spoiler alert: Harry cannot accept the passion he enjoyed in his forbidden relationship with Kagan, and so has lived the life of a semi-recluse and sexual neuter.  His example suggests that we don't know how to live with the raw power of eros, and so prefer to sublimate it. Harry's love is so strong and "disordered" (for one who sought to be a priest at one time) he must disfigure it, and by smashing it he disallows it into his realm.

He will only live his title ("handsome") in the rugged figural and superficial sense. By maiming Kagan he maims his psyche, while remaining handsome in the sense of Wilde's "Dorian Gray" -- the sense which our society most sanctions.  Under his surface calm, Harry is a roiling soup of contradictions.

"Handsome Harry" is a fine character study of a group of adolescents growing into men which grinds to its inexorable and ambiguous ending. Have you ever witnessed or participated in an action which required the suppression of your moral instinct, especially in the service?

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Blogger Rez Dog said...

My entire Vietnam service. I knew better but didn't have the courage to act on that knowledge.

Friday, April 12, 2013 at 3:41:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Lisa said...

If I may, I would not say you lacked courage, but rather the knowledge that you were free to exercise your morals, which would then come with a heavy cost.

We are not able to accurately gauge whether we can bear that cost when we are younger, or even what it will be.

Saturday, April 13, 2013 at 11:10:00 AM GMT-5  

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