We take bars for granted. But we shouldn’t. Bars are essential to the well-being of a lot of people.
The nations who came together in the Middle Ages to develop our splendid culture – Celts, Norse, Germans, French – all have a public drinking tradition.
Public drinking makes people more social, more honest, more self-aware, and more likely to befriend people who are different. Bars are the site of unique experiences, joy and euphoria; they bring people together and they make people happier, and that makes society better.
Bars are not for everyone, to be sure, and neither is drinking. That said: having a society with no bars is a proven calamity. The barless regions of our planet are less tolerant and less culturally vibrant.
“Harvey” introduces us to Elwood Dowd (Jimmy Stewart): the warmest, most gregarious character you’ve ever met. Of course he’s a barfly.
The film begins slowly. The first act focuses on Elwood’s uptight sober sister Veda. They share the same house, but they may as well be living in different worlds. Veda is ashamed that Elwood goes to the bar every day. And she’s ashamed of the imaginary rabbit friend named Harvey that Elwood takes with him.
When Veda is the center of the action, “Harvey” is zany but not funny. Even worse, it felt like Jimmy Stewart’s immense talents were being wasted playing a childish simpleton.
But “Harvey” gets better and better as it moves along. It starts to get interesting when Veda tries to get Elwood committed to an insane asylum.
The movie gets magical and wonderful when we start to realize that Harvey the rabbit is real.
Plus the focus shifts to Jimmy Stewart. We learn that Elwood is far from insane; he’s more like a prophet. “Years ago my mother used to say to me: ‘in this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”
Elwood gently argues that bars are more therapeutic for some troubled people than asylums.
“Harvey and I sit in the bars … have a drink or two … play the jukebox. And soon the faces of all the other people … they turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, ‘We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fella.’ Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers – soon we have friends.”
“Harvey” is a unique science fiction story. It’s a plea to love your neighbor as yourself. And it’s ode to the power of bars to bring people together. It’s a neat little movie.