Better the Disappointment You Know?

Just last week, my wife and I watched Last Chance Harvey (2008) for the umpteenth time—well, maybe not the umpteenth time, but at least the umpth time. It evokes some particular emotions for us, as we first watched it on a plane ride back to the States during our time in Asia. We were coming back with some disappointments, and the movie—especially a conversation near the end—resonated with each of us. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a short synopsis, leading up to that exchange:

Harvey Shine (Dustin Hoffman) is a down-on-his-luck jingle writer from New York, flying to London for his daughter’s wedding. Kate Walker (Emma Thompson) is a Heathrow employee with the tedious job of interviewing travelers. Their first meeting begins with Kate’s attempts to ask Harvey the questions on her clipboard. It ends with Harvey rudely brushing her off.

Not only are things going poorly for Harvey on the job front, but he later finds out that his daughter has chosen her stepfather to walk her down the aisle—and there are obviously some family skeletons that reside in Harvey’s closet.

Things begin to look up, though, when Harvey meets up with Kate the next day at a Heathrow bar. Harvey has just missed his flight back to the States, and Kate is using a novel as an escape from failed blind dates and phone calls from her mother, with whom she lives.

Over the next several hours, Harvey and Kate begin to enjoy each other’s company, and they even see glimpses of a happy future together. The two attend Harvey’s daughter’s wedding reception and then wander around London, ending up at the fountains at Somerset House. They agree to meet there again at noon the next day. A spirited climb up his hotel steps puts Harvey in the hospital, just long enough to keep him from making the appointment. Not knowing the cause, Kate is crushed at having her emotions stood up . . . again.

Harvey tracks Kate down, even though she no longer wants to see him. She is wounded and fears being wounded even more. As Harvey tries to convince her that she should give their relationship a chance, they have their pivotal conversation, in which Kate says,

I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it, because it’ll hurt. . . . and I won’t do it. . . .

You see, what I think it is, is . . . is that I think I’m more comfortable with being disappointed. I think I’m angry with you for trying to take that away.

Since we were escorting our five children across the Pacific, my wife and I were separated during our flight, catching pieces of movies on our individual screens in between naps and meals. Sometime later during the trip, our youngest was asleep and we got to sit together for a while. We’d both watched Last Chance Harvey, and we both remembered what Kate had said. At the time we understood that even though disappointment is painful, it can become more comfortable than hoping for miracles and risking deeper loss. Maybe that’s why we continue to watch the film from time to time. . . because we still understand that. And when fear accompanies hope, as it often does, we do our best to press on, more guarded, but pressing on.

Last Chance Harvey doesn’t end with “happily ever after,” but it does end with a hopeful beginning. Harvey decides to stay longer in London, and Kate agrees to open her heart to the possibilities with him. As the two start down this new road together, Harvey remembers their first encounter and asks Kate to continue the interview that she’d started with him at the airport. She does:

“Name?” she asks.

He replies, “Harvey Shine.”

“Place of residence?”

“I’m in transition.”

Here’s the trailer:

And here’s a “Back Stage interview with Thompson and Hoffman, in which they talk about the mood and personality of the movie. When discussing the on-screen relationship between the two characters and how that was reflected in the film-making process, Hoffman says,

I always said that you always know who your friends are [. . . .] Your really good friends are the people that you can sit at a table with and not talk [. . . .] And we said, whatever the specialness about that relationship was, could we do this movie like that?

[photo: “Yellow Point: Somerset House Fountains,” by Tania Caruso, used under a Creative Commons license]


3 thoughts on “Better the Disappointment You Know?

  1. Good morning,

    About the film Last chace Harvey. Could you tell me please, the name of the London square where the characters meet at 12:00. Thanks


      1. Don’t you leave in London?

        I leave in Zaragoza (Spain). I’d like to visit that square and Paternoster Sq. also.

        Thanks a lot.


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