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"Harvey" Ending: Is the Rabbit Real?

Jeremy enjoys reviewing nostalgic topics when not working as a manager at his campus.

Harvey and Elwood

Harvey and Elwood

Is Harvey the Rabbit Real?

The classic 1950 film Harvey (remade in 1996) features likable protagonist Elwood Dowd. Dowd is a friendly man, but his sister Veta is concerned over his belief in imaginary friend Harvey, an invisible rabbit over six feet tall.

The movie is a comedy (Harvey's sister is mistaken as the one in need of treatment; antics ensue), but it offers a surprisingly deep look into Elwood's mind. Is Harvey an illusion stemming from Elwood's frequent drinking habits, or does he truly exist? The film leaves it ambiguous, but there's more than enough evidence to support an answer.

"Spoilers" ahead (as much as you can have for a cryptic ending), so if you want to watch the film not knowing, stop here. But if you're ready for the truth, the movie strongly suggests that...

Harvey and Elwood painting

Harvey and Elwood painting

Evidence That Harvey Exists

Despite us never seeing him, Harvey almost certainly exists. He's not just a figment of Elwood's imagination, as we see him leave his imprint on the world many times. Here are the clues in approximate order of appearance:

  • Vera admits she occasionally sees Harvey
  • Often dubbed a rabbit, Harvey is actually a púca, a mythical figure in Celtic mythology that turns invisible and chooses whom he appears to (matching what happens in the movie)
  • Orderly Wilson reads the definition of a púca in the dictionary, which ends with "and how are you, Mr. Wilson?"
  • The portrait of Harvey and Elwood could suggest the unknown artist was able to see him (though it's possible Elwood simply described him)
  • Off-camera, the stern and composed Dr. Chumley becomes a believer after talking with Elwood and Harvey at the bar
  • Dr. Chumley's office door opens by itself, frightening him
  • Elwood informs Dr. Chumley Harvey has told him about unexpected visitors who would appear, and they always did
  • As Elwood is about to receive treatment to stop seeing Harvey, Vera's wallet vanishes from her purse. This leads to a conversation with the taximan that changes her mind about Elwood's treatment, after which she finds her wallet back in her purse (implying Harvey hid it to trigger her perspective change).
  • The hanging bench outside the hospital is shown swinging while "empty"
  • The sanatorium gate seemingly opens by itself in the last scene

Some of these points are stronger than others, but a number of them involve physical happenings in the world that would only make sense if Harvey exists. This is especially true since many of them involve people who aren't initially believers like Elwood is.

Plus, Harvey was initially a 1944 play, a later adaptation of which actually had Harvey appear in a rabbit costume. This was wisely scrapped, as the story works better with an air of mystery, but again suggests Harvey's existence.

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I've also seen many YouTube comments claiming they remember Harvey materializing in the film's final shot during a television edit, but I've never located any such clips.

1996 Harvey poster

1996 Harvey poster

Harvey's Powers Over Time and Space

So, all the evidence points to Harvey being real. It's also mentioned that he has power over time and space and can "stop clocks", explaining how he can seemingly skip between distanced locations in no time at all.

After talking with Elwood, Dr. Chumley hopes to use Harvey's powers to vacation with a stopped clock for as long as he wishes. While we don't know if Harvey agrees to help Chumley, we do know that Harvey returns to Elwood at the end, seemingly preferring the company of friends who don't exploit his powers.

References to Harvey in Other Media

Many iconic movies and shows have referenced Harvey. Without spoiling too much, I'll say some of these also involve "imaginative" figures that are actually real (within their universe):

  • Donnie Darko features a teenager troubled by visions of a man in a bunny suit
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit references an invisible rabbit Harvey
  • Field of Dreams stars a farmer who hears a voice no one else does; his daughter is seen watching a scene from Harvey
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends has a man named Elwood Dowd as the city's founder

These are just some of the many call-outs Harvey has spawned, with more likely to surface as time passes. But for now, I invite you to share your own thoughts on whether Harvey exists; as for me, I'm more than convinced.

© 2020 Jeremy Gill


Liz Westwood from UK on April 30, 2020:

You have done an interesting analysis of Harvey.

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