After everyone has left, Meredith goes and turns off the lights as Harry plays the tapes. We hear Ann’s voice over the speaker say, “What do you think? I don’t know what I’m going to get him for Christmas yet. He’s already got everything.” Meredith watches him as he rewinds the tape and asks, “Harry, are you going to give me a hard time tonight?” As Harry continues to ignore her, listening to the song playing on the tape, Meredith runs to him, imploring him to turn it off and engage with her. As he listens to Ann sing “Wake up, wake up you sleepy head…” on the tape, Harry says to Meredith, “She’s frightened.” Harry then says, “This is no ordinary conversation…It makes me feel…something.” Meredith sighs impatiently, insisting that it’s only a job—“You’re not supposed to feel anything about it, you’re just supposed to do it, that’s all,” she says. The tape continues to play as Meredith clutches Harry’s neck and kisses him. The couple kiss as the tape continues to play—specifically, the part where Ann and Mark look at the homeless man. Harry interrupts their kissing to point out to Meredith the worried way that Ann says “Oh God.” Meredith pulls Harry away, as the shot shifts to show the tape playing. Ann says, over the speakers, “I always think that he was once somebody’s baby boy.”
Harry lies down on a cot as Meredith takes off her dress, and Ann says on the tape, “…where are his mother or his father or his uncles now?” Meredith turns off the light as Harry lies there, listening to Ann’s voice. We hear Mark’s recorded voice say, “I always think how when they had the newspaper strike in New York, more of those old guys died, froze to death in the night” as the camera zooms in on Harry’s face. Meredith takes off his glasses, and the camera pans to the tape player. We hear Ann and Mark laugh on the recording as Meredith takes off her shoes and clothes. “Later in the week, Sunday maybe,” Mark says on the recording, “Jack Tar Hotel, 3:00, Room 773.” Meredith is naked now, and goes towards the bed. Harry listens to the recording, as Meredith climbs into bed with him. We hear Ann singing on the recording and then say, “God, it will be so good to be finished with all this.” Meredith strokes Harry’s face as Ann says “I love you” on the recording. “He’d kill them if he had the chance,” Harry says regretfully, before saying, “Oh God, what have I done….” Meredith burrows her face in Harry’s as Harry says, “I have to destroy the tapes. I can’t let it happen again…A family was murdered because of me.” As he sighs, Meredith says, “I know, Harry,” and kisses his cheek. Harry is still upset, saying, “Oh God, there’s no protection. I follow them wherever they go, and I can hear them.” Meredith tells Harry that she forgives him, and kisses him more. We see the tape player come to the end of the tape with a click. The camera then shifts to reveal Harry, asleep on the cot. The shot slowly zooms out to show Meredith holding Harry in the dim light of the office.
Harry dreams. We hear the buzz of distorted conversation and see Ann and Mark walking in close-up. A bell rings as the shot shifts and we see Ann run up a stone staircase that is covered in fog. Ann clutches a file (which looks like the file that Harry put the tapes in) and looks back down to the bottom of the steps where Harry is watching her. The shot shifts back to the office, and we see Harry stir in his sleep to signify that the outdoor images are his dream. Back in the dreamworld, Ann continues up the steps. We see Harry running through the fog to follow her. He calls to Ann and introduces himself. He says to Ann, “I know you don’t know who I am, but I know you.” Standing at the top of a hill, the dream version of Ann listens to Harry, as he goes on to say, “I was very sick when I was a boy. I was paralyzed in my left arm and my left leg. I couldn’t walk for six months. One doctor said that I’d probably never walk again.” We see Ann listening as she walks through the fog of the dream and Harry continues: “My mother used to lower me into a hot bath. It was therapy. One time the doorbell rang and she went down to answer it. I started sliding down. I could feel the water, it started coming up to my chin, to my nose. And when I woke up, my body was all greasy from the holy oil she put on my body. I remember being disappointed I survived.” He then tells a story about how he punched a friend of his father’s in the stomach when he was five, and how the friend died a year later.
Ann gets farther and farther away, obscured by fog. Harry yells to her the warning that Mark says to her in the tapes: “He’ll kill you if he gets a chance,” before adding, “I’m not afraid of death.” Now Ann has completely disappeared in the fog, and Harry says to himself, “I am afraid of murder.” We see the sleeping Harry fidget in the cot, as the distorted sounds of the surveillance microphone continue to beep. In the dream, Harry stands outside room 773 at the Jack Tar Hotel. Ominous music plays and we see Harry run into the room and pick Ann up to rescue her. While it is unclear what is happening on the room, the camera shows blood splattered on the plastic curtains in the shower. The camera then shows blood splattered on the wall of the hotel bathroom as well.
Harry wakes up from his dream, disturbed by its violent imagery. Looking around, he reaches over and puts on his glasses, but stops when he realizes Meredith is gone. Standing, wrapped in a blanket, Harry calls to Meredith, but she is not there. Harry wanders across the office to the tape player and turns it on, but he is disturbed to find that the tapes are missing. He paws at the tape player, unable to find the tapes. Their containers are empty; Meredith has evidently stolen them. Harry panics, staring gravely at the tapes, then muttering, “Bitch.”
We see Harry dressed and sitting at a desk in his apartment making a phone call. A receptionist answers the phone and Harry asks to speak to the director’s assistant, Martin Stett. The receptionist tells Harry that Martin cannot come to the phone, but Harry insists, repeating his name, and spelling it for the receptionist. The receptionist puts a flustered Harry on hold, before suddenly telling him they will get back to him. Harry yells, “You don’t have my telephone number!” but the receptionist has already hung up.
We see Harry’s office in his apartment, but Harry is no longer at his desk. In the bathroom, water is running and Harry seems to be using the sink. The phone suddenly rings at his desk. The viewer sees Harry’s shadow, before Harry slowly emerges from the bathroom. The shot shifts to show the large open floor plan of Harry’s apartment, and he walks towards the phone on the desk. The phone stops ringing, then starts again. Finally, Harry opens the drawer of his desk and answers the phone. It is Martin Stett, and when Harry asks him how he has his number, Martin replies, “We prepare a full dossier of everyone who comes in contact with the director. You know that means we’ve been watching you.” Martin then tells Harry that they are in possession of the tapes and that the director “was very anxious to hear them as soon as possible.” Martin tells Harry that he couldn’t take the chance of Harry destroying the tapes. “Our tapes have nothing to do with you.” Martin then invites Harry to come to the office and drop off the photographs he has, so that the director can pay him for his work. Martin hangs up, and the camera zooms out, to reveal Harry alone, in his open apartment, bewildered at having been successfully spied upon. Harry hangs up the phone as the piano score begins again. He sits in a chair, violated and afraid.
We then see Harry approaching the office building with an envelope of photographs. Eerie music plays as we see Harry in silhouette walking down the hall. A janitor cleans the floor of the office, and Harry approaches the director’s office. From inside the office, he hears indistinct voices, the sounds of Ann and Mark talking on the tape. Harry approaches the office, which has a sign that says “Private,” and listens to the tapes being played on the other side for a moment before knocking. He hears Ann lamenting the fate of the homeless man in the tape and knocks again, this time louder. When no one answers, Harry pushes open the door hesitantly, and the tapes can heard more clearly as he enters the office.
Harry goes into the office, and the camera pans down to his feet, where we see a dog following him in. Passing an Indian mural, Harry finds Martin and the director listening to the tapes. As the taped Mark discusses the newspaper strike, Martin turns around to see Harry. The director paces slowly around a diorama of the city, looking out the window, before turning to see Harry. Harry looks over and sees a portrait of Ann hanging on the wall. The director and Martin look at the floor as they listen to the tapes. Stopping the tapes, Martin asks the director if he wants to hear it again, which makes the director angry. The director yells, “You want it to be true!” but Martin insists that he just wants the director to know the truth. Harry stands by awkwardly, waiting to be acknowledged, and the director tells him that his money is on the table.
The director sits at his desk as Harry goes to collect his money. Sitting at the table, Harry counts the stacks of bills and the tape continues to play. Harry then picks up the bills to collect them in a stack and looks down to see a photo of the director and Ann at dinner together. They are clearly a couple, and Ann is having an affair. “Please count your money outside,” barks the director, and Harry puts the money in an envelope and goes to leave. Before he leaves, however, he brings the photographs over to the director, who sits looking out the window and petting his dog. “What will you do to her?” Harry asks him, but he doesn’t respond, so Harry just leaves. Martin follows Harry out of the director’s office. As Harry gets on the elevator, he stops the door from closing and asks Martin what the director will do to Ann and Mark. Martin simply says, “We’ll see.”
The scene shifts to Harry walking outside the office building as suspenseful, percussive music plays. He throws the folder that held the photographs onto the lawn, angrily. In voiceover, we hear Mark say, “He’d kill us if he got the chance,” and then we hear Ann singing. Harry is haunted by the tapes, and walks through the park outside the office building, defeated. We then hear Mark in voiceover outline the couple’s plan to meet on Sunday in the hotel room. Harry walks across the lawn and picks up the folder that he just threw, kneeling beside it. We suddenly see Harry at the front desk of the Jack Tar hotel, where he asks to take the room 773, the room that the couple planned to stay in. The front desk manager tells Harry that that room is occupied, which visibly disappoints him. Harry then asks if he has a room that would be adjoining to 773, and the front desk clerk tells him that he does.
Harry stand in front of room 773, and looks down to see a “Do not Disturb” sign on the knob. Taking his key out, he goes to his room next door, and goes inside. He turns on the light in the bathroom and surveys the room, setting down a plastic shopping bag and pressing his ear up against the wall to see if he can hear the couple in room 773. He hears nothing, but taps on the wall gently. Harry then goes out on the balcony of his room and peers out at the view before investigating the balcony next door. We see Harry through the transparent curtains in the room, as he tries to spy on the neighboring balcony. The shot shifts to show Harry trying to peer through the vent in the hotel bathroom, but to no avail. He climbs down and examines under the counter in the bathroom for any way to spy on the neighboring room. Opening a blue briefcase filled with tools, he pulls out a surveillance device and several instruments. He flushes the toilet as he makes a hole in the wall through which to sneak a microphone to spy on the couple. After pushing the microphone through the wall, he plugs it into a listening device and begins to listens to the activity next door.
Trying to comfort Harry, Meredith stumbles upon the central conundrum of Harry’s life when she says of his job, “You’re not supposed to feel anything about it, you’re just supposed to do it, that’s all.” While other people are content to do their jobs and not think much of it—other than as a source of profit and maybe a duty—Harry gets absorbed in his work and worries about its ethical implications, always wanting to do the right thing. Having done a job that led to the death of three people in the past, Harry is unwilling simply to think of his job as a gig, especially given the fact that he thinks Mark and Ann’s lives might be in danger. Meredith urges him to look more objectively at his work, and by extension, look more objectively at the world, and not get so sensitive about it. This is Harry’s greatest struggle, to remain uninvolved in the work he does. Harry’s sense of involvement in the work he does is both what makes him so meticulous and good at what he does, but also what limits him, what holds him back from having normal relationships and a normal life.
In this section, we also more clearly the ways that Harry identifies with the conversations that Mark and Ann have on the tapes. Particularly, the moment that Ann comments on the homeless man, “that he was once somebody’s baby boy,” stands out, as the tape plays and Meredith and Harry go to bed together. Ann’s concern for the homeless man, and her insistence that every man “was once somebody’s baby boy” envelop the office itself as Harry lies down. Harry is himself a lonely man who “was once somebody’s baby boy,” and he is now looking for love in a world from which he has alienated himself. Harry longs for a feminine figure in which to confide—a maternal figure—but his trust has been compromised. A strange doubling effect happens as the tape recording seems to line up with Harry and Meredith getting ready for bed. As Meredith gently strokes Harry’s face, Ann says on the recording, “I love you.” Harry is in two places at once; he is lying down with Meredith, but also silently seeking to decipher the mystery of the tapes.
That night Harry dreams that Ann is a maternal figure in whom he confides, and the viewer see just how desperate for care and private council Harry really is. His story is unusual and details his health struggles as a child, as well as a number of incidents about which he feels guilty. He tells Ann that when he woke up from nearly drowning in a bath his mother gave him, he was disappointed to be alive. Here, Harry confesses that he is a rather unhappy and depressive person, who feels useless and unworthy of love and survival. His fear of life dates back to his childhood, he tells her. The dream allows for an unsurveillable space in which Harry can confide to someone about his emotions and his traumatic childhood. In his dream, no one can record the more revealing details of his life, and he can have a pure relationship with an understanding listener. The dream is an even safer place than a Catholic confession booth to detail his crimes and his sadness. While Harry has been impressively discreet and secretive throughout the film, he bares his soul and his pain within the confines of the dream. His confidant, a projected dream-version of the endangered Ann, is all ears and can listen without threatening to betray or abandon him. The key to Harry’s Freudian dilemma—his search for a trustworthy and attentive maternal figure—can only be found in dreams.
Harry awakens to yet more reasons to distrust the world, as Meredith has absconded with his precious tapes. Without the tapes, Harry feel unmoored, panicked that his work will be used for ill and will cost the young couple their lives. Yet again, Harry learns a lesson that only solidifies his paranoia: if he lets his guard down, he will be taken advantage of and betrayed. While Meredith seemed like a trustworthy confidant, she was actually a femme fatale, duping him, and stealing his most precious possession. Harry once again realizes that he can trust no one but himself, and it only makes him less trusting of women. “Bitch,” he mutters to himself upon realizing that Meredith stole the tapes; Meredith had seemed like a willing companion, but in truth, she has only double-crossed him. Harry is seized with a misogynistic vitriol and his paranoid suspicions are confirmed all at once.
Just as Meredith urged Harry not to get too personally involved in his work, Martin insists to Harry over the phone, “The tapes have nothing to do with you.” Martin’s urging that Harry try and forget about the content of the tapes strikes a haunting and ironic tone. The viewer knows that Harry is inextricably invested in the message of the tapes, and has obsessively involved himself in the plight of Mark and Ann. While it seems easy for everyone else to suggest that Harry take a step back from his work and just treat it as a gig, Harry cannot do that. His work bleeds into his dreams and infects his life. While other surveillance experts can kick back and release from the stressful work of surveillance, Harry is unable. His work is connected to his past, to his faith, and to his sense of purpose. Meredith, Martin, and the other people in his life cannot possibly fathom the difficulty Harry would have peeling himself away from the suspense of his work. Even once he has collected his fee and handed over the information, Harry is racked with guilt and feels that he must keep tabs on the couple in order to prevent their murder.