Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Saw the last Harry Potter film last night. Hard to know where to go with a review, as all of it's pretty self-evident at this point, isn't it? The whole thing's darker than it has been. (Though the filming effects to create that are often quite subtle and effective - I found Professor McGonnigle's haggard look especially effective, as indeed how everyone looked sort of grey and washed out most all the time.) The story is about love and sacrifice. Good triumphs. You're crying at several points for major characters who've been killed. Etc. So let's take all that as given. It's everything you expect at this point.
Now, I'm in an ongoing debate (there's really no debate, since I'm right this time) as to whether or not Harry "really" dies. (And this is one point where the film does flub - it makes it look like he's faking it and Mrs Malfouy covers for him [more on the Malfouy's below, but suffice it to say it ruins the whole scene].) My wife insists he can't "Really" die. Now, I don't want to insist on the reality of his death merely to bring the film in line with the obvious Christ figuration at that point - but rather, to take the whole paradigm a step back. Either Jesus or Harry (or Osiris or Asclepius or whoever) has to die in his/her respective story, or s/he's not much of a hero, hasn't made much of a sacrifice. Now my daughter took the next step of the argument (which is more debatable than whether or not he "really" dies): she said that if he dies but he knows he's coming back, then that doesn't really count as dying. Now that's a fair point, and I'd say it's a big part of my dissatisfaction with the Gospel of John: Jesus seems a little too confident that everything'll work out, and therefore I don't see his sacrifice as sincere, I don't see him undergoing enough, it's all too easy (cf. The Garden in Gethsemane scene, which to me is almost as important as The Cross). But in a way, Harry's story is intrinsically set up better than Jesus' (gasp away, any Evangelicals who are still with me), as there's no danger of Harry having such certainty. He's got some talisman that's supposed to work - but in their world, magic seems to be slightly less reliable than technology is in ours: it's always going wrong or having some unforeseen consequence. And he's got some ghosts (or really, as he suspects, his imaginations of some ghosts) telling him it'll be okay - but what would that prove? (Especially as two of the people involved, Dumbledore and Snape, have lied to him every day of his life so far - no matter how great their motives, that's got to erode one's confidence in what they say.) So, I think he has to really die, and he clearly only has some very vague hope (like us) that death is not all there is. That's what makes the story so beautiful.
Now, speaking of Snape (who was, I'll admit, my favorite character from Day 1). The more I think about the ending (and I thought it when I read the books a couple years ago), the more I can't see my way to Harry ever being as well adjusted as he is in the postscript. Consider the Oedipal dynamics he is being asked to accept at the end. His biological dad was pretty much a dick (and the film barely puts a nod to him in the ghost scene - it's all about his mom). In the naming of the next Potter, the complete dismissal of James is made complete, in preference to the two surrogates.
But his two surrogate dads have their own psychic baggage, to say the least. They've been planning his death for decades - and while they're thankfully "flexible" (like the Elder wand - ha, phallic symbol that's still "flexible" - get it?) about their plans and eventually come to see that Harry has to cooperate in his own death, that's still a lot to be asked to accept, and you couldn't get any closer parallel to Laius. Oh, plus, from another dysfunctional family foundational myth - Harry's like an Abel psychically attached to his Cain - he has to see the world through the eyes of the man who wants nothing other than to murder him. So, no, the whole postscript seems like a tacked-on kind of cop-out to me (never mind that the whole thing is REALLY there just so Harry can have a surrogate to finally hook up with a surrogate who represents both Ron and Hermione - sorry, not to gross anyone out, but that's clearly how the end is set up). I'd be happy if Harry doesn't just spend the rest of his life drinking himself to death; I don't know that we could realistically expect much more.
Oh, finally, also on the postscript. What is it with trying to rehabilitate the Malfouy's? (And I'm not 100% sure, but it seemed to me last night to be done more in the film than I remembered in the books.) The mom helps save Harry; they all slink off at the height of the battle; then Draco is on the platform in the postscript? How awkward is it at your high school reunion to see someone who beat you up once in the hall? I can't think that someone who tried to kill you for years (and only failed due to incompetence, not lack of trying) would get along much better with you. Again, it seems like a cop out, like once you say "Voldemort is the ultimate evil," that then all lesser evil characters are excused. Just because Voldemort is an 11 on an evil scale of 1-10, and the Malfouy's come in at an 8 doesn't let them off the hook. Comic villains or henchmen should still get their comeuppance.
All right, so to sum up: all my quibbles notwithstanding, this remains one of the most pyschologically and morally complex and honest things I've read in the last 10 years, and the film adaptations didn't do much to dull that vision.