Harry Potter 8
Release Date: July 13, 2011
When someone asks you for an opinion on his or her child, you have to be very careful how you answer. Whatever their objective qualities, this son or daughter is much-loved and often viewed through rose-tinted glasses. The same might be said for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2. JK Rowling’s franchise has been a fixture in the childhood of an entire generation. Today’s young men and women can remember dressing up as the characters, lining up for the books, looking forward to the cinema releases. In a very real sense the final installment can’t be greeted with anything but anticipation, excitement and joy. It has been a phenomenal journey. The question remains, though, is it a good film?
There’s no doubt that HP8’s story has everything fans could wish for: Harry, Hermione and Ron breaking into the heavily guarded Gringotts Bank; mysterious revelations about Dumbledore and Snape’s past; the devastation of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; and, of course, the final confrontation between the ‘boy who lived’ and the dark wizard Voldemort. Most of the film’s events actually sit inside a single day that spans the last 200 pages of the seventh volume in the Harry Potter books. And director David Yates has produced a fitting finale to the film franchise that is as visually exciting as it is emotionally draining. But it’s no Return of the King.
Both the Harry Potter and Lord Of The Rings franchises faced a very similar problem. The material they were working from was much-read and much-loved. In short, everyone knew the ending and no-one wanted to be uncomfortably surprised. The only thing the producers had to work with was the way their film would pace and present the story. Where The Return of the King engineered a series of pauses that raised the stakes for each coming battle, HP8 devoted it’s last hour to one relentless conflict that was extravagant but exhausting. And while Peter Jackson held back special effects for his final clash, David Yates seemed to be holding a hand made up of cards that had already been played in preceding films. Paradoxically viewers will find there is more emotional pay-off in the final moments of previous Harry Potter installments – the graveyard in The Goblet of Fire, the Ministry of Magic in The Order of the Phoenix, even the Dumbledore’s fall in The Half Blood Prince – than there is to be found with Harry and Voldemort standing over the ruins of Hogwarts.
Yet HP8 does triumph over its predecessors in one important element: its portrayal of sacrifice. Harry Potter comes to the conclusion that only his death will save his friends and this realization is followed by a moment of stillness. What is probably the heart of the film forms around quiet words spoken only to himself: “I’m ready to die.” But he cannot just fight until he falls; he must surrender himself in a particular way at a particular time to an enemy who will not flinch from delivering the worst suffering he can devise. Harry’s long walk into the Forbidden Forest to meet a vindictive throng strongly reminded me of Jesus own confrontation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Both heroes were ultimately alone, but there too the enemy found their courage challenged. And the surrender of both heroes was powered by the same conviction: there could be no safety for those who loved them without a blood payment being made.
There is much more in HP8 about death and what comes next, though there’s no point spoiling it for fans who’ve waited more than ten years to see how the story turns out. But it’s enough to say that how someone enters eternity depends very much on the choices they make before they arrive. And on this much the authors of Harry Potter and the Bible agree: there’s nothing that can be done for those who reject the grace that could have been theirs once they’ve crossed over. Now if that conclusion can’t be turned to a conversation on real-life and real-afterlife concerns, I’m not sure what can.