Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gotta Lotta Harry Potta

I've now seen the final installment of the Harry Potter series (twice, in fact, thanks to my daughter's obsession with it). What can one say? To praise the movies (or the books) is redundant, to critique them seems like sour grapes, especially when one is an aspiring fantasy novelist oneself. But for what it's worth, here's my assessment of "The Deathly Hallows, Part 2":

I liked it.

It was very dark--literally and figuratively; I had trouble seeing what was going on some of the time. The score was terrific, the acting was effortless, and there were a number of stirring scenes, notably the arming of Hogwarts. I also found myself moved by two scenes in particular: Snape's memories viewed by Harry in Dumbledore's Pensieve, and Harry's meeting with the shades of his loved ones in the Forbidden Forest. Though Voldemort's death was something of an anti-climax (less so, actually, than in the book, where he just kind of falls over dead), the film had a fittingly final feel. The promos read: "It All Ends," and though that may be a bit grandiose and hyperbolic, I didn't feel as if they'd left anything out or failed to tie up any important threads.

The only negative thing I'll say about the movie, or about the series as a whole--and this has nothing to do with J. K. Rowling or the film-makers--is that I just don't get all the reviewers and critics who write about the saga's profound religious and mythological resonances. I had the same objection to those who waxed eloquent (and incoherent) about the Star Wars films as modern-day myths. Yes, Harry visits King's Cross Station when he dies--and then he comes back to life, so you can definitely see the Christian imagery there. But the books (and the film adaptations thereof) don't strike me as carrying the gravity and significance necessary to proclaim them "mythological" or "religious." They're pretty simple fairy tales or action-adventure yarns: good confronts and defeats evil, all while riding on dragons and fighting ogres. If that's all there is to mythology or religion, so be it. I suspect, though, that there's lots more: like the complexity of faith, the puzzle of suffering, the relationship of humanity to the earth, the mystery of creation. Harry Potter (not to mention Star Wars) doesn't seem to have anything to do with those subjects, and so for me, it fails the test of myth.

But it fails that test only if we expect it to pass. If, by contrast, we expect it to be exactly what it is--a well-crafted story with appealing characters, a visionary dreamworld, and a compelling narrative--then it passes with flying colors.

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