Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dumbledore Dies

This Tuesday I did the "wait out in line for the midnight opening with your friends" thing with Harry Potter and The Half-blood Prince. I really did try to think of a more tasteful title for this post but nothing else seemed to have the same punch. Normally I try to be much more respectful with regards to spoilers, but if you couldn't see it coming from book 1, you could use a glass of cold water in the face. Also, the book came out like four years ago, so I think we're well past the moratorium on this one.

Anyway, I was curious to see how this movie would turn out, as the book struck me as the weakest thread in Rowling's tapestry. As the next-to-last installment in a long-running series, it had a lot of set up to do. Consequently, the pace of the plot was very similar to a climbing roller-coaster. Normally that slow ascension fills one with a delightful anticipatory anxiety, but since I knew I would be waiting at the top of that dramatic hill for another year or few before I would actually be able to take that plunge, the climb was boring and frustrating, especially after the thrill-ride that was Order of the Phoenix, my personal favorite book in the series. Most of this lengthy setup was focused on shipping, which is actually a very important undercurrent in the Harry Potter universe. In the preceding books however, all the affections and potential pairings are buried in the adolescent anticipation of what could be. Rowling lays it all to bare in this book, and frankly it fell short of expectations.

The romantic centerpiece of the series is not actually Harry and Ginny, but Hermione and Ron, because they have provided readers with the long-running, pins and needles anticipation necessary for fans to really care about the romance. Keep in mind, caring is not the same thing as approving. I know a great many fans wanted to see Harry and Hermione together, and others still were hoping for Snape and Hermione. Nobody really seems to like Ron, and I think this book is a large reason as to why. An exorbitant amount of text is spent describing his obnoxious relationship with Lavender Brown, and after about the fifth instance it stops being cringe-some humor and just becomes cringe-some. Harry's affection for Ginny is also disappointing because of the abrupt way it manifests. Even though we might have seen it coming from The Chamber of Secrets, it's difficult to be invested in their coupling because their courtship was so brief and unremarkable. At the same time, we could see it coming so it's not surprising either.

The movies have done a better job of foreshadowing Ginny's interest in Harry, though their coupling still leaves a lot desired. All of the directors can't seem to decide whether they want Ginny to be a Shy Violet or a fire-starter (which is how she came across in the book) and Daniel Radcliffe has better chemistry with Emma Watson and Evanna Lynch (who is, as Rowling herself stated, perfect as Luna) than he does with Bonnie Wright. As I said though, Ron and Ginny are the romantic heart of the film and their sixth book courtship is much more pleasing on the silver screen. Lavender Brown is every ounce the humorous annoyance she was in the text without being completely overwhelming. Emma Watson does some brilliant acting and really manages to seem heartbroken over Rupert Grint's Ron, even though her best scenes are still opposite Radcliffe. I was also impressed with how suggestive the movie managed to make the coupling. While the books always gave me the impression that nothing beyond snogging took place in the Halls of Hogwarts, the movie tells another story. I realize this design decision was probably motivated by the success of Twilight (which is just... Well you know), but sex is part of the teenage equation nowdays and it's nice to see people acknowledging it.

Aside from all the romance, the slow pace of the book is much improved by the movie. You may recall the book opened with a the former Minister of Magic describing the horrors of Voldemort to Britain's new Prime Minister. I found this endlessly annoying, because I really wanted to see all the delicious chaos being described rather than receiving a second hand account of it. The movie indulges me, beginning with the flight of three Death Eaters who tear through London and destroy a bridge. Now that's the way you get a story going! That danger does a lot to hold the story over to its conclusion, considering the threats interspersed throughout the plot are considerably toned down in comparison to those in preceding volumes.

This is one of the slickest movie posters I have seen in a longtime. Note the reflection in the glasses.

Returning to my titular spoiler, I'd like to briefly discuss the death of Dumbledore. Even though you can see it coming a mile off, its the sort of loss that still hurts. In some ways, the inevitability of it is the worst part, because the death of a grandfatherly figure acts as a mirror for such deaths which have yet to touch our own lives. Once one recognizes this emotional mirror however, it is harder to be affected by the emotions it's lens is intended to convey, which may account for I was so callous and indifferent to the conclusion of the sixth book. Yet the movie showed me another symbolic aspect of Dumbledore's passing that I failed to grasp through the text: the grandfatherly headmaster's passing is also commentary on martyrdom.

The sequence in Voldemort's cave where Dumbledore drinks the poison potion is analogous to Socrates death, save that Harry is forced to force-feed his mentor, where as Socrates drinks his hemloc freely. Both men drink for "The Greater Good," but while Plato's ancient account emphasizes Socrates' supposedly selfless sacrifice, Harry's involvement calls attention to the selfishness of dying on your own terms. I realize that Dumbledore doesn't actually perish until Snape shoots him, but the connotations of this scene are far from accidental. First, the entire sequence takes place in a shadowed cave which is an inherently allegorical setting, and the pair must use a boat (which has a clearly stygian design in the movie) to reach the island containing the potion. Finally, the regretful nature of Dumbledore's final request "Once again I must ask too much of you, Harry" recalls the title of Plato's account of Socrate's death: Apology. In hindsight, I feel foolish that it too me this long to recognize this parallel, but it is an excellent example of just how literary Rowling's writing is. This scene invites readers to reconsider Snape's involvement with Dumbledore's death as well; an examination that is absolutely crucial for a full appreciation of the series. While it is fairly obvious that Snape is a good guy despite his apparent alliance with the Death Eaters, its hard to appreciate just how noble his actions are. Killing someone you love, even if it is there wish and they have a good reason for it, is an act which sheers the soul, quite literally in the Harry Potter universe, as is explained earlier in the film.

My chief complaint with the movie is that Harry's misguided attempt to duel Snape and avenge Dumbledore's death is thoroughly abridged. Much like Dumbledore, he teaches Harry to the end by preventing him from using Unforgivable Curses and casually brushing aside his offense to demonstrate just how much stronger Harry needs to become if he hopes to defeat Voldemort. Minor grousing aside, the movie tells a good story and tells it well. The special effects in this series always impress, the music doesn't really deviate from past scores (which is a good thing), and there are some really funny laughs to be had. 'Til Next Time.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Yes, Luna is the best character in the movie. The Director just keeps making her role better and better. It's too bad her character is thrown to the wayside in the final book.

Don't forget Malfoy's character had no development in this movie. He went from badass to wimpy boy because the movie failed to explain that his father was in Azkaban and his mother freaked out and went to serve Voldemort.

Luna and Harry = movie love

Ron = no exciting love in book, overplayed well in movie.

Hermione = don't care, she is booksmart

Harry + Ginny = forced love. Rowling just had to wrap things up in the end didn't she in a neat little package.

Harry + Cho = Hot in book, really awkward in movie.