Oh dear. I think I always knew that the last film or two in the Harry Potter epic was going to be difficult: the point at which the hairline crack that was present in Rowling’s books on day one (or maybe two) progressed from fissure (book three onward) to yawning chasm.
What crack? Well, imagine for a moment Enid Blyton attempting serious political analysis. Its well within the parameters of her work for assorted characters to tangle with cartoon cut-out villains. Smugglers. Pirates. Even Nazis, so long as they’re not too real. But how about “The Famous Five and the diaries of Anne Frank”?
Or even: “The Famous Five and the paedophile ring”?
“I say, George. Did you notice the police were around today? They wanted to talk to Uncle Quention about some of that art stuff he keeps on his computer”.
“Yes. They say he’s a pedal…pedo…um…”
“Paedophile”, smiled Anne.
“That’s right. Paedophile.”
“Oh”, exclaimed George: “How beastly!” She looked around the picnic table: “Is there any more of that ham left, Dick?”
So it is with Harry Potter. On the one hand is a cutesy, young person’s world that draws heavily on an assortment of genres. Bunter, Jennings and Mallory Towers are in there, mixed in with the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings – and loads more besides.
Do I mind the mixing? Not exactly. What grates far more is the idea of a breed of super-beings, gifted with vast powers beyond our mortal ken dithering around in an assortment of bad clothes, dusty unkept houses and drinking “butterbeer”. There’s the somewhat cheap shot of using silly names as shorthand caricature, starting with Weasley, and working onwards and upwards through the likes of Slughorn, Dolores Umbridge and Nymphadora Tonks.
There’s the five-year-old’s view of the world, as banking, journalism and government are reduced, in their turn, to the ludicrous caricatures represented by Gringotts, Rita Skeeter and the politically infantile Ministry of Magic.
There is also Harry’s own ineptitude. Personal dislike here: I am not a fan of heroes who simply muddle thru. He’s not particularly clever, gifted or powerful. If anything, he comes over as an irritating naif, whingeing his way through book after book, failing to act when he should – and therefore, like some junior school Hamlet, bringing half his misfortunes down on himself.
Oh dear. Again. For all that, the books are semi-tolerable (just skim over the logical cracks). But then there is the large, enormous gaping crack at the heart of the work, which the current film exposes in all its emptiness. Which is the nature of Voldemort and the evil he threatens.
What is he? Some mundane baddy who likes to do bad stuff? A run-of-the-mill psycho who started out by pulling the wings off butterflies – and then found that you could have so much more fun using real people and the cruciatus curse?
Or someone with a rather more vile proto-Nazi philosophy he wishes to impose on the rest of the world? The first…the first just about fits the cutesy world, in the same way as the Hobbits journeyed out from the quaintness of the shire, dealt with a big bad Ring Lord, then returned to quaff ale and smoke their pipes.
The second (see above) just doesn’t fit. Yet here it is, in all its glory. Its in book 7 and made, if anything, even more explicit in the film. “Snatchers” in Nazi-style uniforms. Nazi-style pamphletry. Even (not quite a spoiler): Hermione having the word “mudblood” tattooed on her arm in a clunkingly obvious reference to the concentration camps.
It doesn’t fit.
At least, the narrative doesn’t.
What about the film? Not bad. Just forget that Potter was ever cute. This film isn’t. Its dark (literally so, as it seems to be shot in a manner that gives it a monochromatic feel). There is real pain. Tears. Anguish.
There is also boredom – always going to be an issue with this half of book 7. Rowling does have a habit of doing “longueurs”, in which nothing much happens – and for a chunk of the film, not a lot happens, apart from teenage angst and meaningful gazing off into the distance.
Its very faithful to the book. There are loads of parallels – both visual and in plot terms – to extreme philosophies of right and left, with an implied ethnic cleansing underpinning all.
Some genuinely scary moments. As someone with a real fear of snakes…the opening scene, in which Voldemort’s pet python slurps down one of Hogwart’s muggle-loving teachers almost had me out of the cinema. Ugh!
And then there’s THAT scene! You know: the one in the forest involving a somewhat undressed Harry and Hermione. OK: there was magical mist about to obscure the naughty bits, but the point was made.
Hmmmm…not sure I approve that, either. No. Not the nudity. More the relationship: those who have read all the way thru know who ends up with whom in the end and… there is no internal logic to this pairing. Harry and Hermione are always more brother and sister than lovers – and their eventual get-together felt more demanded by the genre, than by any plot foreshadowing.
In sum, then: the books, individually, are good, with some idiocies. The series makes no sense whatosever. And the film…well, despite the above, I liked it. Long. Tedious in places. But as everyone else has suggested: a grown-up film and probably not one to take one’s five-year-olds to.