Sunday, July 17, 2011

Harry Potter Lives!

We saw the final Potter movie last night, and were as moved, thrilled and delighted by it as we were by the previous films and all the books.

Rowling has given us all a powerful gift, one added to by the various film directors and cinematic technologists who realized her world and the acting corps that interpreted her characters. (Surely Rickman is Snape and Smith is McGonagall, just as McKellen is Gandalf.) As Morgenstern put it in the Wall Street Journal, this one is Harry Potter and the Fantastic Finale.

Several quick thoughts about the appeal of the series, both on paper and on screen:

* Rowling understands that the fantastic is not merely about "special effects" and weirdness for its own sake. The heart of the matter is the strange magic of the Ordinary, and especially the ability of Ordinary People to tell Right from Wrong, and to overcome their own fears and weaknesses on the way to doing what is Right. Rowling loves her wizards but she loves her Muggles most of all (or rather, the Muggle qualities that her good wizards possess), just as Tolkien held his hobbits above the elves, the kings and the wizards. Pullman builds his neo-Miltonian epic on this concept as well. The theme suffuses Dickens and Chesterton, Hardy, Greene, Orwell. Rowling's world is deeply demotic, full of common sense, hard work, goofy and irreverent humor, optimism (tempered by the realization that suffering is inevitable), and the enduring sinews of love and friendship that defeat and transcend the inequities of power and those who seek it.

* The scenes of Harry's parents sacrificing themselves for him, and of the Weasleys as a family defying all comers-- in that slightly bumbling, cup-of-tea Weasley way, a bit vague at the start but ultimately decisive--are highlights in the film, as they are throughout the books. I choked up at the scene in the movie (okay, I cried here in the book too) where the shades of Lilly, James, Remus and Sirius reassure Harry that they are always with him, living on in his heart and to the end.

* If I have one complaint, it is that the films shunt Ginny Weasley aside, focusing almost entirely on Harry, Ron and Hermione. Yet Ginny is willing to sacrifice herself for Harry, while I am never quite sure that Hermione would do the same for Ron (and sometimes it feels as if neither of the lads is truly prepared to die for their swain; for each other, yes, but not for the girls).

* Snape is one of the most complex characters ever to appear in the spec fic genre. I keep coming back to his hidden love for Lilly, the impulse that drives his actions all the way to his death. "Always," says Snape (in Rickman's deliberate tone) to Dumbledore.

* I keep thinking about the words Rowling puts in Dumbledore's mouth when he and Harry are reunited in the place that reminds Harry of King's Cross Station, i.e., during the respite in the battle with Voldemort. Words about language being true magic, the incantatory power of words themselves. Words about what is most real being those things within our heads. Rowling understands the deepest truth of Power, that it exists not in weapons or armor, not in turrets or crenellations, but in the wellsprings of imagination and the flow of language therefrom. And she has demonstrated this through the thousands of pages and hours of film that constitute the Potter mythos.

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