Desperate Times Call For Desperate Magic: A Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pt 1.  is a good film–a solid film, giving a good arc and screentime to all three of the main characters, and a host of others. There’s plenty of action, but this film also takes time to develop the story and the characters.  I stood in line at the Yukon Cinema for two hours to get in to the first showing (-10 C)–so my standards had to go up for how good this film had to be.  And I felt like, in the end, it was worth it.

You know the premise: Harry Potter and team are on the run from Voldemort.  Nowhere is safe.  Harry is out to find as many pieces of Voldemort’s soul as he can and destroy them.  We aren’t at Hogwarts anymore.  But the lessons, it seems, still go on–and the grades are worth more.

Some small spoilers follow—but nothing major.  Read later after you’ve seen the movie.  It’s just me talking about the really cool character arcs–but I do a bit of telling what characters do.


I was pleased at how much this film is about Hermoine.  The opening sequence has her erasing the memories of her from her parents’ minds, and also from every picture in the house.  She has, in effect, erased her existence in the Muggle world.  The film highlights the extreme displacement the kids feel by not being in Hogwarts, and you feel it too.  The camera shots from above the various geographies, rotate just slightly, giving you the feeling of being lost.  And these students are lost, very lost.  They are on the run, and no place is safe.  Hermoine guides them through past memories of her childhood, and the movie plays out as a backwards rendition of those memories she has erased.  Each place they disparate to, or jump to, is a place she alone remembers from her past.  When she is tortured in the film, we realize how much she has always been in potential danger at Hogwarts, especially because she is Muggle born.  While Draco Malfoy always carried the racism and bigotry into Hogwarts, because he was a child–he had no power to enforce that bigotry, and we assumed that it would be knocked out of him.  Hogwarts has obviously failed a few times to instill responsible and compassion in its students.  Voldemort carries this much farther.  On a purity spree, he is trying to subjugate the world of Muggles under wizardry control.  Hermoine represents muggles on the run, Muggles fighting back.  She even helps save another Muggle-born woman who has been stripped of her wand in a courtroom scene straight from the Inquisition.  We know that the imperative for the wizards getting back in control of Voldemort is to save mankind, not just themselves.  And we realize that the last six books were about Hogwarts, a school that taught morality and self-control to people who had great, destructive and constructive powers.  Hogwarts is what stands between wizards and witches taking over the world–young wizards’ and witches’ education is paramount to our safety.

Ron has a great arc as well, as his whole family is left fighting against Voldemort while he and Harry and Hermoine are trying to find the horcruxes.  Every day he listens to the radio to see if his family is okay.  And every day they don’t find a horcrux is another day that he isn’t doing something to stop the war.  He feels guilty that he’s “doing nothing” and doubly guilty because he gets to be with the woman he loves all the time.  This turns in him, and with the help of an evil horcrux which amplifies those feelings of betraying his family, it causes him to rage against his friends, and make a big decision.  It’s a huge move for a major character.  We know part of is the horcrux, but part of it stems from six books of Ron Weasley being seen as less than all of his siblings, and standing in the shadows of Harry Potter.  He now has to play the hero–and while he wants to so badly, there’s a fear that it’s always just “playing” and that this playing is actually taking away from a larger duty he owes his family back home.  His arc represents, to me at least, the wizarding families and the freedom they are likely to lose if Voldemort wins, and the sacrifices they make to keep people safe.

Harry, though frustrated as a leader, has a lot of moments to make good and bad decisions as he goes.  I like that he learns that his friends are doing the best they can.  They are counting on him to know what he’s doing–and sometimes he does and sometimes he’s just an 18 year old who is figuring things out as he goes.  I like that he’s learning to be a leader here under trying circumstances and there are moments in the film that he shows how good of a leader he can be.  We know the final film will explore even more of Harry’s character, and Dumbledore’s.  I wonder how much they’ll bring out the relationship between Grindewald and Dumbledore.  I’m very excited to see how Harry reaches what he has to reach in the next film.

Even though this film deviates from its normal Hogwarts school year–I was pleased to see that the way the earlier films marked the passing of time was kept in this one: holidays.  So even though you are on the run, Harry, you still mark time the same.

Deathly Hallows does have some overtones of Lord of the Rings, as Harry searches for multiple objects, so that he can destroy them.  The scene interrogating Creature about a locket gave me Gollum, Frodo, Samwise feelings all over the place.  And the dream sequences of seeing Voldemort closing in on various people acted like Sauron’s eye in reverse.

And then come to the middle of the film, I was surprised and charmed to find such a finely animated film inside.  When the story of the “Three Brothers” is read aloud by Hermoine, the film indulges in a beautiful moment of cinema.  I was entranced. The short segment is worth its own short film status–and I would definitely be interested in seeing a film like this made from the stories in Beetle the Bard.  If this was the director’s way of seeing if we’re interested in seeing that film–let me be the first to say, yes.

Overall, the film far exceeded my expectations, in that it brought out threads that resonated with the first six films, and managed to find humor in the darkest book of the HP series.  It also gave such meaty character building parts to Ron, Hermoine and Harry–just when you thought you knew them, now you see them grow again. This is the perfect culmination movie.


Kudos to the folks at the Yukon Cinemas for decorating the theatre, keeping peace, for filming the line, and asking us trivia questions for prizes.  Thank you for threatening any person who had cellphone nonsense during the movie with immediate expulsion.  Please do this for every movie!  🙂  I’m very proud of our how well Yukon Theatre did with the massive crowds, and regulating traffic.  And they were all dressed in Hogwarts robes!  Priceless.

Harry Potter Diary: Harry, the Suppressed, Closeted Wizard

At 41, I’m reading the Harry Potter series for the first time.  Outside the demographic for the book, I was wondering what I would latch onto as an adult.  What would speak to me?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, HP1, gives us a kid whose true identity is being suppressed.  His muggle guardians KNOW he is a wizard, but they are hoping that he will just not learn about this heritage, and certainly won’t become a wizard.  They never mention his parents were wizards, never tell what really happened the day his parents died, and they never want to hear if he has any wizard “tendencies”… and they punish him severely whenever those “tendencies” appear—when Harry acts on his wizarding nature.

I always found the scene when the owls try to deliver his welcome letter from Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft to be quite moving.  While on the surface it looks like the Dursleys are merely being subverted in their plan to keep Harry from knowing the truth–it is a moment where Harry learns WHO he is and that he has great potential.  Without this moment, there is no Harry Potter or Harry Potter series.

The urgency with which the owls start tossing their letters into the house; the extremes that the Dursleys go to hide away from the letters finding Harry; this is no small event.  I would say it is the biggest turning point in Harry’s life–because afterwards he will understand who he is, and be given the skills to fulfill his destiny, while before he is humiliated and punished when any sign of his true nature reveals itself, and living as a secondary person, almost a slave, in the Dursley household.  He lives in a closet under the stairs!  (I mean, really, people… a closet???)

It’s hard for me to escape seeing this as a coming out moment for Harry, or see this as a metaphor (at least for me) of a boy society has been trying to make more and more “straight”–who just can’t help certain natural tendencies.  As a gay man, I saw myself in Harry.  Society hides our history from us, brands us as immoral, makes us feel humiliated for being who we are–if we even get to know that information–and somewhere along early puberty, the signs start coming in unusually fast… the letters telling us who we are and what we are capable of start flying in.

I had great parents.  No, they didn’t know what to do either when I started exhibiting behavior outside of what they had expected.  I don’t think they ever tried to hide who I was, though; they were afraid to mention anything, uncertain if this might be a tipping point where I would start to explore what this meant.  But certainly my religion tried to separate me from the immorality of a whole group of people, convincing me that I could never be a “homosexual”– because I was a good boy, a good Christian.

If I’d only had a list of the great gay and lesbian people of history, or that so many of our revered American writers were gay or lesbian.  If only I’d realized how much we contributed to history.  Or known what was happening to me physically and mentally and sexually.  I’m glad that Mason Crest Publishers recently announced a line of books for middle-schoolers about being gay, about coming out, about gay and lesbian role models, history, religion.  Like 15 letters!  I want to own those books.

In my life, though, the letters stopped coming, the owls gave up.  I never realized I was gay until I was 34.

But in Harry Potter, the Dursleys can’t prevent Harry from knowing who he is because a giant comes through the door.   Hagrid—man, would I love my own Hagrid!—breaks down the door of the shack on the island where the Dursleys and Harry have hidden.  And he is angry when he finds out that Harry’s history has been suppressed, that Harry’s true nature has been ridiculed and been denied him.  There is triumph and relief in that moment of comeuppance for the Dursleys.  Not only have they been shamed, but Harry has seen them as they are— as no longer the standard or authority for telling him who he is.  He cannot be shamed.  Hagrid has revealed a higher truth.  Harry is allowed to break free of their mental tyranny–because Hogwarts, a place designed for people just like him, is waiting for him.  They value him.

Now, at Hogwarts, everyone treats Harry as someone they love.  Yes, a few treat him like a superstar, but I’m amazed at how loving and caring all the characters are towards Harry–especially the adults.  They become his new family.  Dumbledore and McGonagall serve as surrogate parents, and Hagrid as a protective big brother.

We see the Dursleys as comedic backdrop, but I think, in some ways, they are as dangerous to Harry as Voldemort is.  While Voldemort wants to take Harry’s life, the Dursleys also want to take Harry’s life–his soul, his self-worth, his personhood.  Whoever would rob you of who you are, or try to shame you for being who you are–that is a dangerous person.  If the Dursleys had been successful in keeping the truth from Harry, it would have robbed him of a joyful, adventurous life.  Those who want to keep their children from realizing who they are–and the joys of being that person, the contributions that other people like ourselves have made to history–are extremely dangerous people.  There is nothing wrong with being gay.  And great people in history have been gay.  It is extremely important for every person to have role models.  We spend an inordinate amount of time in Christianity talking about our role models, and in American History about role models, and in sports about role models.  Gays have been hidden from history for a long time.

Oddly enough, we were handed a great role model when Dumbledore was outed by JK Rowling.  Such a huge moment–that a beloved character could be gay and still be the wisest, most caring, fatherly, most powerful character in an already beloved series.  We were handed a beautiful role model, who doesn’t have to just be “gay”–he’s allowed to do other things with his character.   And it completes my attachment to this scene.  Harry is saved by Hagrid, a man of the woods, an earthy gamekeeper, in service to the Head Wizard himself, who is gay, and finally taken from the suppression that had marked his whole life.  Harry is given a new start as a Wizard, in a place that values him, and this makes me cheer.

I’m not implying at all that Harry is gay, only that this scene–where the truth is revealed, and assumption that Harry is worthless is wrong–resonates with me as a 41 year old man.  And that there is a whole hidden history, a whole place where people value who you are–who’d have thought?

It never would have occurred to me at 10 or 12 even… but there is something powerful in these books even for us 41 year olds.

Harry Potter Diary: Outside the Demographic Looking Inside Hogwarts

I decided to read the Harry Potter Series this summer, for the first time.  After 10 billion people were happily served by the boy wizard and his pals, after the series was put to rest by JK Rowling years ago, and just as the film franchise explodes to a close, I decided to read the books.

Some questions immediately pop to mind: Why didn’t I read the books years ago?  

1.  I’m not a fad kind of guy, so having millions of people read the books actually made me feel less like becoming part of the phenomenon.  

2.  I actually loved the movies.  I did read HP 2 after the first movie came out, and before the second movie.  And loved it.  But when I watched the film, I was terribly disappointed that a whole mess of story was eliminated as if it didn’t count.  I vowed then and there to see the movies first, and then I would read the books to add in parts that the movies had left out.  This is actually a decent strategy.  

And why now??

Well, the end of the era is around the corner…. by summer 2011, the films will be done.  But I think it’s more because I really want to read the books.  I want to see how Rowling built the arcs, how she developed series characters, and how she managed to maintain the hook for so long.  It’s okay to admire the books on a “how are they written?” sort of way.  

I want the magic too.  Even though, now, I know at least where the movies have taken me.  Now I want to see where the books take me.  

I’m not the demographic JK Rowling was aiming for.  Her 9-17 age bracket probably resonated with the idea that children can have power too; that magic exists under adult noses; that the world doesn’t have to be like their parents told them it would be–office buildings, stock markets and 2 hour commutes.  

So what would a 41 year old, single, gay writer and English teacher living in the Yukon Territory–with no children– get from reading the Harry Potter series–besides how to create a blockbuster series?  It’s a good question to think about.  How does a book transcend its ideal market, appeal across the board to adults and children alike?  What will be the pull of the series for me?  (I already loved the movies—but why.)  

I’m keeping a Harry Potter Diary as I go to ponder things about the series along the way.   Just reactions to, thoughts about, resonances with the series.  

There’s a spot at Hogwarts for me–and I’m going to find it.