July 17, 2009


The Horcrux of the Matter: The Half-Blood Prince is the best Harry Potter film yet. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 7/17/09, National Review)

Thoughout the Potter series, Snape has shared freely his genuine disdain for Harry, and here he suggests more clearly than ever before his subservience to the Dark Lord — but attentive viewers will come away with more questions than answers about Snape’s true loyalty. Snape has been pressed into service by Mrs. Malfoy to watch over her son, whom Voldemort has charged with a grave and secret task. In a puzzling scene in which Snape comes upon a seriously injured Draco — who has just lost a battle he initiated with Harry — Snape heals Draco, but inexplicably issues not a word of criticism for Harry.

For his part, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) — whose sun-starved complexion is suggestive of someone consigned to cold and dark places — manages to seem by turns odious and sympathetic. In the scene that immediately precedes his fight with Harry, Malfoy is alone, weeping. By the end of the film, it is clear that Draco’s inability to comply readily with the wishes of Voldemort has less to do with cowardice than with his residual conscience. Given these nuances in characterization, the battle here between good and evil is not as black-and-white as in the previous Potter films. The only unremittingly malevolent character in this episode is Bellatrix Lestrange — aside from Lord Voldemort himself, of course.

And here, at last, we learn of the origin of Voldemort’s turn toward evil — as being rooted in his desire for power that can overcome even death. In the scene in which Slughorn finally recalls his interactions with young Tom Riddle, the future Lord Voldemort asks Slughorn about horcruxes — objects that are enchanted with slices of the spellcaster’s soul, preserving his life force for recovery and revival. Such power comes at tremendous cost, however: A horcrux can only be created by the performance of intrinsically evil acts, such as murder. There is no moral way to overcome mortality, it turns out. Saving oneself involves destroying others — and in the process, destroying oneself. As Slughorn observes in horror, “Murder rips the soul apart; it is a violation of nature.”

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 17, 2009 3:41 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus