July 15, 2011

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEEPER MAGIC:

Memento Harry: Lessons from the final Potter film. (Thomas S. Hibbs, 7/15/11, National Review)

Editor’s Note: This review contains spoilers. [...]

Beyond her creation of memorable characters and plots, Rowling has crafted a mythical universe where remembering and preparing for death are central virtues. She revives the medieval theme of memento mori, the virtuous cultivation of the memory of death, as a counter to modernity’s vacillation between unhealthy obsession with and tragic forgetfulness of death.

This theme is powerfully coupled with repeated illustrations of (a) the unnaturalness of the project of overcoming death and (b) the way the practice of evil, murderous arts destroys the practitioner. In Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore informs Harry that Voldemort’s pursuit of immortality has “mutilated” his “soul beyond the realm of what we might call usual evil.”

The contrast between Harry and Voldemort’s approach to death is palpable. The opening of Yates’s Deathly Hallows Part Two finds Harry and Voldemort occupied in two quite different activities. Harry, refusing to use magic, is physically digging the grave of his friend Dobby, the loyal house-elf who gave his life defending Harry. Meanwhile, in an act of desecration of the dead, Voldemort is stealing the Elder Wand from the grave of Albus Dumbledore. At various points in the story, the Elder Wand is cited as one of three components (along with the Cloak of Invisibility and the Resurrection Stone) of the Deathly Hallows, the possession of which is believed to make one a “master of death” — the object of Voldemort’s quest.

At the center of Voldemort’s search is his performance of the darkest of dark arts: the creation of horcruxes, which preserve splintered pieces of his immortal soul, and which can only be created by committing murder. As Harry and his pals seek to discover and destroy the horcruxes, the only way that Voldemort himself will die, Voldemort pursues invulnerability and permanent rule over the world of wizards. The scenes featuring the destruction of horcruxes are among the most spectacular in the entire series of films, even as they heighten the dramatic tension and the sense of inevitable, final confrontation.

With threats imminent, there is no longer room for self-pity or teen angst — elements that were tiresomely common in the middle, overly long books in the series. Friendships deepen and in some cases blossom into love; the film contains two brief (and very nicely scripted) moments of passion, one between Ron and Hermione and another between Harry and Ginny. But this film is about what the books and previous films have always been essentially about: the practice of the virtues of friendship, loyalty, courage, and leadership.

In the midst of battle, there are revelations, small and large. We learn about the courage of Mrs. Weasley and Neville Longbottom, though Yates prunes important elements from Rowling’s version of their stories. Matthew Lewis is just right as Longbottom, capturing Harry’s rather plain and self-effacing classmate, who in the final film best combines valor and wit.

But the big revelations involve Snape and Dumbledore.

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Posted by at July 15, 2011 5:56 AM
  

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