Friday, July 15, 2011

HARRY POTTER GROWS UP TO FIGHT THE MONSTERS

The final film in the Harry Potter series has just opened and HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, PART 2 is a fitting conclusion to the terrific eight part film series. The films were tremendously loyal to the bestselling prose of J. K. Rowling’s books. And like their source material, each subsequent movie grew darker and more complex. And now that I’ve seen the last of the films, I must say that the tale of Harry Potter is a lot less about his mastering of magic as well as enduring the ups and downs of school, and much, much more about facing up to the various monsters in the world. And not just the likes of Lord Voldemort.

What’s especially interesting is just how many monsters there have been for Harry to face. Sure, Voldemort is the main bad guy, but look closely and you’ll see that a more complex villainy is woven throughout the books and movies. Voldemort may be the representation of ultimate evil, after all he does want to kill the young wizard and destroy any Muggle or Hogwarts alum who gets in the way of his dream of underworld domination. But look back upon the series and you'll readily see how many other forms of wickedness haunt Harry. And they have faces far more human than those of Voldemort’s lizard-like features.
Let’s start with Harry’s adoptive aunt and uncle, the Durseleys. These horrid humans treated him terribly. Child services should have been called on these shabby excuses for step-parents as they’re practically guardians out of a Dickens novel. Harry’s home life with these two cretins proved that they were utterly incapable of showing him any love whatsoever. They were the most self-centered of buffoons. At every turn they tried to suppress Harry's talents. They insulted his dead parents' memory. And they often kept poor Harry locked in the closet. Eventually they threw him out of their house simply because he showed some necessary defiance. At least Oliver Twist came close to getting that second bowl of gruel when he spoke up and defended himself.

Then at school Harry was routinely used and abused by the various teachers who crossed his path. The main baddie at Hogwarts was Severus Snape, the potions teacher. It is revealed in this last chapter that he’s carried an unrequited torch for Harry’s dead mother since their childhood together at Hogwarts. Unfortunately the black-clad professor had grown so shut off and suppressed in dealing with his emotions that the only way he could act out was to become antagonistic towards Harry, a constant reminder of the girl who got away.
Then there was the revolving door of Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers, each with a motive to either destroy Harry or use him for their own vainglorious purposes. The worst had to be Professor Dolores Umbrage who disciplined the upstart Mr. Potter by making him write lines after class with a “blood quill” that cut the same words into his flesh. Perhaps Rowling listened to her Pink Floyd album “The Wall” a few too many times as a teen. It's dark stuff. And hard to believe it's a kid's tale at times.

Still, Rowling is on Harry’s side, and even though he suffers for his gifts, he tends to prevail. But he has to work extra hard because everyone around him, even his friends and loved ones at some time or another, have waned in their support of the well-meaning boy. And they always seem to be holding Harry’s specialness against him. Even Hermione, the heroine of the series, fancied Harry's doofus buddy Ron over him. It seems that throughout the tales, Harry just couldn't catch a break.
That is, until this last film. In part two of The Deathly Hallows movie, Harry is mad as hell and he’s not taking it anymore. He holds firm in his convictions and does not waver. Here he doesn't allow one person to ride roughshod over him. Even in the beginning scenes Harry is cagey and tough, out-negotiating an untrustworthy dwarf and challenging the conclusions of a veteran wands expert. Harry is always thinking throughout the film and manages to stay a step or two ahead of both his enemies and his friends. He has always been the moral center, obviously, but he's even more so here as he heroically saves a couple of student enemies from certain death in one of the film's big action set pieces. Harry refuses to take the easy path, the way of least resistance. He turns down the offer by his deceased headmaster Dumbledore to go quietly into that good night. And he faces Voldemort and his hordes of horrific followers in the forest alone, knowing full well that he may not come out alive. Despite everything against him, Harry stands tall. And he prevails.

At the end of it all, Harry has become a man. He faced down every threat, every villain, and every monster, be they supernatural demon or clueless Muggle. Harry Potter is “the chosen one” as he’s referred to constantly throughout the series. Why? He acts like a savior and he often suffers at the hands of those "who know not what they do." He turns the other cheek and refuses to hate. In the final chapter Harry kicks some major ass, but there is no joy in it, only the sad obligation of fixing the world so everything can get back to some sense of normalcy. At the beginning of the series, Harry was a child. At the end he is an adult whose true education has been in figuring out exactly how the world works. It takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears just to get through the day, to live, to love. Harry Potter is a grown man, an adult, a guy who has figured out how to survive and thrive. Just how magical is that? Very.

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