Sunday 28 November 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One

Just a pretext to this review: I feel odd writing these. On the one hand, I write them as a fan of the series and I am not even remotely objective about the material (not unlike Skins, where it must be very clear who my favourite characters are and which storylines I therefore prefer over others - in this case, part of my frustration with the last part was the lack of Luna and Neville). On the other hand, I am also a bad fan, because despite having read the novel more than twice, I still couldn't say precisely which parts the movies added or left out completely. I've always had a very hard time judging whether the movies did their respective novels justice or not, whether they captured the particular mood or spirit well. Occasionally I notice when one leaves out vital parts and instead replaces them with stories that seemed completely irrelevant to me - the best example for this is the sixth movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which is one and a half hours of nothing (nothing and Lavender Brown) and then Dumbledore dies, the end. I also know that avid fans of the series usually don't list Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix as their favourite, while I rank it very highly - because I so easily fall prey to gloomy moods and stirring depiction of how difficult it is to lose trust in everything and everyone.

In that regard, the first part of The Deathly Hallows succeeds completely. The slow undermining of the Ministry of Magic always seemed more apparent to me in the movies than in the novels, but the regime that emerges in the final part of the series is a terrifying and horrid one, consciously borrowing from history. It is a totalitarian state with thugs in and out of uniform, an ideology of blood purity that has been one of the most shocking aspects in J.K. Rowling's universe even when it was confined to Slytherin, and an emerging complete surveillance society which uses rhetoric that is creepily reminiscent of all the measures taken in the name of the "war on terror" ("you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide", says Pius, the new Voldemort-appointment Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement). Even though these are new characters, one of the more terrifying scenes of the movie takes place in the Ministry and portrays the fanatism with which the new regime punishes those they do not consider worthy - Ron, in the body of a simple wizard working there, has to bear witness to a trial headed by Dolores Umbridge, with the Dementors awaiting a witch accused of not being of pure blood.
Where The Order of the Phoenix portrayed the beginning of the downfall of all the institutions the students of Hogwarts used to trust, The Deathly Hallows starts by completing the process. In the very beginning of the movie, the closest confidantes of Lord Voldemort are assembled at the Malfoy's castle which is now their headquarters, and they are discussing the future, with a helpless victim above them, reminding possible dissentors (especially the increasingly terrified family Malfoy) of how it feels to be on the wrong side. Snape, who still has the trust of both sides, looks at his former colleague and there is a hint of terror in his eyes, a fear that this is maybe already too much out of control to ever be contained. Voldemort takes over the Ministry, Hogwart's new headmaster is Severus Snape, and the respective families of our heroes are becoming liabilities too. Hermione protects her Muggle parents by erasing herself completely from their memory - a scene only mentioned in the book, but incredibly well executed in the movie - and walks away from her childhood home an orphan, like Harry. The Dursleys depart quietly and without saying goodbye, leaving Harry in an empty house, wandering the now empty rooms he was so desperate to leave all these years - now that he is an adult wizard, even the broom closet under the stairs looks tiny and like a long-forgotten memory. Ron's family has always provided a respite (The Burrow will always be my favourite setting, my ideal comfy home) until it became the target in the last film. The resilience of Ron's family (The Burrow has been rebuilt after Bellatrix burned it down int he previous film), the love and caring, has always worked perfectly as a juxtaposition to Harry's dismal eixstence in his uncle and aunt's home - but this unity is the first element that gets destabilized in The Deathly Hallows. Harry manages a close escape from the Dursley's home to the Weasley's, but those helping him pay a high prize: Moody and Harry's beloved owl Hedwig die, and George loses an ear (although I always pictured his mutiliation as far more severe - the same goes for Bill's scars, by the way, which are far from horrible in the movie).
Bill's wedding (to Fleur, the Beauxbaton contestant in the Triwizard Tournament) provides a short-lived respite from the difficult times, one that ends suddenly when news of Voldemort's overtake of the Ministry of Magic arrives, shortly before the Death Eaters attack. Harry, Hermione and Ron only escape narrowly, with no knowledge of whether or not their friends and family survived the attack.
Ron: We wouldn't survive two days without her. Don't tell her that.
Harry has his destiny, and sometimes he loses perspective: this struggle isn't about him, it is about the future of this world and of everybody in it. Ron and Hermione were never chosen to be anybody, they actively chose to put themselves into danger, because they believed in Harry, because they believed in the struggle against Voldemort's ascent. The comparison to Buffy doesn't hold true completely since Harry doesn't exactly have special powers, he is risking just as much as his friends - but Ron and Hermione, the Scoobies of Harry Potter, are making a choice, and The Deathly Hallows celebrates their bravery, but especially Hermione's, from when she decides to follow Harry and protect her parents by erasing herself from their memory to trying to negotiate peace between Harry and Ron when they are starting to drift apart, to enduring Bellatrix' torture. Hermione Granger is the main hero in The Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Emma Watson does an incredible job with her character. The three friends go on an odyssey after fleeing from the wedding reception: - they are running away from Voldemort, but are looking for the Horcruxes at the same time, without knowing where to find them. The movie translates their growing frustration perfectly, especially after they find one of the Horcruxes but no way of destroying it - as they take turn carrying it, they get increasingly paranoid and angry at each other, until the group finally breaks apart when Ron, who has more reason to fear (for his parents, for his siblings, especially Ginny, who is still in Hogwarts), leaves. The beautiful landscapes which they travel only increase the feeling of complete isolation - their only connection to the outside world becomes a pirate radio broadcast which, every single day, lists the growing number of wizards and witches that have disappeared.
The breakthrough only comes when the three friends are reunited, and even then, their success is short-lived. There are tiny moments in which they try to reclaim their identity as teenagers, but the impeding enemies quickly remind them that they are not. 
I assume that the movie probably doesn't work on its own for people who haven't read the novels. For the amount of information contained (the Hallows - I thought the telling of the fairy tale worked well - , the Horcruxes, some hints at the importance of the Elder Wand and who rightfully owns it), there is still a surprising amount of cohesion. What keeps it all together is the emotional investment in the characters we have followed for such a long time. It is often the desperation of the adults in the face of the situation that is most effective in creating a feeling of terror, Luna's father for example, who in a mad attempt to save his daughter (who is being held in the dungeon of Lucius Malfoy's castle) betrays Harry and his friends.
It is a story about heroism and bravery, and the second grand hero of this story is Dobby the house elf, who becomes vital for Harry's rescue: he also says the most important words of the series. It's a beautiful place to be with friends.
There is a passage in the novel that the film sadly leaves out:
"Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same: Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be fine golden chains wove around the pictures, linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realized that the chains were actually one word, repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends…friends…friends…"

2010, directed by David Yates, featuring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Evanna Lynch, Guy Henry, Robbie Coltrane, James Phelphs, Oliver Phelps, Rhyn Ifans, Jason Isaacs, Tom Felton.

No comments: