“Emerging Potter”

With Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the students of Hogwarts have officially left childhood behind and enter into their angst-ridden teen years. Ironic, since the cast of the Harry Potter franchise are beginning to remind me of the latter years of the Beverly Hills 90210 cast playing teens. How old is Daniel Radcliffe (portrayer of Harry Potter) now? 27? Does he have grandkids yet?

Perhaps it is familiarity breeding a loss of the sense of wonder that fueled the earlier films; perhaps it is the fact that the darkest and longest book in the series is now being translated into the darkest and shortest movie. I expected something more stylized from new-to-the-franchise director, David Yates, however there is no real feel, nothing especially visually distinctive about the direction of the movie besides how blue, gray, and bleak to make it. I mean, we get it, Harry will inevitably have a showdown with Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) – we don’t need to be beat over the head with the fact.

The script by screenwriter Michael Goldenberg jumps around quite a bit, especially at the beginning, as it got its story-telling footing. The steady sense of menace creates a curious tension not as acutely felt in the earlier entries in the franchise. However, even having not read the book, you could actually feel back-story being dropped out, interplay between Ron, Harry, and Hermione lost, truncated screen time for newcomer Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch), and loose ends left dangling (such as the underdeveloped relationship with Cho Chang (Katie Leung )).

Harry: You don’t understand.
Hermione: Then help us to.

This go around, Harry’s a bit on edge and feels “so angry all the time.” Life tests his innocent faith, from being scorned by those around him for him clinging to what he knows to be true (Lord Voldemort’s return) to the fraying relationships of those closest to him. Even his mentor, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), seems cold and distant. He has reached a dark place where friends, family, and his spiritual life feel distant. The familiar spiritual practices he had come to depend on, that usually comforted him, instead seem hollow and ineffective. “Facing this stuff in real life is not like school.” Harry says, feeling alone, at the end of his ability to be in control.

“He isn’t in his right mind. It’s been twisted by fear.” – Sirius Black (Gary Oldman)

Different people react differently during times of such spiritual fear. Professor Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) clings to old doctrines aimed at preserving her brand of truth using methods that no longer work. Her medieval method—a kind of spiritual inquisition—reduces magic to systematic theories and blocks the truth at every turn – demanding no need to think or question from the followers. With her rigid retreat to rules, she basically becomes a magic fundamentalist and “You know who” reduced to a creature of fable or scary bed time story. [Though this image makes the shattering of the prophecy spheres during the climactic battle all the more a dramatic metaphor]

“We need a proper teacher.” –Hermione

Every great wizard starts off as a student. Sometimes you have to give people room to experiment, explore, even fail as their magical journey takes them where it needs to take them. As Luna says “the things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end. Even if not in the way we expect.”

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” –I Timothy 4:12

We are in the throes of Pottermania, with the new movie arriving during the same month as the last book in the series. At this point in the story, we experience the inherent dangers and unpleasant realities that accompany growing up. There is so much going on in this movie, so much plot and intrigue, that it comes at the expense of the magic of the series. Or, more precisely, the joy of magic. However, not all times on a journey can be joyous and one can only hope that subsequent installments will remember what it means to be people of magic and wonder. Though the story may stumble a bit, the series itself can survive a weaker entry. Luckily, the humor and action temper what could have been an utterly bleak experience. Here’s to hoping that we’ve seen the bleakest before the dawn.

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