I still remember my first experience with Harry Potter. A Christian friend suggested to me that I read the books rather than merely commenting on “things I knew nothing about,” so I agreed to a compromise, one that seemed beneficial to me in particular — I would watch the first film and our conversation / debate would continue from there. (The reason it seemed beneficial to me was that I was an unabashed Alan Rickman fan, and this was my excuse to see him as Professor Snape! What can I say? I’m not mature all the time.) Within minutes of that spell-binding beginning, of leaving tiny Harry Potter and his lightning-shaped scar on the doorstep of his aunt and uncle’s house, I was hooked… and especially touched by the near-ending in which we discover the reason Harry has survived, because of his mother’s sacrificial love. That was the moment my entire world shifted.
Before then, it had been moving gradually toward big awakenings but Harry Potter was instrumental in my spiritual journey. I know that sounds downright sacrilegious to say that a book about a wizarding school made all the difference in my faith, but in many ways it is true. Harry Potter continued the education that began many years earlier with Narnia and then continued with Middle Earth — learning to see spiritual matters in fiction, and in doing so, learning to see them in all walks of life. It taught me to look beyond the obvious and to be unafraid in my writing. Though it sounds cheeky now to look back and say, “Oh, I foresaw the end at the beginning,” and perhaps even a tad arrogant, I honestly did. By the end of that first book (which I read almost immediately) I knew Harry was a Christ figure in a series perhaps even more profound than it was intended to be. So in a way, it is almost painful to reach the end of the cinematic interpretation of the series, since, as a friend put it so well, “it seems the end of something… bigger.”
I didn’t grow up on Harry Potter. I was seventeen when I first met Harry and all the wonderful characters that inhabit Rowling’s amazing world. But there are a few things that define you as a person and this is one of them. My love for the series cannot be explained. I delight in it, in its humor and joys and sorrows and sufferings. I have laughed and wept with these characters and today, I shed a few more tears seeing them at the end, in the epilogue, after so much fighting and suffering simply having a happy life. Since many of the later books were released on Saturdays, I often went to church the next morning looking as if I had been through a war, red-eyed and staggering. (Particularly after book six… reading about a certain Headmaster’s death at 1am by a favorite character, followed by an hour of uncontrollable sobbing, tends to do that to a person.)
Thus, I find myself a little at a loss of what to say about the final film. I did manage to write an official review here, but blogs are meant to be more personal. So here it goes.
I loved this movie. I cried in this movie. I am so glad this film wraps up the franchise, because it was glorious. Maybe not all the time (and some of my disappointments will be addressed below) but… it was good enough.
What I am most happy about is that Snape was finally given his due. I don’t know how long The Prince’s Tale segment was, but it was everything I imagined from the book and then some. It was heart-wrenching. I loved that they used Rickman in so much of it, I loved how it was edited so that it flowed black and forth between different significant moments. I loved that he went to the Potter house and wept over Lily. (I am tearing up again.) I always thought that Snape died horribly in the book, in fact I was angry at Rowling, because it did not seem big enough, epic enough, for this magnificently ambiguous character — but the movie changed that, in how it was presented. It brought out the sheer tragedy of it, the horror of it, the needlessness of it — and that’s what it is all about, Voldemort wasting lives. How Harry responded to him… not even knowing the truth yet… it was beautiful.
Another character dreadfully under-used in the films is McGonagall. I loved seeing her in action here — and behind The Prince’s Tale, I think her duel in the Great Hall with Professor Snape is one of my all-time favorite moments from the film series. Maggie Smith is magnificent in whatever she puts her talent to and she was delightful here, rousing a cheer from the audience when she told Filch to put the Slytherins in the dungeons and smiling after bringing all the stone knights on the castle to life to “protect the boundaries!” Her pushing Harry aside to duel Snape for him was just… wonderful.
So much of it was wonderful… Neville having not one but multiple moments to shine… one last glimpse of Lupin and Tonks, reaching out for one another as darkness closed in around them… Luna shouting at the top of her voice (the first time she has ever spoken in more than a half-murmur?) “NOW YOU LISTEN TO ME, HARRY POTTER!”… the reunion with Dumbledore at King’s Cross… Ron and Hermione’s spontaneous kiss in the Chamber of Secrets…
Yet there were a few elements that I was disappointed in. One is the continuation of under-using Ginny. They have done this throughout and it’s unfortunate, because in the films we have so much build-up between the trio that you have to wonder, based on the films alone, why Harry likes Ginny at all! She has a little face time here but not much! Bellatrix unfortunately falls prey to the same preoccupation with other characters… becoming little more than a background figure here, apart from one or two lines. The second is that this film had the opportunity to redeem mistakes I think Rowling made in her original novel. They had the chance to show us what happened to Lupin and Tonks, and opted instead to go the route of the book and not explain. While I may rant and rail against the author for killing off two of my favorite characters, it is not their deaths so much as their unexplained deaths that troubles me most. Yet what I do not understand the most is how Fred’s death could be left out completely. There was the perfect chance to elicit horror and shock from the audience, to tug on every last heart string, to show just how much the Weasleys sacrificed in fighting for Harry and Hogwarts and all that is good — lost. Abandoned. Nothing more than an aftermath of weeping family members standing over his body in the Great Hall.
I had to put down the book and cry for ten minutes when I read that scene — and they gave me one minute on screen? But what on earth were they thinking? You spend ages building up the twins, establishing how close they are, what they mean to Ron and his family, and then don’t even show us the thing that most impacts their lives? Of course, this is from the team that conveniently left out the Battle scene in film six, rendering Rowling’s carefully-constructed plot utterly pointless, but as Ron would say, “I never thought they’d be that thick!”
Major as this complaint is, in the grand scheme of things it hardly matters. For two hours I was transported one last time to Hogwarts, to friends as dear to me as they are to Harry. It is not the end for me. Oh, no. You see, the magic begins anew the next time I open a book.