Last Thursday I got around to seeing the latest installment of Harry Potter. It seemed to be lacking a sense of fervor that was very present in the previous five movies, a result, I think, of the series having ended. The first four were exciting stops on the road to the seventh book and the mysterious finale; the fifth was a treat in the month after we had finally seen what Rowling had in store for Harry and co. The sixth movie, by contrast, seemed stuck in purgatory — between Potter-mania and the end of the franchise, between the penultimate climactic scene (with Voldemort, at the Ministry of Magic) and the final one, at Hogwarts.
You can’t really blame the movie, though, for that. The book was sort-of a stop-gap between the fifth and the seventh. Rowling herself said that sixth book was meant to be the first half of the finale, and wasn’t surprised when the reviewers found themselves wanting. What did she really do in the sixth book, anyway, apart from dig into Voldemort’s past a bit and kill off Dumbledore?
I did take issue, however, with the movie-makers’ decision to omit some of the other Pensieve memory-scenes. I’m thinking, in particular, of the one where Dumbledore and Harry visit the Gaunt home through the memory of the Ministry employee sent there to check on some alleged illegalities. That was a revealing moment — you meet Voldemort’s mother, his uncle, and his grandfather. You find out that his mom used a love potion to get Tom Riddle to marry her, you see some of the objects that were to become Horcruxes . . . and you begin to get a sense of what Voldemort’s ancestry and background was.
I assume that scenes of that nature have been saved for the next movie, the first “half” of the seventh book, which makes sense when you consider that the Deathly Hallows wasn’t really meaty enough to merit two separate installments. In order to satisfy what the Times‘ Manohla Dargis calls “Harry Potter and His Big Pot of Cinematic Gold” the powers that be had to cull some parts from the sixth book. I’d guess that the seventh movie will be more background, with the eighth movie delivering on the action.
Hopefully the seventh movie isn’t as devoid of true drama as the sixth. For whatever reason — I’ve tried to rationalize and I can’t come up with anything but budget constrictions — the battle at the end of the sixth book was taken out in the movie. The Death Eaters walk nonchalantly through Hogwarts, up to the Astronomy Tower for some Dumbledore-killing, over to Hagrid’s cabin for a little pyromania, and then make their get away. No werewolf bites, no wild fight scene with Ginny and Ron, Bill and Tonks. Just a saunter through the castle to destroy the magical world as-we-know-it.
Perhaps they don’t want to ruin what will surely be a wild and catastrophic Hogwarts fight scene during the finale movie. But, come on. They could have given us a little more than nothing.
And I say that for more than movie reviews. The biggest problem I encountered during the movie was my near-inability to cry during Dumbledore’s death. After much reflection, I’ve concluded that it was simply too much to be asked to cry again over the headmaster’s demise.
You have to understand that Harry Potter is a watershed cultural experience for fans in their early-twenties, like myself. When I started to read the series, there were only three books published. About a month later the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, came out. Harry was 14. So was I. I devoured that book at summer camp — I remember very clearly getting the book from my parents on visiting day and reading it outside under a grove of trees while some of my friends played capture the flag. Then the real wait set in. Harry didn’t turn 15 until I had graduated from high school. He didn’t get to 16 until I was half-way done with college.
By that point, when Dumbledore took his dive off the Astronomy Tower, I gave Harry every ounce of emotion I could muster. I cried and I cried and I cried — I had lost a character who had played a large role in my childhood imagination, a friend for so many years. And yet the saga wasn’t over. It took another two years for the last book to come out — and by that time I was barely two months out of college.
When the Deathly Hallows was published and arrived in my hands on that day in 2007 I must have read about three hundred or so pages without really thinking. Auto-pilot set in; I’m not even sure I processed much of what was going on in the plot. But I remember very distinctly the moment that Dobby died. I remember Harry burying him — and then I lost it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a dry eye for the remaining five hundred pages. It was just tears and more tears, not just for Dobby and Harry, not just for Fred and George, and Sirius and Dumbledore, but for the idea that I had started this story at fourteen years old and was finishing it as I made my first venture into the real world as an adult. Harry Potter and I went through a lot in those eight or so years. We grew up together. Whatever cultural phenomena occur over the course of the rest of my life, they’ll never be another like Harry Potter. Simply because the timing was right — the experience synced up so perfectly.
Thus, as I watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on the big screen last week, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was seeing an ex-boyfriend. Perhaps, excuse the morbidity, even a dead ex-boyfriend. Someone who had taken every bit of emotion I could muster, who had once meant very, very much to me, was again, almost inexplicably, standing in front of me, asking for me to call up all of those old, repressed emotions. Asking for me to give him a chance again. Sure, Harry, I’ll sit and chat with you for awhile — we can revisit the good times and laugh about the bad.
But I am not going to cry again.