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Love amidst the ruins: The Deathly Hallows Part 2 SPOILER ALERT

July 18, 2011 5 Comments

by Mathew Block

“It all ends” reads the tagline of the eighth and final Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows Part 2. As the words might lead you to believe, this is a dark film. The tension which has been growing throughout the series comes to its culmination here in the battle for Hogwarts as teachers, students and Harry’s friends face off against Voldemort and his evil army. It’s a conflict many beloved characters do not survive.

This film is about death. In fact, the entire series leading up to this point has been about death. From the first story, when Harry’s parents are murdered by Voldemort, to the death of Dobby the house elf at the end of Part 1, death is a prevailing theme. Now, as Harry faces off against Voldemort a final time, they both know only one can survive.

The name Voldemort reveals the series’ preoccupation with death. In French, vol de la mort means “flight of death.” The wizarding world fears Voldemort precisely because he is in many ways a grim reaper character; his presence inevitably means death and destruction.

But one can also interpret the French phrase vol de la mort as “flight from death.” This is Voldemort’s driving passion, as we see clearly in this final film. He is desperately trying to escape death. It’s the reason he splits his own soul and hides pieces of it in “horcruxes”; he cannot die so long as these magic objects remain safe and hidden. It’s the reason he seeks out the legendary “elder wand” believing that by making himself the most powerful wizard of all time he can conquer death.

But while the name Voldemort is likely taken directly from the French, J.K. Rowling (who holds a degree in classical languages) may have intended a secondary meaning to the name. In Latin, the name sounds similar to words for “I wish” and “death.” Voldemort’s “flight from death” is, in some sense of the word, still a death wish. No one can, by their own strength, cheat death—Voldemort’s assertion in this film that “only I can live forever” notwithstanding. He places his trust in his horcruxes, but even they cannot ensure for him eternal life. In this final film Harry, Ron and Hermione destroy the remaining horcruxes one by one.

We see him then, afraid—perhaps for the first time. He is vulnerable. He has not truly escaped death.

No man can prevent death’s coming. So what then is the proper escape? If, as is written on Harry’s parents’ tomb (and  written in the Bible) that “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” how is this death finally to be destroyed?

In the Harry Potter series, the answer is love—specifically, self-sacrifical love. It’s true of the death Harry’s parents faced before the beginning of the first film and book and it remains true all the way to the death of Dobby the House Elf.

While Deathly Hallows Part 2 is a film of death and destruction, in the midst of the ruins there is love. Despite the grief and pain, viewers find elements of forgiveness, mercy, and redemptive sacrifice, even glimpses of resurrection—light shining in dark places.

In Deathly Hallows Part 2, Harry learns at last that he must die to defeat Voldemort. When Voldemort had attempted to kill Harry as a child, he accidentally latched a part of his soul onto him—unintentionally making him into a horcrux. As long as Harry lives, a part of Voldemort will always live. He cannot die unless Harry also dies. Faced with this knowledge, Harry goes willingly to face his death—trusting that by his sacrifice others may live.

It is impossible to miss the thematic overtones of Scripture and the words of Jesus here: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”

Death never writes the final chapter; but love always will

But while the film’s tagline tells us It all ends, the message of Deathly Hallows Part 2— indeed, of all the Harry Potter films—is that it doesn’t all end. Death does not write the final chapter. It does not get the final word.

Harry falls, struck by the killing curse Voldemort casts at him. But he does not, in fact, die. Or perhaps it is better to say he does not stay dead. Harry awakens in an ethereal place, a heavenly version of King’s Cross train station. While given the opportunity there to “go on,” Harry instead returns to the real world to finish his destiny: to destroy Voldemort and the death he personifies. Voldemort is at last defeated.

But the film does not end with the Harry and his friends standing in the wreckage of the battle; there is an epilogue, set nineteen years in the future, in which we see new life and new love. The old horror has faded away. The wizarding world is again safe—a place where fathers can love and encourage their sons as they go off to school for the first time. Death never writes the final chapter; but love always will.

Let’s be clear here: Harry Potter is not Christian allegory. But it is deeply influenced by Christian symbolism, deeply influenced, according to the author herself, by her own Christian faith. The discerning viewer will see elements of that symbolism throughout the series, but especially so in this final film. And these themes, together with strong acting performances from the cast, beautiful special effects, and a deeply satisfying story, make the film well worth watching.

Mathew Block is a freelance writer and member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Regina, Saskatchewan. He blogs at http://blog.captainthin.net/