New Potter film deals with real issues

by Andrew CraigHPHBP
If I were to sum up Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince I would have to say “mature”. I don’t mean that it’s geared for mature audiences, but as a story and as a film it shows a maturity I appreciated greatly. As the sixth film in a series it would be easy to mess it up, to take for granted the fact that this could be a movie with a monkey juggling bananas for two- and-a-half hours and it would still make money because of the Harry Potter brand attached to it. Instead, on pretty much every level the film displays smart choices made by all involved to treat the story as important, showing that they are aware of the legacy they perpetuate.

Film is not as forgiving as literature when it comes to changing the pace of things, in this case going from a light hearted, imagination busting first film to where we are now, a film that deals with grief, relationships, betrayal, and fear. It is therefore huge undertaking for filmmakers to make the series cohesive and have millions flock to see them. I enjoyed the sixth entry as much as the first five and there are a number of reasons why.

Half Blood Prince finds Harry, Ron, Hermione and crew in their sixth year at Hogwart’s School of witchcraft and wizardry. A war is going on between Voldemort (the Darth Vader of the series), his death-eaters (Storm Troopers) and the Order of the Phoenix (the Rebel Alliance) comprised of many of the teachers and other good characters we have met up to this point. Harry finds an old potions book mysteriously belonging to the “Half-Blood Prince” and is suddenly able to perform very well in class as there are copious notes in the margins. More importantly (as is true of most teenagers) love is blooming everywhere, jealously abounds and oh yeah someone is trying to kill Dumbledore the headmaster. Its tough to say more without giving away key plot points or wreck some of the tightly woven surprises that wait in the film. Its nice to see Harry Potter moving at a good pace.

Steve Kloves, the screenwriter for all the films, has done an amazing job translating the series to the big screen and I believe that Half-Blood Prince is his finest achievement. It cuts out a lot of the book but I can’t say I miss it. Something many may find frustrating is this movie seems to have been misnamed as a result of some of the choices. Gone is the quest for the identity of the half-blood prince, a big feature of the book that was ultimately full of red herrings and page-filling misdirection. Gone is the “big battle” towards the end of the book which was a huge problem for me in the first place (Why on Earth would one keep going to this school when an epic battle has broken out in the halls in which a great many people lost their lives?)

Instead we have a tight script that makes sense each step of the way but leaves us with huge questions. It is dark and the good guys don’t have their best day. The sense of foreboding carries throughout the entirety of the film amidst the flirtation and the magic there is a sense that things aren’t all roses and lollipops any more. Childhood is fleeting from Harry as he faces increasing pressure to be the “chosen one” he now knows himself to be. There are many good character notes in the script and it comes through well on the screen through the apt direction of David Yates.

It is because of the director that the film feels as mature as it does. Bright, colourful, whimsical sets have given way to mazes of hallways and softer tones. Even the familiar dining hall isn’t as bright as it once was. Yates pulls amazing performances out of his young actors and moves the story along well, constantly building to that dreaded ending. The maturity is everywhere, from longer conversations to some cheeky symbolism during the Quidditch match that had me laughing very hard at one point. There is also no way any child would have caught the imagery in case you were wondering.

From a Christian perspective, this film thematically has a lot to do with the power of hope. Harry has just lost his godfather (Sirius Black was killed at the end of Order of the Phoenix) and is grieving his loss, while at the same time he is trying to come into his own as a young man who has hormones, wants a girlfriend and a normal life. Many young people deal with the failing marriages of their parents or their friends’ parents, they face the temptations of sex and drugs, and they struggle with questions of morality while getting better at rationalizing away their sins. Harry Potter and his friends do not always make the right choices and that is the reason they present a great avenue for talking to kids about making the right ones.

In addition, the movies show the value of working through conflict with friends and sticking together regardless of occasional differences. They show the importance of forgiveness and moving forward in relationship—a value anyone can come to appreciate in time.

Hope is powerful, and is a gift Christ gives us as His people. There is a great opportunity with Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince to talk about that. Parents should see the movie with their kids as it deals so well with relationships, grief, loss and all kinds of “mature” topics young people should be talking about. For that reason I think this is the best entry in the film series so far.

If you have been hesitant about Harry Potter for whatever reason, this is not the best place to start; one must always begin at the beginning. If you have been avoiding it because you see it as more than just a good story told well, or been worried about what kind of influence it may bring into your home, you owe it to yourself to read the books then watch the films.

In movie form there are two more films left, the books have been done for a while. When that end came I had two thoughts: 1)Now that was a great read and 2) Oh my, what a disservice we have done to our faith by judging this series so harshly before it was finished.

Harry Potter is a great doorway into the hearts and imaginations of our children, to talk with them about the reality of life, the struggles that we face each day as people of faith. In this film you have young people dealing with difficult choices that are every bit as real as our youth face in this chaotic world. As Christians, we need to be as the movie is, mature in the choices we make. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince will not disappoint if you are a fan or a newcomer, it may even make you think.

Rev Andrew Craig is associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church, Surrey, B.C.

Posted By: Matthew Block
Posted On: July 23, 2009
Posted In: Culture watch,

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