« In Which Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince Lacks The Granger-Potter Intercourse We Were Hoping For »
Harry Potter and The New Victorians
by ELEANOR MORROW
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a short series of photoshoots assembled into an incoherent movie. If you didn't read the books, you wouldn't be crazy to ask what the hell is going on. I mean they basically ruined three of the central moments in the series here. I did not even cry when Dumbledore died.
Many have written themselves into a corner trying to hate on Harry Potter, most notably A.S. Byatt. As she put it:
Ms. Rowling's magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, ''only personal.'' Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family.
Whoa. All art serves a purpose. Whatever got 100 million people reading books can't be all bad. In translation, the films can't possibly represent the books, which are essentially an awkwardly written first effort from a juvenile-level author at best. Miss Rowling was in no position to write a great fantasy, but she gave it a shot, and it's easy to write this stuff. Stephanie Meyer owns NBC now, right?
Seriously though, the films were destined to be bad unless one person made them all Peter Jackson-style. They did a good job with the first one and the newness of it, and then the lighting design just started getting darker. Everyone's complexion became vampiric like Twilight. No one is having very much fun. It makes you wish they had all just rewatched Legend 5,000 times before shooting Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
But hey, that's what Harry Potter is — it is so general, so easy, it can take on any cultural phenomenon and incorporate it within the flexibility of the narrative (if the lame, we must find seven parts of the villain's soul plot can be called a narrative). Harry and his friends are a projective lense through which we view the younger part of our population.
The news is not great, you guys. On the film or on the generation it purports to depict. The piece of art that accomplishes largely the same thing as Harry Potter is The Up Series, a British invention of documentary television that checked in on seven kids at ages 7, 14, 21, 28...every seven years and so on. The results were mind-boggling.
Neil turned out to be the most unpredictable of the entire group. At seven he was funny, full of life and hope. By the time of 21 Up he was homeless in London, having dropped out of Aberdeen University after one term, and was living in a squat and finding work as he could on building sites. During the interview he is clearly in an agitated state, and it becomes apparent that he has mental health issues and is struggling to cope with life; he mentions he had had thoughts of suicide. At 28 he was still homeless, although now in Scotland; by 35 he was living in a council house on the Shetland Islands, off the north coast of Scotland, writing and appearing in the local pantomime. By the time of 42 Up he had finally found some stability in his life (with some help from Bruce--he was living in Bruce's apartment in London and Bruce had become a source of emotional support) and was involved in local council politics.
Harry, Hermione and Ron are juniors in high school and yet they haven't ascended much further than heavy petting. The adults in their lives are impotent creatures — even the murderer who takes the Unbreakable Vow is kind of a weak shit in the end.
The biggest evidence we have of the most serious villain to haunt non-Muggles in history is a smoky shadow in the sky. This was Voldemort! He had unlimited power! His lieutenants murdered untold wizards. But hey, what could he do? These three were about:
Over time the series has resisted efforts to make it less British, and for an American child, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince becomes a bizarre instruction of repressed sexual politics. The main crux of the matter is, all the pale faces have a very Victorian sexuality and have to observe customs or they're crying about another girl kissing their man, just kissing. How can an inner city girl who has worked two jobs by the age of 16 supposed to empathize with such an empty beacon of a woman?
A strange Muggle moment at a diner opens Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry gets hit on by an appealing black waitress who tells him that she gets off at eleven. It's obvious from her dress that she could have Harry screaming his dead parents names in ecstasy by the time she's done with him. Yet he happily retreats into his fake Victorian world — one that doesn't seem quite so magical anymore. I thought the point was that Hogwarts isn't identical to whatever Muggle High School Potter might have attended. I guess if Hermione can go to Clown College, Harry doesn't need more school.
On the whole, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince doesn't offer a terribly great image of English men and women, but it's an even worse portrayal of young people forging out in the world. Harry's bosom buddy Neville Longbottom has one scene in this movie, and he's serving Harry the lord a tray of hors d'oeuvres at a party for the more fameball Hogwarts students. And Harry thanks him.
The paring back of all the original and interesting material from the novel notwithstanding, what's left over is a bunch of teens who bear more resemblance to the cast of Gossip Girl than the fearsome force that created Dumbledore's Army in the previous novel. In addition, Rowling clumsily wrote all her best characters out of the script. Harry's uncle Sirius, played by Gary Oldman, formed a unique relationship with the orphan wizard. And then Sirius was killed off for no real reason, and Hagrid got turned in an impotent animal lover. For shame!
Shit, even House Slytherin looks like they're going to break into tears at any moment. Draco Malfoy shouldn't engender sympathy, you want to scream at David Yates, the film's clearly overmatched director. I'm not sure what's worse: that he thinks a giggling schoolgirl who likes Ron should get all the laughs, or that the only lines granted to people of color are apologies and invective?
A major element of the previous films, and somehow deleted in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is the idea that what appears one way on the surface is something different indeed. I saw the film with a capacity crowd on 66th Street, and there was the occasional gasp at some new special effects feat — the way leaves moved on a tree, or the sight of dead tarantula as dusk fell on Hogwarts.
But mainly everything is exactly what it seems to be: Snape is the villain getting his task from his master, and the film ends when he carries it out. Dumbledore has Harry's best interest in mind, everyone gets with the person they're supposed to. The worst thing you can do is not make choices in a fantasy.
Since Rowling isn't much of a writer, the books follow a similar, easy template. There is some sort of mystery that these three Scooby Doo types must sort out.
In the films we are thankful for this progression; it keeps us guessing instead of watching a series of interrelated scenes that never quite add up to a whole. In The Half-Blood Prince, the point was supposed to be us finding out who the Half-Blood Prince is. But no one every really asks that question, no tries to solve it. It's the entire plot of the book and yet it has disappeared from the film! I'll grant you that it's not a very satisfying riddle, but at least it was a riddle.
So we're left with the personal issues of these three beanpoles.
Even stripped of the magic that made Harry a sensation, screenwriter Steve Kloves could have been forgiven had he not directly ignored and never sufficiently investigated the love between Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. "You're my best friend," she tells him as she leans up against him. They know each other too well. They don't know Ron: he's like a child that needs constant reassurance, and they both fail to connect with the other adults in their lives. Here they had something, and they threw it away.
Harry Potter was about being an outsider, an outcast. The first image of this film is flashbulbs popping off at the newly famous Potter. He's not an outsider anymore, he's a star, and it doesn't matter if Hermione Granger's parents were dentists — she's going to Brown now. Harry plans to drop out of school. He's mired in existential dread. "Voldemort killed my parents," he tells everyone in hearing range, as if they didn't remember. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince features Harry losing yet another father figure. I'm afraid I cried all the tears I had for the last three.
Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. She lives in Manhattan, and tumbls here.
"Autumn Beds" - Modest Mouse (mp3)
"Guilty Cocker Spaniels" - Modest Mouse (mp3)
"The Whale Song" - Modest Mouse (mp3)