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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Friday
Jul152011

« In Which We Say Goodbye To Gryffindor »

Multiple Personalities

by KARA VANDERBIJL

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
dir. David Yates
130 min

Voldemort dies. Through a slightly confusing turn of events, Harry sacrifices the part of Voldemort’s soul that was imprinted on him, dies, comes back to life, and kills Voldemort. Voldemort has an issue with being killed, because he has been trying to kill Harry since roughly 1997. The flesh melts off of his face and turns into black smoke and disappears in the sky. Early on in the film, his bare feet are covered in blood as he passes through rows of corpses. His presence is unsettling, although perhaps not in the ways we would expect of him.

Harry’s life has quite literally led him to this moment, to face off with the most powerful wizard in the world amidst the ruins of Hogwarts. His parents, his friends and his classmates have all sacrificed something to preserve him for this moment. Somehow, he and Ron and Hermione are still alive after chasing the horcruxes and destroying them and meeting up with people who are not on their side.

Conveniently, it is easy to tell in the wizarding world when somebody is on your side: they don’t disappear trailing a cloud of black smoke or have skulls tattooed on their wrists. The only person in the story with ambiguous allegiance is Snape, but he doubles for Dumbledore at a high price: the woman he loves must be protected. We have no chance to wonder if losing Lily Potter will push Snape to the dark side — he simply crawls back to Dumbledore. When people say they learned more about doing the right thing from Harry Potter than from anything else, I laugh a little bit. What moral isn’t represented in this story? Take your pick.

Yates saw the final two parts as quiet, almost reverent in their solemnity, and bordering on restlessness. The action lacking from the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows manifests in short, dream-like sequences. Any dialogue is exceptional, and for the most part, useless. Near the beginning of the film Harry and his friends spend ten minutes talking to Olivander about Bellatrix’s wand, but only three minutes are devoted to Snape’s early memories of Lily, Harry’s mother.

Where was Ron’s comic relief, I wonder, and does Yates know anything about what happened to Ginny Weasley? Or the centaurs? Or Hagrid’s half-brother? Or Dumbledore’s back story? Or anything else that Rowling wrote about in the series, except for Voldemort’s face?

Yates is obviously not afraid of Voldemort or else so afraid of him that he must ridicule him. If he hadn’t given Mother Weasley her “Not my daughter, bitch!” before exploding Bellatrix into a million pieces, we might have all stood up and left.

Choice and its many consequences run like a silver thread through this messy little movie, the final part in the coming-of-age saga we were all beginning to search for circa 1999. People choose to die for Harry for no apparent reason other than they are biased against noseless wizards. Hermione randomly chooses Ron over Harry, although Yates’ tête-à-tête between Hermione and Harry in a tent in Part 1 would have had us believe otherwise.

Slytherin punks choose to spend the duration of the grand battle in the dungeons, Snape chooses to remain faithful to Dumbledore, Malfoy chooses to be the stock coward, the Grey Lady chooses to disclose the location of the lost diadem of Ravenclaw, and Harry chooses to die. Some of it is fate, yes, but most of it is just long shots of Harry looking into the distance with Ron and Hermione behind him and nothing but angst over what should be done.

It was simple when it started. Harry’s voice had not yet changed and Ron was vomiting frogs into a bucket and Hermione was still the obnoxious bookworm. They did things a certain way because they had been programmed to, maybe by their parents or just Rowling herself sitting alone in coffee shops writing while her baby slept upstairs. Maybe a curse had left a scar with a memory in it on their foreheads. Voldemort didn’t have a face back then, he was just pure evil, and when you are little it is so very easy to hate evil and be plucky and play Quidditch and do right.

In a heartbeat you are at King’s Cross station and it is a little bit like Heaven and Dumbledore is there, but there is also a screaming baby covered in blood that has Voldemort’s face, and you feel pity towards it or perhaps a little bit of love. “Do not pity the dead,” whispers Dumbledore. “Pity the living.” No one is totally clear on what that's supposed to mean.

Harry loses himself for a moment in the bright white light and forgets what to do. It is the only moment where he vocalizes any sort of self-doubt. Why go on living, if it is such a pity? Later, he snaps the most powerful wand in the world in two and throws it over the side of a bridge. Suicide. This strange and almost blissfully carefree behavior underlies every current of heroism in the film.

Do you choose your end, or is it chosen for you? Few people complained about the differences between Rowling’s books and Yates’ films until recently. This is so rare in screen adaptations that it would be an oversight not to call attention to it. Perhaps what is most shocking to us is that someone should choose to see a story differently than we have.

We grow up, and realize we have no idea what it means, so we grow our bangs to cover our scar and run around trying to destroy the evidence that we are here, splitting our possibilities in half with every step. There is another film, another Harry Potter, another J.K Rowling out there somewhere where the other choices — the ones we never picked — live until they have names we can say out loud and faces we can see.

Kara VanderBijl is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Chicago. She last wrote in these pages about books to read in the summer. She reviewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One here. You can find her website here.

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