Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Review
The following review will appear in the September issue of Chronicles Magazine
When Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published in 1998, it gained the ire of many parents and religious thinkers who thought they detected occult and satanic undertones in its story. In some locations, it was banned from bookstores and libraries and taken from children who already had obtained copies. Even our current pope suggested the novel might “distort Christianity’s development in the soul,” writing in a private letter in 2003. So it is at once ironic and heartening that the series, both the novels and the films, should end with an allegory of the Christ story. Actually, this is not as surprising as it may seem at first. J.K. Rowling has commented along the way that writing her Potter stories has been her way of coming to terms with her own Christian faith.
This, I think, will be apparent to those most familiar with the series. For those who haven’t followed the novels and their adaptations, however, Deathly Hallows Part 2 may prove a challenge. It’s a film that has the luxury of being almost entirely paced at climax mode. Having handled narrative exposition in Part 1, director David Yates and his team of wizards — cinematic wizards, that is — pick up from the final moments of the previous film and, after a few quiet conversations among the film’s principals, throw the narrative into top gear and never let up for an instant until reaching the epilog. Those not already well versed in Harry’s tale will likely find themselves somewhat lost. Still, they’ll be carried along by the fierce emotional dynamic of the narrative.
Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends, Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron (Rupert Grint), must hunt down the remaining Horcruxes (material objects hiding slivers of dark souls) and destroy them in order to make Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) mortal and therefore vulnerable once more. With the exposition neatly packaged in Part 1, Yates wastes no time getting Harry back to his roots. That is to say, back to Hogwarts. Reunited with old classmates and fellow Voldemort opponents, Harry goes to work to save the world once and for all.
Part 2 benefits from being the series’ final film. This gives the picture a certain vigor. It wants to go out with a bang and, once the evil-vs.-good Battle of Hogwarts begins, there are bangs-a-plenty. In defense of Hogwarts Castle, magical shields arise, untenanted suits of armor come to life, and giants lumber through the fray. As the battle rages, the beloved school begins to crumble bit-by-bit. The special effects are a true wonder to behold for they never seem like special effects at all. The battle that destroys Hogwarts features a good deal of computer generated imagery but Yates never allows the engineered spectacle to overshadow what matters most, the characters. The last hour or so is fraught with moments of character development and storyline resolutions. Fan favorites such as Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) deservedly get their time in the spotlight and romantic couples are united at last. Particularly poignant is the revelation concerning Harry’s Professor, the seemingly malevolent Severus Snape. The film treasures these parts, and appropriately gives these scenes precedence over the simple shock and awe of magical warfare. These moments — some tragic, some triumphant – invest the unfolding events with weight and catharsis. Yates does full justice to Rowling’s conception of her characters. They seem as real on the screen as they do on the page.
The war against evil is not without loss. There are many deaths but tellingly they’re never treated merely as a means to heighten drama. When a character dies his or her end is portrayed with respect and due dignity. During a respite in the battle, the film slows down and adopts a mournfully contemplative mood. As Harry surveys the terrible losses and hears his friends wailing over the dead, you can’t help but feel his profound sadness. It is in these scenes that Harry begins to find the courage to face his own mortality.
The final section of the film will surely resonate with audiences everywhere, as it deals with the complex emotions everyone has regarding death. Radcliffe, who has grown into a fine young actor, conveys this powerfully, especially in the finale.
Ultimately Rowling has put forth a hero who is forced to face his own mortality and finds he is able to do so courageously because of the love he has known throughout his life. Yates’ film treats this part of the story with a delicacy and tenderness generally absent in conventional action films and it is here that his work shines. His movie champions not bravado but true bravery. It exalts forgiveness and, above all, love. Yes, The Deathly Hallows brings to a conclusion the most lucrative film franchise in history, but unlike so many other hugely profitable ventures, it does so honorably. Its themes and the skill with which they are presented, make this a universally appealing movie that achieves genuine catharsis.