By Erin Williamson
Warning: This review contains spoilers.
The cinematic incarnation of the magical world of Harry Potter had its denouement this weekend, and as expected, reactions range dramatically. As someone who came of age almost right along with Harry, I can speak for a big portion of my generation by saying that confronting the fact that there will be no more chapters of the Potter saga is tragic. But many others disregard it under the blanket assumptions that “it’s just fantasy,” or “it’s a children’s story.” The fringe fundamentalists even argue that it legitimately promotes witchcraft and sorcery. Regardless of your feelings on the plotline and characters, there is no question that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two is a visually stunning film.
The film picks up midway through Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s quest for “horcruxes”—fragments of the evil Lord Voldemort’s soul that live on in ordinary objects which our heroes are seeking to destroy in order to ultimately defeat him and his army of Death Eaters. Because the plot has evolved into one exploring some rather heavy themes, one of the first things you notice is that the presentation of the film in an almost-grayscale, with tinges of oxidized copper tones. Such a dramatic palate was the foundation for all of the visual effects, which were magnificent. The bulk of the film, the battle of Hogwarts, was so detailed and heart-wrenching that it truly did require its own separate film. For all the difficulties of translating J.K. Rowling’s scenes from the novel to the screen, director David Yates captured the spirit of the spells, an inferno, and the battle action that it can be difficult and a little sad to remind yourself it’s just a movie.
Most serious Harry Potter fans will tell you, though, that the saga is not about magic or wizards or spells. All of that is merely a more exciting background than normal “Muggle” life to a simultaneously beautiful and painful tale of good, evil, and every emotion that makes up that struggle. Had it been a simple story of witches, wizards, and spells, Harry Potter would not have been the worldwide obsession that it has been for over ten years. The film does justice to the intricacies of the relationships- friendships, familial ties, those on the side of good versus those on the side of evil. Of course, Yates had more than enough guidance from the book itself, but nevertheless, the script and actors delivered in fine form. Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall really shines in this movie, as she seizes authority of Hogwarts and leads Harry’s classmates and professors to victory over Voldemort and the Death Eaters. With dark wittiness and bravery, she was definitely a standout presence.
The only parts I found clunky and tedious were the parts I had found clunky and tedious in the book—namely the Harry Potter pseudo-death scene and of course the terribly awkward finale where Harry and friends are all grown up and sending their own children off to Hogwarts. I won’t waste time on the latter, but the former has some interesting religious (or nonreligious?) implications. After supposedly dying, against an all-white King’s Cross station, Harry sees the Horcrux Voldemort unintentionally left inside him, as well as his mentor and former headmaster, the now-deceased Albus Dumbledore. Although he never says it, the viewers can understand that Harry is wondering if this place is heaven—he has died, after all, and so has Dumbledore. But then, following Dumbledore’s final moments of teaching Harry, Harry asks him if what is going on is real or in his head. And in his trademark wisdom, Dumbledore responds something along the lines of “Just because it’s in your head doesn’t mean it’s not real.” I think that sufficiently answers Harry’s and viewers’ question of whether Rowling was sending Harry on to the pearly gates. Rather, he had all of the knowledge and wisdom of his mentor imparted on him over the years guiding him in his quest to vanquish the evil forces of Voldemort once and for all.
Whether you’re a diehard Potter fanboy or –girl, or just looking for an action flick on a Friday night, The Deathly Hallows Part Two is worth your while. Spectacular visual effects and the compelling end to the pop culture phenomenon are factors enough; but the true beauty in this and each installment of the magical Harry Potter saga is the reality of it all.
Erin Williamson is the development and communications assistant for the American Humanist Association and administrator for the Institute for Humanist Studies.