I have been daydreaming about the Battle of Hogwarts for years. I am usually not one for battle scenes in movies, too overwhelming, too hard to tell what is happening, and the characters are in a fear and adrenalin white-out.
But I have known Harry Potter for some time, this story defined my decade, and the Battle of Hogwarts is the pinnacle of the series. I first heard of Harry from a nine-year-old girl. She had read the Philosopher's Stone and needed to write a book report on it. So I asked her the plot and, well, it is so richly plotted that her telling was a bit incoherent. But she was so excited. I mean, she was thrilled about what she had read in a book. And thus I came to the real magic of Harry Potter.
Not long after I met my husband, just after Goblet of Fire came out. I read Prisoner of Azkaban aloud to him as we drove someplace north to attend a wedding and meet his best friend. I had only met Rhys about two months before that and I already had his name tattooed on my back. It was a heady time. I would do a little Grindylow impression that would crack him up while driving.
I read Order of the Phoenix married and pregnant and commuting to Kensington from East London working for this start-up. It was a hot summer. I am glad that book is long. Rowling's prose is charming and her plots are absorbing and when that book was over, the tube seemed hotter and the commute seemed longer. Half Blood Prince came out when I had a one-year-old, and we would go play in Princess Diana's park and then when he fell asleep, I would sit in Hyde Park in glorious long grass alone with my sleeping son and feast on the thrill of what happens next.
Deathly Hallows came out four years ago, days before we moved to Cambridge. Even on the first reading, even before I shared all these stories with my son and they became such an important part of our relationship, even then, I was so thrilled by Snape. That marvelously brave, endlessly fascinating man, who himself was not sure whether he was good or evil, maybe ever. I saw the movie last night and of the many parts of the movie that exceeded my imagination, Rickman was just, well, every second of Snape on screen to me is this guy breaking my heart and kicking my ass in the same second. This blend of arrogance and self-hatred, this talent and insight and tolerance of suffering. All those looks Snape had been giving Harry in all the previous films had such a resurrection in Deathly Hallows, a transformation from cartoon hate to a kind of ingenious tortured love.
Thank you, J.K. Rowling and Alan Rickman for Snape.
So Owain and I were so excited about seeing this movie; we got our tickets way in advance and read all the reviews and watched all the trailors. I parent in the Venn Diagram overlap between my interests and my son's interests. When my son got really interested in Harry Potter, it was fantastic. There we were together in the shaded area, and I read and reread and read aloud to Owain and we talked endlessly about Harry and Tom Riddle, about why Hermione didn't marry Harry, of what the horcruxes were, of what exactly was the issue with the Slytherins, and lately about Neville Longbottom and how he really could have been Harry Potter.
I note with some sadness that the film, while giving Neville some moments, wasted time by doing a few Neville= Ralph from the Simpsons gags. No. By this movie, Neville is a man who leads a ragged resistance. And he can dance. And Neville's legacy from Voldemort is even more terrible than Harry's: the death of a narrative consciousness for Neville's own parents, tortured into insanity and in a mental hospital. Neville's slaying of Nagini was heroic, but still, he was back looking a little dorky at the end. Not right.
The movie moved along so brilliantly in the beginning, the Gringotts raid, Aberforth and Ariana, so swiftly. Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix LeStrange after drinking polyjuice potion nails Watson hilariously. Then, really, way before we were ready, it was time for the battle.
The battle starts with McGonagall bringing the castle to life to defend itself, stone knights appear and the music is exciting and I was so excited! But the battle . . . It deviates from the book in the order of the battle and in the ultimate victory Harry has over Voldemort. Unfortunately, I found some of those deviations really detracted from what I loved best about the books.
In the book, when Harry finally defeats Voldemort it is in the great hall of the school, everything is happening at once, Fred is dead, Mrs. Weasley kills Bellatrix and out of nowhere, Harry, who they thought was dead, jumps out just as the sun is rising.
And the way Harry kills Voldemort in the books is really important to his character too, so I was sad that it was left out. In the book, Harry uses his favorite spell, his trusty friend, his little zen master tool: he uses Expelliarmus, the spell that merely fetches the instrument of the aggressor and nothing more. And that moment is witnessed. Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, the Weasleys, they witness that moment and their own faces tell what it means to them and all they lost to be there and bear witness.
But in the movie, Harry and Voldemort go off for a longer struggle alone. I guess I have some sympathy, cinematically, for making their struggle real, but you know what, not enough to excuse it. We have known their struggle for a long time. I have known it for a decade. Who would win in a fight - the White Witch or Sauron or Lex Luther or Voldemort? Harry or Superman or Frodo? My son and I converse about the heroes, the villains and their struggles all the time and this was the fight we wanted to witness.We earned the right for that fight to be big and cinematic and for that on-screen audience to cheer for these characters and to hear them be cheered, for the sun to shine and eyes to reflect hope. We earned the right for Harry to have a big moment. If not Harry, then who? But no. We didn't get it. Harry kills Voldemort in, like Parking Lot C of Hogwarts and then the next you see him is walking through the great hall and he hasn't even mentioned it to anyone. It's so English! What the hell? I mean, it's actually unclear if anyone knows if Voldemort is dead.
So we get no thrills when Harry kills Voldemort and we get no satisfaction AGAIN when Harry does NOT GO back to Dumbledore's office to talk to him about the Deathly Hallows. In the book, Harry goes back to the headmaster's office as soon as he kills Voldemort and all the past Headmasters of Hogwarts living in the portraits rise to their feet and cheer him. Having married into a family headed by an august academic, I know how hard it is to get those old dudes out of their chairs, and I never could get past that part of Deathly Hallows without crying. Really, it was the least he deserved, and while maybe Harry didn't need to hear the cheers, I wanted to hear them on his behalf. And I wanted to hear them BAD. No cheers. Yet the collective consciousness needed them. Unfairoes! (That is a spell my son made up. It doesn't do anything except express an opinion)
Instead of getting counsel from portrait-Dumbledore in which Harry explains his decision to lay down the instrument of ultimate power, the Elder Wand of the Deathly Hallows, Harry instead has this John Lennon moment with Ron and Hermione and tosses the wand without a word and the movie sort of ends with them holding hands. Before the very last scene, the flashforward which should have aged them all 19 years but actually aged them about ten minutes. I mean, really. What the hell is wrong with these guys? They can make a blind Ukrainian dragon captive in a cave for decades fly across London and make it completely plausible and they can't age Daniel Radcliffe 19 years? What is that about? With that budget, they could have called up the Benjamin Button guys.
I will leave you with one of the many moments that did not disappoint. the moment that Harry, after reading Snape's memories (which, in a gorgeous touch, were held in Snape's tears instead of the grey wisps of cloud) realizes that he is the unintended Horcrux, that Voldemort lives in him, so he has to die. That face. Those eyes. That stunned silence. Oh, he was there and it was filmed perfectly. Daniel Radcliffe's greatest moment. I was a little breathless.
But I missed the cheering. I wanted it for Harry Potter and for my son. And for me.