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Harry Potter: A dragon, sweet revenge and resurrection

Posted by Ron George on July 17, 2011

The Gringotts Dragon: Escape and sweet revenge

Absolutely the best part of my seeing the last-gasp Harry Potter movie last week was being with my granddaughters and their parents, who adore these books and movies. The worst part was showing up on time and then being dragged through an utterly enervating procession of advertising. I don’t go to film theaters often enough to be accustomed to being part of a captive audience forced to endure claptrap when I’ve bought an overpriced ticket to see something of my choosing.

I hadn’t seen enough Harry Potter movies or read enough of the books to know what in blazes “deathly hallows” were. If you’re in the same boat and want to make sense of the first 30 minutes of this film, read a synopsis first. J.K. Rowling’s remarkable imagination, gift for naming, puzzling plots and surprises supercharges the customary battle between good and evil and packages it for youngsters and their parents. It’s a marketer’s dream: Movies and books for which generations of customers will pay any price at all for almost anything at all.

It’s all about love, friendship and loyalty without sex, and how these, eventually, overcome the Evil One, who is also very ugly. These books and films are extremely violent, but it’s fantasy violence, so over the top that – or so we hope – no harm is done to our children’s impressionable psyches. The Potter saga shows us, once again, that revenge is sweet, especially when accomplished in self-defense against overwhelming odds. By far the most applause comes when Molly Weasley – a wand-wielding mother of seven – eradicates utterly uber-evil Bellatrix Lestrange during an epic final battle that leaves Hogwarts in ruins.

Lord Voldemort’s last duel: Bad guys really die, no matter what

Nestled amid all the wizardry and special effects is a decisive, pseudo-spiritual riff on death. It’s not at all unlike George Lucas’ take in the wearying Star Wars franchise: Death isn’t real. It only looks that way. It isn’t final. It’s a passage to another form of existence. Actually, it’s kind of cool – but that’s only for good guys. Death is final for bad guys, who, in Harry Potter movies anyway, tend to go all to pieces into the air. (Voldemort’s demise in Deathly Hallows II is almost serene as he becomes just so much ash upon the wind.) (Remember Ghost? The good guy gets to stick around and help his beloved out of a deadly situation. Then he goes, well, somewhere else, probably something akin to heaven. The bad guy gets taken to the underworld by frightening, black blobs.)

Ms. Rowling has the good sense to have Harry, who has been killed by Voldemort, ask Dumbledore, who passed on in book six, whether the conversation they’re having (in a ghostly King’s Cross Station) is all happening in his head. Of course it’s happening in your head, Dumbledore replies. Where else? Harry chooses to live on to fight Voldemort rather than get on the train to wherever, an element that may lead some to suspect Ms. Rowling is referencing near-death experience. With his ghostly, long-dead-but-not-gone parents by his side, Harry finally duels Voldemort to death. The young man has lots of courage but could not have succeeded without help from “the other side” and his loyal friends, red-headed Ron Weasley – one of Molly’s kids – and savvy, heroic Hermione Granger.

Frankly, I’m more inclined to James Cameron’s take on death: It is final, but that’s OK. This body becomes something else but not a disembodied presence that retains a human identity. In Avatar, Jake Sully learns that the pantheistic Na’vi believe all life is a gift but that someday “you have to give it back.” What remains alive beyond the range of a lifetime are the myths of the community and each individual’s incorporation into those stories. In Avatar, this was presented with the image of a sacred tree where the voices of all preceding generations could be heard.

Harry, Hermione and Ron: Love, friendship and loyalty conquer Evil

All of which is fantasy, which doesn’t mean it’s not real in some way. Art, even the low art of so-called pure entertainment, loses its power when it fails to engage great themes such as good and evil, life and death. Some art understates, some art overstates, but all  art seeks to challenge us to put our humanity on the line and consider it in a broader context. Where am I in this play? How does the Calder mobile affect my senses and generate appreciation for this moment of being alive? Why am I awed by this photograph and not that one?

For me, the most compelling image of Deathly Hallows II was that of the captive dragon intimidated by noise makers but which served as a means of escape for Harry, Ron and Hermione. I like dragons in movies. Don’t ask me why, I just do. This one comes off as an innocent though dangerous critter put in chains and to foul use as a guardian by unscrupulous, evil –  bankers. Ewwww! This narrow escape near the beginning of the film made me glad we chose to see it in 3-D. The dragon was neither evil nor benevolent, just alive and yearning for freedom from cruelty. It destroyed the bank as it soared for that dim circle of light so far above. Revenge was sweet for the dragon. It was a kind of resurrection, and our heroes were just along for the ride.

Deathly Hallows II didn’t get any better than that for me – but neither did it get any worse.

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