Plots Fall, Everyone Dies: Revisiting “Harry Potter” for No Real Reason

Plots Fall, Everyone Dies: Revisiting “Harry Potter” for No Real Reason November 14, 2018

Well, the reason is my whole time-travel rosary thing, which I’m still doing (and will post about when I catch up with the present day, which should be early 2019). So I have been reading fanfiction and old LiveJournal posts, and while I did not reread the books because life is much too short, I did rewatch all the Harry Potter movies. Extremely scattered and pointless notes follow. BTW I still really like a lot of pogrebin’s fanfic–I like her sideways readings, I like her pointillism even when it’s too clever by half, I like her recurring obsessions (shedding skin, dangerous books). I like that anti-porn porn story, the one about porn as human fungibility as death (Karl Barth says, “Coitus without co-existence is demonic”), although keep in mind, before you click, that I did tell you it’s a porn story.

So, the movies. Will this post have a point? Let’s find out!

Harry Potter and the Concession to Hollywood’s Belief that Americans Are Stupid Stone: I enjoyed this more than I was expecting! The wonder of discovery comes through. I love Hermione in this film and I don’t think I’ll love her again at any point in the series. Her flaws are treated as real flaws by both the narrative and the people around her (“You’ve got dirt, on your nose. Just there”), and so she’s adorable, like real awful children.

Rowling’s gross-out humor appears here with the troll bogeys, but thank God, it mostly vanishes for the rest of the series; the movies don’t inflict idiocies like Ginny’s bat bogey hex on us. It’s fine in this film because it’s so decisively a children’s movie, about children. And because it doesn’t happen too often, and isn’t the only or prevalent kind of humor. A little trollsnot goes a very long way.

I love the Harry Potter theme.

Chamber of Secrets: Sistermagpie made a lot of fun points, back in the day, and one of her things was the idea that the books are keyed to the various houses. This is of course a Slytherin book. And there’s a startling amount of traditional female imagery–the girls’ bathroom, the chamber itself!, all the water. These are the yonic images (?) to match all the snakes.

This is also the most horrifying HP chapter, for me, the one most embedded in the horror genre. HER SKELETON WILL LIE IN THE CHAMBER FOREVER. And I love the book-as-murderer, I’m always down for a good reminder that we should fear what we read. Unfortunately I felt like the movie dragged. It’s good that we had Kenneth Branagh’s terrific Lockhart to lighten the mood.

Poor Filch. Everything about how Filch (and Muggles) are treated is so creepy–the series genuinely dehumanizes them, as does its society. One of the things which disturbed me about HP the whole way through is that it never actually made the transition from the children’s-lit, Roald Dahl thing where the villains are cartoons whose suffering doesn’t matter, to a perspective where everyone’s suffering mattered. It kept telling us it was a series about equality but kept not actually being that.

On the other hand, in this book the theme Rowling handles best really starts to emerge. She is Moaning Myrtle, “sitting in [her] U-bend, thinking about death,” and I love it, I love that she made death such an insistent theme and that she parodied herself doing it. Honestly Moaning Myrtle might be my favorite of the female characters.

Prisoner of Azkaban: So much fun! So great to look at! The music in this one is loads better than in all the others, and the imagery is spookier, more memorable–the Whomping Willow snatching birds out of the sky, or shaking its leaves off to signal the arrival of wintertime. This is the only one of these movies I own and there are so many great comfort-watch moments, like the bit on the first night back at school when they’re eating the candies that make them lions and trains and whatnot. There’s a joy and weirdness in this film which none of the others attain.

Unfortunately this is also where the narrative starts cosseting Hermione for her flaws, and making her a generic pink action heroine, while leaching Ron’s intelligence. This is where I start disliking Hermione and I don’t return to tolerating her until maybe the sixth or seventh film.

I LOVE TRELAWNEY.

This is the first definitely Gryffindor film, by SisterM’s reckoning. Never forget, the golden boy of “the Marauders” almost made one of his best friends a killer and nobody except the near-victim really cared. I always used to enjoy fanfiction that played on those four boys’ understandable reasons to mistrust one another. I love stories about friendship groups brought together by the same weaknesses which will eventually destroy them.

If Remus is a gay allegory it sort of would be nice if he hadn’t almost killed some students by gaying out at them. (I know, I know, that’s an oversimplification, I’m more responding to dumb readings of the movie than to the movie itself.)

Enjoy the portraits moving in this film because they basically never do anything interesting again.

Goblet of Fire: This is where I noticed something I’m sure you all already know, which is how good Rowling is at timing her payoffs. I love how she punctuates the series with payoffs, so some things pay off within the same book where they’re set up while other guns don’t fire until much later. Like here, the portkey is introduced at the beginning and pays off at the end, boom, done, I don’t think it’s ever really important again (?). Whereas Rita Skeeter is introduced, and you think she’s served her purpose by the end–but no! She comes back and plays a totally unexpected role in the themes and character points of the final book! And Polyjuice Potion came up in book 2, and you thought you were done with it once it had played a role in Hermione’s scheme there, but here it is again, the jack-in-the-box springing horribly out at you. Great stuff. Ollivander’s story starts in Book 1, where he’s part of our fun introduction to the world; then he’s among those kidnapped by Death Eaters in book… five? six?, but his kidnapping is hidden among other people’s suffering so we don’t realize until the final book that it was really the crucial one, that he was a specific target. As someone who can’t plot my way out of a paper bag, I’m trying to learn from the experience of watching these films how to set up what I’ll need to pay off later, because Rowling does it so well. (With certain caveats, below.)

This is the Hufflepuff book. SisterM makes the great point that it’s structured around a competition but the point is not to win, but to cooperate.

I was grossed out by Myrtle’s perversity when I first watched this but this time around it just made me laugh. Have I loosened up, or degenerated?

Order of the Phoenix: I started doing my Russian homework while this movie was trundling ponderously along. The Ravenclaw book. I did enjoy Luna a lot more this time around. I might like her slightly more than Moaning Myrtle, idk. Wish we’d seen the Hermione vs. Luna antagonism we got in the book.

Half-Blood Prince: Another Slytherin book! More girls’ bathroom, more blood and tears and overflowing water, caves and lakes and deadly drinks and love potions, lol Slytherin is so emotional. [ETA: Also, another dangerous book!] I wish we’d gotten to see the bit where Myrtle gushes about poor sensitive sobbing Draco, but this was still fun, sad, spooky.

It also sets Draco up to make some kind of decision–it suggests that his prominence throughout the narrative has always been intentional, that his storyline is leading somewhere important. Stick a pin in that, we’ll get back to it.

Deathly Hallows, pt 1: I’ll never understand Hermione’s erasing her parents’ memories. It’s such a shocking and horrifying violation–it crosses a line for me, honestly, and the narrative treats it like “ohhh war makes for hard choices” when it seems less like a “hard choice” and more like a deeply evil action. (None of this is about Hermione’s own motives and emotions, which are understandable, but there are some things you don’t ever get to do to another human being. Let alone your personal parents.)

I do wish we’d seen that awkward little moment with Dudley and the teacup. I liked that Dudley wasn’t totally controlled by his Roald Dahl caricature upbringing. And I liked his actor in the films.

When I read the book of this I was like the only person who enjoyed the endless camping, but I admit it doesn’t work on film. Also hey it’s Harry Potter and the Endless Fetch Quests. That said, I thought the added bit where Harry and Hermione dance together worked startlingly well–it doesn’t feel romantic, it feels exhausted and confused. They’re consoling each other and finding a bit of happiness in the midst of terror and failure. I loved it; and I loved, of course, Ron’s return. I love Ron, in general. (The other Gryffindors can go whistle.)

The story of the three brothers is even more hauntingly beautiful than I remembered.

Deathly Hallows, pt 2: (deep breath) Everybody cares about different things in this giant sprawling world (this skeleton playground), and I know lots of people felt utterly satisfied. For me, Harry’s acceptance of his own death was more piercing in the book than in the movie. Somehow seeing the spirits of the dead made them feel less real; and am I making this up, or does the film change “I am about to die” to the less-poignant “I am ready to die”? But here are three things I think it was fair to expect, which we never got; and one thing I wish we hadn’t gotten.

First, if the books are keyed to houses, I think we’d been led to expect that this would be the book where all four come together. Lulz. (Slughorn doesn’t count; Slughorn never counts.) Throughout the series Slytherin switches around from being the ambitious house, to the racist house, to the house of people conditioned by their upbringing into racism (which is different), to the cackling evil house (why do you have a cackling evil house???). Some of these houses could play an interesting role in the finale but we ended up with the racist cackling evil house, oh well. I don’t think any of the other non-Gryffindor houses get that much to do either–some of the horcruxes are keyed to them but I don’t think the destruction of the horcruxes (horcruces?) is.

Second, I cordially dislike Ginny as a person, but her story in CoS was heartbreaking and it never really got explored. She occasionally mentions that she shares with Harry an intimate knowledge of Voldemort. She knows what Harry knows, she shares some of his complicity, some of his unwanted and yet troubling and seductive connection to the Dark Lord. Why didn’t this matter to their relationship?! If you have a character who knows evil in the same intimate way as the hero, who is also the hero’s love interest, their mutual knowledge of and rejection of evil should be fundamental to their love relationship. Come on.

Third, it turns out that Draco’s big moment was… the revelation that he isn’t ever going to make a choice, but just get spinelessly tugged around and then fade into the background. Draco acts like a character set up for a dramatic change, but people don’t change their objects of love in this universe, and he loved his family, so he just sort of got blown around by the plotwinds and tried to stick close to them. What was the point of that, other than the creepy, depressing “people don’t change”?

And finally. Dumbledore revises his, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it,” to, “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who deserve it.” He goes out of his way to say the more-Christian version is not right and the utterly un-Christian, terrifying, counsel-of-despair version is correct. This is the worst thing that happens in any of the movies.

Also, I would have liked to see Voldemort wearing Nagini as a halo, it’s such a damaged diva move. But I’m guessing they couldn’t quite keep it from looking silly.


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