The latest installment in the Harry Potter series (dir. David Yates, 2010) is a somber and melancholic film. Harry, Hermione, and Ron leave Hogwarts, their home for the past six novels and films, and go out into the countryside, trying to lead Voldemort away from friends and family, and preparing for the final confrontation that all the previous films and books have lead towards.
While the earlier films gave us these characters in the context of friends and families, and of Hogworts, this one thrusts them out in the world. They’re alone, often at odds with each other, and at risk. There’s little that’s warm and cheery here—compare the tone of this film with the first and second installments.
There’s allegory—the allegory of our own lives, the loss of childhood and innocence, the discovery of compromise and complication, of responsibility, pain, mortality.
I can’t think of another instance where over a ten-year period three actors portraying characters of about their own age, appearing in film after film, grow older together, learn and mature, preparing for adult life, just as their characters are doing. It’s life imitating art, and vice versa. As the characters grow up through the novels, we have seen Rowling herself developing as a novelist. We begin with a book written for children, about children, and now in the final installment we have a book whose characters are grown and who confront dark forces. For a child, the latest Harry Potter film, like the book it’s based on, should be frightening. But many readers have grown up with these books and films, and others (including this writer) have grown older with them as well. Readers, film viewers, fictional and film characters, and the author grow up together.
This film is better than, bigger than, itself alone because it is (for now) the sum of the individual parts that make up the series. The ideal viewer of this film is not someone who hasn’t read the books or seen the earlier installments. The film does stand on its own, but it’s more meaningful as a part of the series, and as a penultimate step towards the confrontation and conclusion that we know will come.