The new Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (directed by David Yates) hit theaters last week, uncoincidentally close to the concluding book of the saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Unfortunately, I have not remained wrapped up in the books like most of the free world; however, I have enjoyed the films immensely, even the weaker ones. The latest one proves to be the best yet, thanks in no small part to a darker tone and stronger performances, all the while retainings its key themes of self-sacrificial love and the importance of community.
I would imagine that a significant portion of readers will be familiar with the plot and, of course, all of you who have seen the film will be as well. I will give a brief outline any way. As we know from the first film on, evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), the every-villain, has made his return to the land of the living. In the film preceding this one, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, his showdown with Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) resulted in the death of another student. Of course, this raised a cloud of suspicion in the eyes of the Ministry of Magic which vows that Voldemort has not returned and that any word to the contrary must be a result of conspiracy between Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), headmaster of Hogwarts, and Harry. The Ministry rapidly installs a spy in Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton in a devilishly superb performance), who quickly instigates a cruel inquisition and take-over of Hogwarts. As a result, Harry must not only weild his ever-strengthening powers but harness them in leadership of a band of students who believe in him to prevent Voldemort from uncovering a powerful, secret prophecy and from the Ministry inadvertently serving his dark purposes.
I have always been taken by not only the Potter films, but the vehement religious protests of all things Potter. I found it hard to condemn a series of books that, in our visually, technologically obsessed world, actually encouragd children to read again. I also found the double-speak of most Christian critics rather assinine when they roundly praised J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy but panned J. K. Rowling’s saga. Quite frankly, despite glaring topical differences, at heart, both focus on similar themes. Viewing each new film, I have had difficulty shaking the inescapable presence of a message that touts good over evil, self-sacrificial love, patience, determination, friendship, and the importance of living and working in community. Some of these themes may seem trivial, but I would argue that, in such a world as we live, they are needed now more than ever. Thankfully, as this new film takes the series to a “darker” place, these themes do not disappear but strengthen and mature in relation to the more sinister plot. I am also appreciative of this series’ take on power–the possession/definition of it rather than the use of it. I cannot help but see a Christ-like “power-in-weakness” element to these films. Power might be seen in restraint here rather than agression. I doubt this seriously gives anything away (we know the story does not end with The Order of the Phoenix), but Dumbledore and Voldemort’s viscious battle with each other in this film accomplishes nothing, ending in something of a stalemate. However, Voldemort is, temporarily at least, vanquished by Harry having pity on him and realizing Voldemort’s curse of lovelessness and self-centeredness.
Of course, the connection between Voldemort and Harry (shown brilliantly in the film) complicates the underlying issue of good vs. evil. The prophecy that both Harry and Voldemort seek implies that good and evil cannot co-exist. This is betrayed by every film in the series and also in this film when Sirius Black informs Harry that we are all composed of both light and dark. It will be a delight to see how Rowling and the filmmakers continue to deal with, and potentially resolve, this duality. I might read ahead after all!