The first half of the final installment of the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows: Part 1, opens today in theaters across the country. While many viewers, including myself, are bemoaning the delay of the series’ conclusion until July 2011, that the final book is divided into two films allows the filmmakers to flesh out important elements of the story that would otherwise go unaddressed in a single film. While I have not read the final book, it does feel, as a fan of the films, that this first half is a real emotional culmination of all that has transpired thus far. Though the film moves at a slow pace, it delves deeply into the lives and relationships of its three central characters in ways that the previous films have not and is a fantastic prelude to the final film.
It’s difficult to give a plot summary of the first half of The Deathly Hallows because of potential spoilers for fans of the films only or unwanted revelations of what portions of the book the film includes and how it does so (namely where it leaves off). Suffice it to say that the film follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron’s (Rupert Grint) search for the remaining horcruxes, the objects that contain bits of Voldemort’s (Ralph Fiennes) soul. The three must destroy them all if they have any chance of defeating him. These are trying times for wizards, witches, and muggles alike as Voldemort and his cronies have overtaken the Ministry of Magic and are ruthlessly hunting down Harry Potter, killing any of his protectors who stand in their way. As a result, Harry, Hermione, and Ron simultaneously go into hiding, going off the radar as it were, trying to stay one step ahead of Voldemort. During this journey, they learn more about themselves and their relationships and just how much they mean to one another.
Like its predecessor, The Half Blood Prince (2009), The Deathly Hallows benefits from fantastic art direction and brilliant cinematography. This is a dark night of the soul film if I’ve ever seen one. There is no light of day to break the dull grayness that has settled over both the film and the narrative. Again, the acting is superb all around and Bill Nighy is a welcome addition as Rufus Scrimgeour the Minister of Magic.
Speaking of Nighy, the film opens with an extremely tight close-up of his face…in fact his eyes only…as he addresses the public about the Ministry’s efforts to keep everyone safe during these dangerous times. He assures them that no matter what the Ministry does, it will always be in the best interest of public safety. In only a few seconds, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves set a tone for the film that makes it completely relevant to our contemporary culture. Rufus Scrimgeour might as well be the head of Homeland Security or the Travel Safety Administration, both much in the news these days, as he foolishly assumes that a few aggressive security measures can ultimately thwart Voldemort and his terrorizing minions. Security, in the way Rufus envisions it, is an illusion.
The real security, The Deathly Hallows vehemently asserts, is in loving community and relationship with one another. Reflecting on John Killinger’s book with a friend that I went to see the film with, we agreed that the real message of the series is not necessarily that Harry is a Christ figure but is rather the ability of friendships, relationships, and love to overpower evil. The Deathly Hallows is a culmination of, obviously, all the events that have come before it, but the filmmakers do not waste this opportunity on mere action-packed segments (there are precious few here). The film’s portrayal of the friendships and relationships between Harry, Hermione, and Ron is one of the more realistic, mature representations you’re likely to find in any contemporary film. Harry and Hermione exhibit a deep love for and understanding of one another born out of all those years of friendship, pranks, and experiences, and Radcliffe and Watson nail it. Ron finally puts away his youthful, cheerful demeanor and reveals the pain of being the un-chosen one with the chosen friend. The film brings out his deepest fears in stunning fashion, and it is a triumphant experience to watch him overcome them. With such deep material, Grint gives his best performance yet.
Unlike its fantasy counterpart, the Narnia series, of which I saw the third installment only hours before this film, The Deathly Hallows captures the difficulty of growing up and breaking out on your own and all the accompany danger and vulnerability. Though the film ends on a perilous note, fans of the series and those familiar with the narrative know that, though the end is near, hope lies on the horizon.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (146 mins.) is rated PG-13 for some sequences of intense action violence, frightening images and brief sensuality and is in theaters everywhere.