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Harry Potter's dark days

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (M). Director: David Yates. Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Alan Rickman. 146 minutes

Forgive us now for what we've done
It started out as a bit of fun
Here, take these before we run away
The keys to the gulag
–'O Children', Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows movie posterThis is the first half of the final instalment of the film series based on J. K. Rowling's phenomenal fantasy book series — otherwise known as the one where things get really dark.

Gone entirely are the quidditch matches, the schoolroom slapstick, the minutiae of life at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Deathly Hallows is a dark and violent quest story to rival The Lord of the Rings. Its moments of respite are bittersweet at best, epitomised by the sight of two teenagers, alone in the woods and in the world, dancing to a gloomy Nick Cave ballad (quoted above) that crackles from a radio.

The Harry Potter kids are growing up, and growing up is rarely easy.

Anyone who has read the books or seen the previous films (and the filmmakers reasonably assume that anyone watching this has done so), should recall that the sixth instalment, The Half-Blood Prince, contained one major plot development, and much important plot detail. The former was the murder of Hogwarts' eccentric but wise headmaster, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), by the sinister Severus Snape (Rickman).

The latter mostly concerned the nature and history of the mythical horcruxes, a set of dark talismans that are bound to the mortality of boy wizard Harry's (Radcliffe) nemesis, Lord Voldemort (Fiennes).

Where The Half-Blood Prince was exposition-heavy, Deathly Hallows is much more action driven. It concerns Harry's quest, accompanied by his best friends Ron (Grint) and Hermione (Watson), to locate and destroy the horcruxes, believing this to be his best chance of defeating Voldemort. Ultimately this leads to the series' two biggest action setpieces, including the climactic and brutal Battle of Hogwarts.

Part One of the film adaptation leaves most of the larger-scale action for Part Two. Mostly it deals with the early stages of the quest, and on the growing frustrations and tensions among the trio. They are hunted, harried, and all but flying blind. They leave behind a world that has come under the grips of Voldemort and his Death Eater underlings, and where Harry, as the 'chosen one' prophesied to destroy Voldemort, is ever in danger.

They are tested physically and mentally, and their faith in each other is stretched taut. Gawky Ron's inferiority complex regarding the heroic Harry comes to a head, despite indications that romance is finally blossoming between him and perenial overachiever Hermione. The youths carry a radio, which utters an endless litany of names of wizards who have been murdered by Death Eaters. Bleak stuff.

The Harry Potter saga is a coming-of-age story, and The Deathly Hallows Part One finds the young wizards taking fearful strides into adulthood, unprotected by parents, teachers or mentors. They embrace responsibility through necessity. The 'keys to the gulag' have been handed to them; it's up to them to determine if the world they inherit will be marked by corruption and evil, or generosity and love.

Parents of young children should be warned: Deathly Hallows has its scary moments, among them a hand-to-hand battle with a giant snake. Magic exists here less as a source of colour and wonder, and more as a tool employed for pragmatic purposes — to conceal campsites from bandits who lurk in the woods, for example — or for outright self-defence.

Like many fictional 'chosen ones', Harry is an allegorical Christ figure, although we won't see the ultimate fulfillment of this until the climactic moments of Part Two. Likewise the saga's most poignant character arc, that of Severus Snape, who is barely glimpsed in Part One. Redemption is a key theme throughout the Harry Potter saga, but we are yet to see how effectively it will be resolved on screen. 

The Deathly Hallows Part One is only half a film after all, and the extent of its achievement can not be fully judged until we see its conclusion next July. On its own it is nonetheless pacy and compelling, and contains nice stylistic choices; an animated sequence that tells the wizard-world fairytale about the titular 'Deathly Hallows' — three artefacts that together give their possessor power over death is particularly memorable.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Inside Film and The Big Issue magazines, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Rickman



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Existing comments

It sounds a little like 'DH part one' is the Harry Potter franchise's 'Empire Strikes Back', which could frame Harry as an aspiring Jedi as much as a Jesus figure. Thanks heaps to Tim Kroenert for this article, for the insights and for positioning this movie aptly as a coming of age saga. I am looking forward to catching this. For all the browbeating from fundos regarding the fictional realm of magic and the genuine concerns of parents regarding appropriately indicative ratings re violence and horror elements, the work of author Rowling and the various filmmakers who have brought her concepts to life has done both kids and adults a great favour: they have reintroduced us to the sense of wonder/glee/ awe/mystery that other generations gained from the work of Tolkien and Lewis. We are left to wonder who will fill the vacuum when the final film makes it mark and leaves a faithful core audience bereft.

Barry G | 18 November 2010  

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