Here’s Your Deathly Hallows on IMAX

Click to see Severus Snape walking through the AWESOME gate

“These are dark times, there’s no denying”

I saw it this morning, in the IMAX theater at Tyson’s Corner. And, in a word, it was AWESOME!!! (like the WB promo shown above)

It’s hardly a secret that Deathly Hallows is my favorite Harry Potter book. It’s also not a secret that I found the Half-Blood Prince movie… disappointing.

In HPB, the filmmakers wasted precious time burning the Burrow, when they could have been giving us another Pensieve memory of Tom Riddle’s family background or some additional face time with the Half-Blood Prince’s Potions book.

I feared that, given the complexity of the DH narrative, director David Yates and screenwriter Steve Kloves would trash the story, chop it up, render it incomprehensible in an attempt to simplify it for movie-only viewers. I wondered if, in the end, moviegoers would understand who Dumbledore was, who Snape was, and how the twin themes of redemption and remorse that play out in these men’s lives ultimately help Harry confront Voldemort with the things the Dark Lord doesn’t understand.

Well, we won’t know the answer to that question until we reach the end of DH2. But DH1 gives me good reason to hope that the filmmakers will capture much of the richness of this narrative… and offer up a successful resolution to the Harry Potter saga.

For me, the DH movies carry the biggest stakes because they also carry the most profound part of Harry Potter’s story. I already knew going in to DH1 that the split would occur at Dumbledore’s tomb. And I knew just from watching the trailers that DH1 would include both Malfoy Manor sequences, the 7 Potters, Bill and Fleur’s wedding, the infiltration of the Ministry of Magic, the splinching scene, Ron’s confrontation with Harry, at least some of the visit to Godric’s Hollow, the destruction of the locket horcrux, the visit to Xenophilius Lovegood, and Voldemort’s retrieval of the wand.

Here are some other elements that I was hoping to see in DH1:

  • Dudley’s attempt to reconcile with Harry
  • Kreacher’s Tale (including a flashback to the Cave and Regulus’ heroism)
  • Some of Dumbledore’s backstory (and Harry’s struggle to come to grips with it)
  • Hermione’s conversations with the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black (including a flashback of Snape catching Neville, Ginny, and Luna trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor)
  • Harry’s dialogue with Ron after Ron confronts his fears and destroys the locket horcrux
  • Grindelwald’s refusal to betray Dumbledore’s possession of the Elder Wand to Voldemort
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers

Okay, so one of those wishes came true. But we missed Dudley, most of Kreacher’s Tale, nearly all of Dumbledore’s backstory, Phineas’ portrait, and (alas) Harry’s awesome “I thought you knew.”

I understand some of those decisions. Really, I do. Flashbacks would have dragged out the film (no matter how gratifying I find those strands of plot to be). And Dumbledore’s backstory can be covered more fully in DH2 at the Hogs Head and in King’s Cross.

But why not include the Dudley scene or Phineas’ portrait or Harry’s dialogue with Ron? And why, WHY, WHY violate the character of Gellert Grindelwald? (more on that in another post).

Regardless, the movie overall does about as fine a job with DH1 as I could have hoped. Here are some of the highlights:

  • An absolutely wrenching scene (told, not shown, in the book) in which Hermione obliviates her parents
  • Nearly the entire opening sequence at Malfoy Manor – with stunning performances by Alan Rickman, Jason Isaacs, and – really – the whole Death Eater cast
  • A truly creepy Bathilda Bagshot sequence
  • A beautiful Silver Doe/Retrieval of the Sword sequence – almost exactly as I had pictured it
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers – an EPIC WIN animation – including a narrative containing, I think, every word in the story

And of course, it sure didn’t hurt to be viewing all of this on an IMAX screen. I’ll be back later with a bit more analysis. But for now, I’ll just say that, overall, this film is TEH AWESOME!!! (And I wasn’t saying that after the last one).

Forgiveness and the Final Pensieve

Back to last night’s post on Severus Snape. A friend of mine mentioned this morning that while Snape is a heroic character, he is also one that you would hardly want to have tea with! No controversy there, right? (well, except for those Snape haters who want to deny any heroism to this character).

For me, Snapes’ most frustrating characteristic is that he just could not let go of the wrongs done to him in the past and kept taking his resentment out on the (initially) innocent son of his former tormentor and rival. Of course, the anger this creates in Harry gives Snape internal justification for his own continued resentment. But based upon the Final Pensieve, I would argue that Snape got past his bitterness in the end.

Unlike some Snape haters I’ve read, I do not believe that his final act was selfish. He had enough control over his mind, even in his dying moments, to choose which memories to give Harry. The memories he chooses are a gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation. Certainly Harry understands them as such by the time he names his second son after his most hated professor. And it seems presumptuous to assume that Harry got this wrong.

For starters, Snape was not pleading with Harry to understand him or his motivations. Snape is a man who is hardly afraid of being hated or misunderstood. And he wasn’t just giving Harry his marching orders for the showdown with Voldemort. He could have done that without showing Harry all of those embarrassing memories of Lily.

Instead, Snape was finally acknowledging, for the first time to Harry at least, that Harry Potter was Lily’s son too – not just James’s son – and that he himself (Snape) bore a great deal of responsibility for destroying his childhood friendship with Lily. Snape is a proud man who chooses in his last moment to humble himself. With these memories, he acknowledges his own culpability, his own sin. He is finally revealing that he was not just an innocent victim of mean James Potter and the other Marauders.

The key to this reading is that Snape freely gives Harry his worst school memory – the same memory that Harry stole a peak at after an Occlumency lesson. Harry’s unearned look into the Pensieve had egregiously violated Snape’s privacy, infuriating the Potions Master. But Snape seemingly forgives Harry here, not only giving him the complete memory, but revealing to Harry the ultimate consequences of young Snape’s own actions.

Harry already knows that Snape called his mother a mudblood when she rushed to defend him. But Harry had not previously seen Lily confront young Severus with the fact that he was now calling every muggle-born a mudblood. Yes, Harry probably suspected it, given Snape’s Death Eater past, but Snape himself chooses to reveal it to his least favorite pupil. And what does he reveal? That it was young Snape’s corruption by the pure blood ideology – despite being a half-blood like Harry and Dumbledore – that destroyed a long friendship with Harry’s mother.

Yes, you can read “Look at me” as nothing more than the desire to gaze into Lily’s eyes as he dies. Lots of Snape haters do. But given everything Snape shows Harry, it’s more likely IMO that he’s finally acknowledging, to Harry, that Harry is, as Dumbledore told him, his mother’s son. He is not responsible for the sins of his father. He has his mother’s eyes.