I went to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix again this past weekend, just shy of six weeks since the first time I saw it (the day it opened in July). I had somewhat anticipated that I would enjoy the movie more on my second viewing, because I would be less inclined to compare and contrast the movie with the book. Well, I was right about that, but I really had no idea just how much more I would enjoy it and appreciate it. Actually, it was a whole different experience altogether. I absolutely loved it. The first time I saw it was within a couple weeks of listening to the fifth book on CD, so everything about the book was fresh and clear in my mind at that point. With the passage of time, and with so much else having happened recently (the Convention, and of course The Deathly Hallows), I just sat back and took in the movie for what it is. Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry in the movies, has commented on the difference between the books and the movies, and how you simply have to accept each of these for what they are. I think he is exactly right. I've decided, for myself at least, that it is best to watch the movies after reading the books, but not right away after doing so. That was the ticket in this case, anyway.
My only real disappointments with the movie, this second time around, still do stem from comparisons with the book. But, hey, the books are the definitive canon for the Harry Potter universe and story. Most of the differences, though, I accepted, and even appreciated, because there does have to be some adjustment of things to work within the parameters of the theatrical medium. Fair enough. Still, I was sorry that Dobby the house elf wasn't included, and that Kreacher was only introduced in a very limited sort of way. As important as these two become in the subsequent books, I would have preferred to see more of them in this movie. This was the second time that Neville has been given a role that Dobby plays in the books: he gave Harry the gillyweed in Goblet of Fire, and he discovered the room of requirements in Order of the Phoenix. (Now that I think of it, the room of requirements didn't seem quite right in the movie, either, and I wonder how that will effect things in the movie version of The Deathly Hallows.) My other disappointment, which is of greater significance to me, is the absence of Fawkes the Phoenix in Dumbledore's duel with Voldemort at the Ministry of Magic. In the book, Fawkes swallows a death curse that Voldemort casts at Dumbledore, and that is such a brilliant Christological image (of death being swallowed up by the One who dies and rises again). Especially since it is the Order of the Phoenix, it would have been good to retain that significant scene. Oh, well. Two isolated disappointments is a far cry from my overall disappointment with the movie the first time I saw it. Kudos to the director, who is currently working on the movie version of The Half-Blood Prince. I hope that he will be able to work his magic once again.
At the risk of introducing "political" commentary into my ponderings of pop culture, there were two things in the movie that struck me, in particular, in view of the recent LCMS Convention. The first was the way that Dolores Umbridge attempts to establish order by enacting more and more laws (educational decrees), and essentially removing any and all freedoms from the students of Hogwarts. She is driven by her own warped version of the law, and goes about trying to enforce it upon everyone else by heavy-handed legislation and severe punishments. Rather than bringing about the order she is so determined to have (as she screams at the centaurs before they drag her off into the woods), she pushes the students over the edge into covert and open rebellion (Dumbledore's Army, on the one hand, and the Weasley Twin's spectacular departure from Hogwarts on the other hand). Umbridge should have taken a lesson from Dobby, who is a loyal friend and willing servant of Harry Potter, because he freed the little house elf from slavery. So does the Gospel set us free to live by faith in Christ, and thereby also frees us to love and serve our neighbor. Unfortunately, the current synodical approach to structure and governance (and missions!) seems to be taking its cues from the Dolores Umbridge playbook. That is to say, instead of simply preaching and teaching the Law of God and the Gospel of Christ, and trusting the Word and Spirit of God to accomplish His purposes according to His good and gracious will, where and when (and how) it pleases Him, there is this increasing reliance upon rules and regulations, political structures and bylaw legislation, with the apparent goal of forcing everyone to comply with the mortal princes presently in power. I'm not at all convinced that such temptations don't have their way with both sides of the political aisle.
The other thing that struck me, especially after this past Sunday's Old Testament Reading from the Prophet Jeremiah (concerning those false prophets who run without being sent, who cry, "Peace, Peace," when there is no peace, and decline to preach the Law of God unto repentance), was the way in which The Daily Prophet insisted that everything was fine and, refusing to acknowledge that Voldemort had returned, derided Harry and Dumbledore for their warnings. It really hit me like a midrash on poor Jeremiah's situation, in which he's about the only one telling the truth, but nobody wants to hear it, and meanwhile the false prophets are scratching all the itching ears with exactly what they do want to hear. And it was the next day, I think, when I received the Lutheran Witness declaring how peaceful and loving and harmonious the LCMS is these days (while meanwhile my e-mail inbox is full of discussions of people who are past the point of no return and trying to determine the best course of departure). Even though I have been somewhat encouraged and optimistic concerning the recent Convention and the potential for improvements in the future, I hope that no one has heard me saying "Peace, Peace," where there is no peace. I'm sure there are those who think me hopelessly naive or deluded, but I have mainly tried to be fair and balanced and objective, and neither to despair nor to pretend that everything is okey-dokey. We live under the Cross, which is both our burden and our confidence. Anyway, I was struck by the falsity of the Prophet in the movie, and the way in which Harry was ridiculed and persecuted for proclaiming the truth.
Along with my overall pleasure with the movie, my two isolated disappointments, and my thoughts on similarities to LCMS politics, there were several things that I found to be most delightful about Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, one of which I missed altogether the first time I saw it.
First, although it makes my twelve-year-old son giggle at me, I really like Hermione. I've always loved her character in the books, and I love the way that Emma Watson plays her in the movies. I would have liked to see her have a little more screen time and character development in this fifth movie, but, nevertheless, I really liked her again this time around. When I was twelve or thirteen, myself, and saw Star Wars for the first time, I thought that Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), with those ridiculous buns on the side of her head, was the most beautiful and captivating creature in the world. My son giggles at me because, after one of the earlier movies, I mentioned that, if I were twelve or thirteen years old again, I'd probably have a similar crush on Hermione. Okay, laugh, but I know myself well enough to know that's true. As it is, her character reminds me a lot of myself and the way I was in school and such; and she also reminds me of girls I have known and befriended over the years, especially in my childhood; and I really appreciate the way that she relates to Harry (especially) and Ron. Since I'm not twelve or thirteen anymore, what I see in Hermione is, I think, the same thing that Harry sees and appreciates in her: she's a good-hearted person and a faithful friend.
So, as I mentioned after I saw this movie for the first time, I'm so glad they included the scene with Harry, Ron and Hermione, after Harry kisses Cho under the mistletoe. That's a great scene in the book, and it's a wonderful scene in the movie, as well. I love the way that Hermione describes all the different emotions that Cho is struggling with, and then Ron exclaims that no one could possibly be feeling all those different things at once, because that person would explode, and Hermione retorts that not everyone has his emotional range of a teaspoon. And then, after all the tension that has passed between the three friends in the story prior to that point, they all just burst into laughter together, and it's all just so very genuine and realistic. Others may have found it contrived or corny, but I thought it was incredibly touching.
Then, finally, there's the thing I missed completely the first time I saw The Order of the Phoenix: When Voldemort has taken over Harry, in the midst of his duel with Dumbledore, and there's this battle raging within Harry between who he is and his connection to Voldemort. It plays itself out a little differently than it does in the book, but I think it has an integrity of its own in the movie, and it remains true to the spirit of the thing. As Harry is lying there, writhing in pain and agony, and wishing that Dumbledore would just kill him and put him out of his misery, he catches sight of Ron and Hermione, and there's this series of flashbacks to the times they have shared together (including the post-kiss discussion), and he comes back to himself and lets go of Voldemort's hold on him because of his love for his friends (and their love for him). There's something quite genuine and authentic about that, I think, which can't be chalked up to flighty emotion. There is something tremendously valuable about friendship, and family, and relationships with other people, and community in general, and the bond of love with others outside of ourselves, all of which helps to turn us away from our sinful self-centeredness, away from our pride and vanity. Anyway, I found this scene to be very powerful on my second viewing of the film, and I can only suppose that I missed it the first time around because it is visually portrayed instead of narratively described (as it is in the book). The book works very well, but the movie does the job within its own proper medium.
Homily at Evening Prayer (last night)
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