The last Harry Potter film has finally come to homes and it has given me a chance to re-watch and think again about the difference between the films and the books. For the most part, I have been able to understand the changes that haven been made for the cinema; but in the last film, the last few minutes, really left out some of the most important elements and themes that, I believe, Rowling has poured into her masterpiece.
In the movie, Harry goes to the Forbidden forest to meet his doom. He knows that he has been marked for death and has excepted that by his death, others might survive. Harry knows he has been kept alive to die at the right time. So Harry dies, but as we all know, he comes back and defeats Voldemort for good. The main problem is that the movie lacks all the nuances that makes Harry’s death so important. Harry’s death, in the book, means so much more than a final showdown and the end of an evil person. Harry’s death stands in for something deeper and much more mythic than just defeating the “bad guy”. This was the place where the film fails its source material and audience the most.
“Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms.” In the book Harry calmly walks into the forest and faces death. It is in this moment that he does the one thing that Voldemort could never do, face death and not be afraid. Harry has learned that there are more important things than living and that death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person. In all of Voldemort’s scheming and work to escape death only Harry will become it’s master. Harry goes willingly to death, he sacrifices himself for others, he lays down his life, like his mother, for the good of those he loves. In the end Harry defeats death by death.
In the movie, the full affect of Harry’s sacrifice is not seen, and in the end, it does a disservice to all those who watch.
“And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he never grasped. " Rowling goes on to explain this in the final showdown. Harry taunts Voldemort and fully explains his failings and deep misunderstanding of the world around him. Harry’s death has much more meaning than the end to an evil dictator, he has bought life from death. “You won’t be killing anyone else tonight,” said Harry as they circled, and they stared into each others eyes, green into red. “You won’t be able to kill any of them, ever again. Don’t you get it? I was ready to die to stop you hurting these people-”
“But you did not!"
“-I meant to, and that’s what did it. I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them. You don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?"
This pivotal moment in the book is missing from the movie and cheapens the power of Harry’s death. Harry’s love is greater and more powerful than Voldemort’s ambition, hate and cruelty. And it is not just Harry’s love, but the love of his mother and Snape that have played Voldemort for a fool. Another moment that leaves a character not as strong as he is in the book is the moment that Harry explains how Snape’s love has made all of this possible. “Severus Snape wasn’t yours,” said Harry. “Snape was Dumbledore’s, Dumbledore’s from the moment you started hunting down my mother. And you never realised it, because of the thing you can’t understand.”
Voldemort has no understanding or comprehension of love.
In all this talk of love and the true meaning of death, Rowling is saying something. She is linking her myth with a much more powerful and much “deeper magic” than is seen in the film. J.R.R Tolkien says this about myth,
“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming 'sub-creator' and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic 'progress' leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
It is in myth making that we can understand the true reality. Tolkien goes on to explain further,
“I would venture to say that approaching the Christian Story from this direction, it has long been my feeling (a joyous feeling) that God redeemed the corrupt making-creatures, men, in a way fitting to this aspect, as to others, of their strange nature. The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: ‘mythical’ in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the ‘inner consistency of reality.’ There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.”The Apostle Paul speaks of these things that Harry dimly reflects,
“For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
What Rowling has written connects us with something that runs deep and mythic, it points to the greater reality, the meta-narrative that we are all a part of. There is a story that we are all involved in and when we respond to certain works of fiction or a good film it is because it is touching something innate and fundamental to the reality of the world. C.S. Lewis puts it this way, “In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to expressing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction...It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely” While I love the Harry Potter films, in missing this key element, they have taken away the true power of the story, it’s connection with the profound reality of the universe. And I believe this is the reason that so many people, from all walks of life, all over the world have fallen in love with, “the boy who lived”.
All quotes from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" from the Bloomsbury edition, 2007