Every New Year’s Eve for well over a decade, I have gathered with some of my closest friends and their steadily growing family to have a Harry Potter movie marathon. With eight movies covering seven books, we can never get all of them seen in one day, but we enjoy putting them on and passing the last day of the year as only boon companions can do. The next question then becomes what order we watch them in. As we can never get to them all in one go, choices have to be made. In the past, we have gone with even ones on even years, odd ones on odd years. We have put all the titles in a bowl and drawn them one-by-one to determine the order. This year, my godson and their eldest laid all the DVDs out in a line and went “eeny-meeny-miny-moe” on them. This resulted in us seeing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011) first. We all felt it was a fitting bit randomness to close out what has been quite the year.
In talking about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I will forego my usual formula and approach it thematically. One matter, though, that should be addressed from the outset is the controversy regarding the source material and the Catholic Church. Over the years, particularly when both the novels and the films were being released, various members of Church hierarchy took divergent views on the potential pitfalls for adherents in consuming these popular works of fiction that deal with sorcery. Importantly, the Church has taken no official position on Harry Potter. Whether or not you worry about your children, or maybe yourself, being corrupted in some way by the books or movies, allow me to offer you a middle way. The dangers of witchcraft should be acknowledged. Such practices directly seek to subvert the power of God, and that is plainly sinful and wrong. Hence the potential peril is that the incredible things done by the characters somehow leads you to believe you can achieve similar abilities. Even if you could, such things can only lead to corruption given the powers involved. More on this concept later. Thus, if you are susceptible to such influence, I totally understand the decision to avoid these titles. However, if you take them as simply the works of fiction that you are, you will see the kinds of notions that can only elevate the soul. The last film is the culmination of them.
When you review films for long enough, you begin to notice some universal themes present in genres. Some of these, given that we are in the West with its Judeo-Christian roots, relate to the kinds of sacrificial acts that were Jesus’ mission. One has to be careful about comparing fictional bravery to Our Lord and Savior too often, but Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is too tantalizing to pass up. Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his two best friends, Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) from his time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, had been spending the last movie and a half plus searching for a mysterious set of seven objects known as horcruxes. They are magical items imbued with portions of the embodiment of evil’s soul, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). After finding and destroying a few of them, their search brings them back to the school where they would be attending their last year if it were not for Lord Voldemort’s latest rise to power. In the course of their quest, Harry learns that he is one of these soul storage devices, and that in order to triumph he must die. The moment he discovers this news always strikes me. The difference between Harry and Jesus is foreknowledge. Being fully God, He knew the purpose for which He came into the world. Harry had to have a moment of self-discovery. Either way, they both go willingly to their demises. Keep in mind that in addition to being fully divine, Jesus was fully human. Unfortunately, the Bible does not offer us much as to the emotions that He, perhaps, experienced en route to Calvary. We can get at a hint of such feelings by watching Harry find out what he must do and saying goodbye to his friends as he walks out to face Voldemort. And they both do so for a higher purpose, arguably the highest of all. Of course, the stakes are fictional for Harry, whereas Jesus’ crucifixion was a once and for all victory over the subjugation of sin.
Another theme we see in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, though also well-used in other films, is that of redemption and rebirth. Throughout preceding entries in the Harry Potter saga, a persistent nemesis of Harry is Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). During the same denouement where Harry learns of the awful sacrifice he must make, he is made privy to his former professor’s past. Though they had always had an antagonistic relationship, when Snape was a student at Hogwarts, he and Harry’s mother Lily (Geraldine Somerville) were close. As they got older, Snape never waned in his feelings for Lily, even though she went on to marry James Potter (Adrian Rawlins). Yet, since James had bullied Snape as classmates, the professor assumed Harry was just as much of a no-account as his father. Still, the one person that knows of Snape’s true feelings is Hogwarts’ headmaster, Professor Albus Dulbledore (Michael Gambon). Dumbledore uses Snape’s dedication to ensure the former Lord Voldemort supporter as a loyal member of the group dedicated to stopping the Dark Lord, even if Harry and his friends do not immediately see it. In order to keep up this façade, Snape must basically go undercover with the so-called Death Eaters, the cadre of those who followed Lord Voldemort, but all the while secretly doing what he could to protect Lily’s son. It speaks to the magnanimity of Harry that when he learns of Snape’s true character, he later honors the one-time potion’s master by naming one of his sons after him. Forgiveness is an incredible thing. In one form or another, it brings former enemies together. Sin separates us from God, thus why the Church has the very specifically named Sacrament of Reconciliation. This happens between Harry and Snape, and between Harry and another former rival, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton).
My favorite aspect of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 from a Catholic perspective pertains to the title. Though the purpose of these three particular magical objects—the cloak of invisibility, the resurrection stone, and the powerful Elder Wand—is covered in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. Suffice to say that in Harry Potter lore there had been many who had been trying to find all three, Dumbledore chief among them. As it turns out, the aged wizard seems to have had all three, giving the cloak to Harry when he first arrived at Hogwarts, keeping the wand for himself, and hiding the stone. All three end up in Harry’s possession at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Everything we had learned about these effects said that whoever held them all had the potential to be the most powerful wizard. As the villain of all villains, you can understand why Lord Voldemort pursued them, seeking to use them to bring the world under his thrall. In a symbolic 180 from Lord Voldemort’s designs, Harry takes the Elder Wand to one of Hogwarts many precipices, snaps it in half, and tosses it into a Scottish abyss. Biblically speaking, those who grasp at powers beyond their understanding have not ended with happiness. Throughout the Harry Potter series, all Harry wants is to be a regular boy, and this is something that has eluded him all his life. Yet when presented with the opportunity to wield ultimate influence over others, he turns his back. For me, it relates to how it is best to be content with what God brings you rather than trying to be more than what He creates you to be. Power corrupts, and Harry rightly steers a path away from it.
To hearken back to the controversy I discussed early on in this review, I do not necessarily blame anyone who decides to avoid movies like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. There are forces that should not be meddled with, and if you think viewing such things might result in dabbling, then steer clear. However, if you can handle these themes, then there is much that you can get out of Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. Aside from the aspects focused on in this review, the film is a well shot, acted, and paced and has a little bit for everyone. Call this a review with a caveat.