With Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), we are now on the back nine, if you will excuse the golfing parlance, of the franchise. The concluding events of Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire (2005) saw the return of the much feared arch villain Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). Naturally, the issue on the minds of everyone was how they were going to handle such an evil force on the loose in the wizarding world. For me, when I read the book, I found it a marked departure from the mostly light-hearted tone of the previous four. Put more bluntly, I was annoyed with all the teenage angst in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It is understandable. To repeat an eternal truth, teenagers think they know everything. When Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) finds out that an underground movement (more on this later) to resist Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters is being organized, he wants to help. When he does not get what he wants, he rages. When he is having trouble mastering difficult spells, he rages. When his friends suggest that he calm down, he rages. Do not get me wrong, the movie has a lot going on in it to like. This is one of the nice things about film: they can gloss over certain parts while maintaining the overall meaning of the story. The angst is there, but it is easier to get through than a couple hundred pages worth of it.
I suppose with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix they wanted to remind audiences that Harry has a Muggle (non-magical folk) family, the Dursleys, that he stays with when he is not at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. When he and his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) are attacked by ghostly Dementors, Harry is forced to use magic to save them. Because the Ministry of Magic can tell when under-aged wizards have used spells, this act results in the ministry expelling Harry from school. During his trial at the ministry where he is exonerated, it becomes apparent that the governing body of the wizarding world has decided that the rumors of Lord Voldemort’s return are untrue. They do this despite the pleas of Hogawart’s headmaster Professor Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to face the reality of the situation. This is what prompts those who believe the danger posed by “He Who Must Not Be Named” to re-form the Order of the Phoenix, a group of witches and wizards that once organized to stop the most feared dark wizard the last time he was a threat. They meet at the home of Harry’s godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), which is where Harry and his friends also stay on the eve of their return to Hogwart’s. Once back at school, they learn of some new changes to the school structure, with ministry crony Delores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) occupying the position of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Meanwhile, Harry is consistently bothered by disturbing visions, and it becomes apparent to Professor Dumbledore that there is a connection between Harry’s mind and that of Lord Voldemort’s. In order to close the connection before Lord Voldemort can find a way to use it for evil, Harry is subjected to lessons in occlumency. Never mind what this actually means, just know that it is supposed to teach Harry to close his mind to Lord Voldemort. These extra lessons do not go well, primarily because they are given by Harry’s least favorite professor, Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). Because of their poor execution, one of the visions that does make its way through is the fact that Lord Voldemort seems to be surreptitiously stalking the lower levels of the Ministry of Magic looking for some kind of weapon. This notion receives confirmation when Harry witnesses in a nightmare his best friend Ron Weasley’s (Rupert Grint) father, Arthur (Mark Williams), attacked while guarding a chamber. At the school, these issues are voiced more loudly by Harry in classes, which earns him the ire of Professor Umbridge. Feeling that they are not also being taught properly, Harry’s genius friend Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) comes us with the idea of them forming their own secret society in order to prepare for the possibility of facing dark wizards, naming it “Dumbledore’s Army.” This proves useful when Harry has a vision of Sirius being tortured by Lord Voldemort into giving up the location of the weapon. Harry then gathers a few members of Dumbledore’s Army, creates a distraction, and makes his way to the Ministry of Magic. Of course, this proves to be a trap. The weapon is a prophecy about the one who was to bring about Lord Voldemort’s downfall, which only the person for which it is meant can view, hence the need to lure Harry. Luckily, the Order of the Phoenix, with Sirius leading the charge, shows up to help the teenagers escape. Sadly, Sirius dies in the rescue. This is not the last of his problems. Barring their ultimate escape is Lord Voldemort himself, though Professor Dumbledore is on hand to ensure Harry’s survival. The fact that this all happens within the Ministry of Magic serves to prove that Lord Voldemort has returned.
As usual, I have glossed over much in my synopsis of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. One aspect that I did not get to cover to the desired degree is the character of Delores Umbridge. People often look at me funny when I tell them that she is one of my favorites in the whole series, though I prefer the book version. The reason for my appreciation of someone who is cast as a villain is because she is so clearly wrong. She maintains an unswerving belief in her rightness even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Her motivations are obvious: as a ministry stooge, she is there to maintain the party line at all costs. Given the enormity of the lie the ministry is attempting to foster by denying Lord Voldemort’s existence, the government empowers her to make radical changes to the way Hogwart’s is run, which leads to Professor Dumbledore’s temporary dismissal. He is allowed back, of course, when he defeats Lord Voldemort inside the ministry. What completes my love of Umbridge, though, is when Ron’s twin brothers, Fred (James Phelps) and George (Oliver Phelps), exact their revenge for Umbridge’s draconian measures. It is fun to see such characters get their just deserts, and it happens here in a spectacular fashion.
In the introduction, I complained about all the teenage angst in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I get annoyed with it partially because I used to act the same way Harry does. As an adult, I do not have the same blinding sense of correctness, or at least I hope that I have outgrown that phase. 1 Corinthians 13:11 says, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put side childish things.” Harry is a child. There is a reason why we do not put children in dangerous situations, and films like this one underscore why this is the case. The Catholic Church has an interesting rite of passage called Confirmation. It marks the transition from the Church seeing you as a child to an adult. Harry’s experiences with being the so-called “Chosen One” made him feel like he is just as equipped as any of the more seasoned magic practitioners to handle fighting dark wizards. Witnessing Sirius die proves otherwise. Confirmation does not mean that you are ready for everything the world has to offer. It happens around the age that Harry is in the film, but the Church does not allow people of that age to enter religious life, for example. What marks the difference between recent Confirmandi and a priest celebrating Mass is discernment. Discernment allows people to give some thought as to whether or not they are ready to handle the next stage in life. Harry clearly gave none of this any thought. Still, it is a lesson learned.
Well, here is to another film in the series being completed with Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It is a darker film than the others before it in many ways. I also enjoy the film version more than the book. As understandable is the teenage angst, I can do with less of it as in the movie.