With all the struggles Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) experiences in his early on, more kind-hearted fellows like myself might look at his life and want to see him have some semblance of normal. From being an orphan, to being the most famous person in a world he never knew existed, and then seeing his godfather die in front of him (to name but a few), I wished for one calm, business as usual school year for everyone’s favorite young wizard. I realize that does not make for gripping cinema. We want some excitement from the stories we view on the silver screen. Yet, because I am a sentimental fool who roots for the good guys in the world, I want to see Harry have a chance to take it easy for a change. For the most part, this is what you get from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009). Of course, there is the looming threat of Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) and his Death Eaters seeking to murder Harry, or anyone else standing in the way of that goal. The film mostly saves that excitement for the end. In the meantime, because J. K. Rowling decided there would be seven books in her fantastically successful series, we had to find something for her characters to do in the meantime. Some will rage against this formula, but I enjoyed this one.
The signs of the stormy future of the wizarding world are apparent from the outset of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Death Eaters are causing havoc around London before landing in Diagon Alley and kidnapping Garrick Ollivander (John Hurt), purveyor of wands for witches and wizards. In another, stereotypically rainy corner of London, three figures meet in a row home. These are well-known Death Eater Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter), her sister Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory), and Hogawart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’s potions master Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). They are meeting at Narcissa’s request, for she is worried about a mission given to her son, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton), Harry’s classmate and archrival. This task has been given him by Lord Voldemort, and as such the consequences of failing it could be dire. Hence, Narcissa has Bellatrix administer an unbreakable bond with Snape to assist Draco in the boy’s onerous duty. Meanwhile, Harry is picked up from a London Tube station by Hogwart’s headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). Together, they instantaneously travel to a different part of Merry Ol’ England. Their goal is to recruit a new professor for the school: Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent). At first, the former Hogwart’s potions master refuses. This is why Harry is present. When Slughorn was at Hogwart’s, he developed a cadre of talented young witches and wizards, doing so with a particular eye for potential. Seeing these traits evident in Harry, he reluctantly agrees to return to the school. This means that Snape will be filling the Defense Against the Dark Arts position. As school starts, Harry, along with best friends Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) find a different potions class with Slughorn as its teacher. Harry also ends up with a well-worn textbook with a mysterious name scrawled on the inside: the Half-Blood Prince. Whoever this figure was, his annotations to the text help Harry win a prize on the first day of class: an elixir called Felix Felicis, otherwise known as “liquid luck.” It is a small victory, but it cements Harry’s place in Slughorn’s “Slug Club,” the collection of prominent young witches and wizards the professor meets with regularly. It is also a part of Dumbledore’s plan. Dumbledore needs a memory from Slughorn, one of his interactions with a young Lord Voldemort, then known as Tom Riddle (Hero Fiennes Tiffin). In Slughorn’s recollections of Tom Riddle, Dumbledore believes there is a key to defeating the adult Lord Voldemort. Unfortunately, it is one that Slughorn is ashamed of, and reluctant to give up willingly. It is not until Harry uses the liquid luck that he is able to see the path to obtaining the desired memory. In it, Tom Riddle talks of his interest in a bit of dark magic known as horcruxes. They are everyday items in which the sorcerer imbues part of his soul. So long as the object remains, that person cannot die. This revelation confirms what Dumbledore suspected all along, and he believes he knows where they can find one. Taking Harry with him once more, they travel to a desolate part of the English coast, and enter a watery cave. After facing down threats from magical creatures, they obtain a locket at the bottom of a shallow basin, and return to Hogwart’s. Upon their arrival, they are greeted by a number of Death Eaters, having been let in by Draco. Harry is told to hide, only to watch as Snape emerges and kills Dumbledore. Job seemingly done, the Death Eaters escape. Because all the climactic events of these movies conveniently happen at the end of the school year, this basically marks the end of the movie, with Harry, Hermione, and Ron vowing to track down the remaining horcruxes the following year.
In the intervening months between Harry arriving at school and the end of the academic year in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, he has a pretty normal go of it. He breaks in a new quidditch team, he falls in love with Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright), and attends meetings of the Slug Club. What excitement there is comes in the fragments of memories pertaining to the horcruxes, and it is this part on which I would like to focus my Catholic attention. The desire for immortality is an understandable one, whether you are you or I or Lord Voldemort. For the most part, we want to go on living as long as possible. It is hard to think about anything outside of this existence. Granted, Lord Voldemort desires to live forever in order to rule the world, whereas the majority of us would probably be content to simply go on breathing for a long, long while. In order to obtain his goal, Lord Voldemort seeks something that even a movie series about the taboo subject of witchcraft finds morally repugnant. These horcruxes split a person’s soul into parts. They splinter what God made whole and perfect. More importantly, they mar the one part of us that actually is eternal. One reason for the decline in faith in our society is out inability to see beyond our current lives, to see the potentially glorious afterlife that awaits those who diligently practice their faith. Much like horcruxes, we splinter our souls in a thousand different directions with a thousand different distractions. That is a lot of thousands. There is a great deal of evidence out there for what awaits those who believe, and do so well. Dying is hard. Living forever with God is even better. Yes, there may be a myriad of things calling us away from that goal, but they are also opportunities to speak the One God into them and stay on the path to Him.
Watch Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as the last hurrah before everything goes haywire in the final installment. I should say final two installments since Rowling’s last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was made into dual parts. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a fitting send-off to everyone’s favorite wizard’s last days at school.