Harry Potter Grows Older and Darker

Deep into the new movie Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, our teen wizard (Daniel Radcliffe) finds the strength to face down the dark lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) — and the wisdom to pity him. "You can never know love or friendship," Harry tells the noxious, noseless one. "And I feel sorry for you."

A creature of such magnificent maleficence, who rules less by his own considerable powers than by others' fear of him, feeds on cunning and hatred. And that, Harry believes, should make Voldemort hungry for what he lacks: humanity. He is almost chaste in the purity of his evil, innocent of inner virtue. His genius for mischief leaves no room for the emotions and kindnesses that make Harry both more vulnerable and more formidable than the dark lord knows. That goodness, that love, is what lifts Harry above other heroes of young people's literature; that love, and the amazing detail J.K. Rowling has poured into her imaginary universe, are what attracted readers to the Potter oeuvre. It was love at first sight.

First love is a tumbling passion, an addiction to a substance one didn't know existed. Readers encountering the first Harry Potter books felt something like the glorious enthrallment of first love, the swooning immersion in a strange, seductive new world, without the concomitant misery and an impulse to stroll off the nearest bridge. That's one of the perks of the best popular culture; it offers the ecstasy without the depression.

Another perk: Harrymania didn't become epidemic in the U.S. until The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third in J.K. Rowling's seven-book saga, hit the bookstores. So most fans gleefully consumed nearly half of the total opus in one reading orgy — shot themselves into the canon, so to speak — as they learned the lore, were introduced to the wizarding world and became familiar with its rules. Hogwarts was a secret society, a magical fraternity, that the reader heard about in the first book, joined in the second and had moved into by the third.

And though the books were officially in the 9-to-12 children's section (and banned from the New York Times' main best-seller list), Potterphilia was an affliction that touched adults too. I'm no kid, and I have none that I know of, but in August of 1999 I read all three books aloud to my wife, who stayed up way past bedtime to insist on hearing one more chapter.

An ardor this hot can't be sustained forever, or we'd never get past puberty. I suspect that many Hogwartsolepts, while never losing their affection and fascination for the series, bought and read the later books as a happy habit. The period of delirious courtship gave way to a steady marriage between the storyteller and her listeners. As the story progressed, each volume got longer, heavier, with passages that (one realized with a shock) might have been improved with editing. And Rowling produced her epic at a slower pace. After publishing the first four books in early summer of consecutive years, she took three years to finish the fifth, The Order of the Phoenix (which weighed in at an elephantine 896 pages), with the sixth and seventh emerging after that in two-year intervals. The final episode is due to materialize, if you haven't heard, at the stroke of midnight a week from Saturday.

Meantime, like a fraternal twin on a planet with a slightly slower orbit, the fifth Harry Potter film arrives in theaters today. Eleven days later, readers will soon discover their young hero's destiny. But for now, in movies, Harry is still trying to figure out the scheme Lord Voldemort has hatched and pondering if a teenage boy is up to thwarting it.

Another mystery — whether a new director, David Yates, and scriptwriter, Michael Goldenberg, can build on the intelligent urgency of the past two Potter films — is cleared up in the first few minutes as Harry performs some impromptu magic to save Dudley Dursley, his foster parents' bullying son, who has been set upon by boys even more rancid than he. The confrontation is swift, vivid, scary and, to the audience, assuring: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will be a good one. Fully as satisfying, it turns out, as the excellent third and fourth movies in the series. The tone and palette are darker, the characters more desperate and more determined.

For saving Dudley's life (and flaunting his wizardly powers in the Muggles' demimonde), Harry is briefly expelled from Hogwarts. He has a knack of getting in trouble for behaving heroically, which has to appeal to kids' sense of isolation from the adult world that Just Doesn't Understand — to their feeling that they have a lock on values, while adults are mired in ethical compromise. That suspicion suits Harry as he enters his outlaw phase, his overt rebellion against Hogwarts, or rather against the woman who has commandeered the school on behalf of a misguided, possible venal Ministry of Magic.

Her name is Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), and she's on assignment to bring discipline to Hogwarts. Pink and perky, her office walls covered with moving pictures of cats, she begins by using her wand for seemingly harmless discipline: straighten boys' ties and tuck their shirttails inside their trousers. Soon she's the students' nightmare: a cheery commissar, a suburban Stalinist with a smile like a rictus.

That would make Harry the underground resister. He knows he can't fight Umbridge, let alone Voldemort, on his own. So he leads his fellow students on a children's crusade, serving as their professor at a guerrilla class in magic. And he enlists his godfather, Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), and Mad-Eye Moody (Brendan Gleeson) to help fight Umbridge's assault on Hogwarts and its leader, Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon).

Whatever else she's achieved in her saga, Rowling has succeeded in creating an alternative England — that endearingly eccentric, most likely imaginary place once found in popular Brit culture. That's one reason the series has translated so smoothly from page to screen. The majestic Dumbledore, the rural galoot Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), the middle-crass Dursleys (Richard Griffiths and Fiona Shaw) are all recognizable, if not from life, then from Agatha Christie novels and Ealing comedies. These ripe characters are played by distinguished actors so adept at stealing scenes, it's a wonder any are left to play. The Potter films are almost shamefully rich in the quality of their supporting cast. With Fiennes, Oldman, Gambon, Gleeson, Shaw, Griffiths, David Thewlis, Alan Rickman, Julie Christie, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters and now Staunton ready and willing to fill the crevices of plot, the movies' producers — and their audiences — should murmur a grateful, "Ah, England!"

In the early installments, these veterans left the young stars in the dust. The jury's still out on Rupert Grint, who plays Ron Weasley, and Emma Watson, as Hermione Granger; but Radcliffe is maturing splendidly. This slickly produced mass-market movie series may be spawning a remarkable young actor.

Now 17, Radcliffe stoked a stir early this year when he appeared in a revival of Peter Shaffer's drama Equus, about Alan Strang, a troubled youth who had blinded some horses. The tabloid press, noting that Radcliffe appeared nude on stage, clucked as if Equus were some obscenely oddball avant-garde work, instead of a Tony Award-winning play that ran for three years in the 70s. In fact, a strange, Strang vibe resonates in Radcliffe's Harry this time around. He's more alert to the powers of the natural world, and the deceptions of his own kind. He suspects a magnetic kinship, as well as a titanic enmity, between himself and Voldemort. "What if I'm becoming like him?" he muses, and then confesses, "I feel angry all the time."

The production stills of Radcliffe hint at another relationship: Hamlet. He's garbed in black, looking pensive and haunted, and holds a magic globe as if it were Yorick's skull. Harry's problem isn't inaction; he's constantly fighting the perfidy of Voldemort and his stooges. But he is a young man all too aware of the forces roiling against him, and within him. He must face down Voldemort the way other boys confront puberty — as a threat and a thrill that run seismic changes through his body. Precociously wise, Harry also seems prematurely tired, a wizened wizard at 15. And Radcliffe measures up to his character; his bold shadings reveal Harry as both a tortured adolescent and an epic hero ready to do battle.

That doesn't make Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix quite Shakespearean. It still has the odd touch of whimsy — as in the early scene where, with a wave of his wand, Moody solves the London real estate crunch by creating a space between two row houses and filling it with a new one that's invisible (to Muggles). But in streamlining the gargantuan book into the shortest Potter movie yet, Goldenberg and Yates say they mean business. And I don't mean box office. Playtime is over; childhood is a distant memory, or perhaps just a dream. For Harry and his friends, it's time to grow up and fight Voldemort or surrender to him.

The early novels we fell in love with now look, in hindsight, like charming children beguiled with their own ripe sense of play — the Quidditch games and eccentric ghosts, the in-school rivalries and disappearing acts. This fifth film shows the great tale in transition, embracing mature themes, hurtling toward a possibly tragic conclusion. All of which makes Potter 5 not just a ripping yarn but a potent, poignant coming-of-age story.

You begin to understand why the saga's readers approach the coming of the final chapter with as much trepidation as wonder. It's not just that Voldemort could be springing a Darth Vader revelation on Harry's Luke Skywalker. It's that Rowling could be leading the series out of the realm of children's literature, into the complexities and conundrums of a world where a boy-hero could lose his life or his innocence in confronting the dreadful mysteries around him, and inside himself.
Share this article :
Support : Creating Website | Johny Template | Mas Template
Copyright © 2011. Entertainment-3 - All Rights Reserved
Template Created by Creating Website Published by Mas Template
Proudly powered by Blogger