Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2: Some Thoughts

Posted: July 17, 2011 in Braak, crotchety ranting, Harry Potter, movies
Tags: , , , , , ,

For as much as I have some problems with the series in general, and with the character of Harry Potter in particular, I really love the climax of the story.  The last book — and this second part of the last movie — is probably my favorite part, because by the end there’s a lot less of all those sort of stupid, “We’re teenagers trying to pretend this isn’t easy to figure out so that the story won’t be over in sixteen pages” stuff, and more action.

This movie especially is great, because something is happening basically ALL THE TIME.  We don’t need any more god-damn exposition or discussion of feelings.  Shit is real.  This is happening.

One of the flaws I thought the earlier movies suffered from, from a storytelling standpoint, was just that because they were adapting novels (which necessarily can enjoy a level of decompression that movies can’t) there was a lot of screen-time where just nothing interesting was going on.  I am not ashamed to say it:  I found almost every single one of the other Harry Potter movies to be unbearably boring.

There are a couple other interesting bits in this one, too.  I am especially interested now in the semiotics of “flying.”  I think it’s neat that only the badguys can fly, and they fly in a pretty terrifying way.  And, considering it, “flight” takes on a pretty sinister connotation:  in the wizarding world, actually no one really needs to fly.  They can apparate, or flu portal thing, or zip around on brooms or flying motorcycles.  The ability to tear around the sky in a column of smoke, hurling curses left and right, is functionally unnecessary for any reason except one:  it’s god-damn terrifying.  “Flight” has become, in the Harry Potter series, a symbol for terrorism.

I think that’s pretty neat.

On the other hand, there are still a lot of problems that I have with the world in general.  The second-worst, which this movie highlighted, is the implicit caste-system of the Hogwarts Houses.  I can never tell if this is supposed to be a scathing indictment of the education system, or just a thing that Rowling kind of thought up in the first book without really considering the implications, but I am always ALWAYS bothered by the fact that there’s one house that’s just full of all the shitty kids.

Sure, it’s always a Slytherin who turns out to be the asshole, but when ONE kid says something asinine after Harry Potter comes back — one stupid kid who wants to grab him — the WHOLE SLYTHERIN HOUSE gets sent to the dungeons.  They didn’t even do anything!  She said to grab him, but no one moved or anything!  They were just standing there, being good, why did McGonagal send them to the dungeons?

Except, obviously McGonagal was right to do that, because apparently the Sorting Hat just puts all the shitty kids together into Shitbag House, so if they weren’t doing something shitty now, they were probably going to do something shitty in the future.  But again, can you blame them?  Hogwarts doesn’t make any attempt to reach out to the shitty kids, and should we wonder that the Gryffindor kids are always better adjusted?

“Oh, hello kids!  We’ve looked into your soul, and determined that some of you are brave, so you’ll get to go live in this awesome tower and get supervised by one of the cool teachers, a hilarious ghost, and also hang out with our world’s only celebrity.  You guys, on the other hand, are slimy cowards, so we’re putting you in this basement that’s haunted by some kind of psychotic murderer ghost, with that one teacher who’s a complete fucking asshole, and also sometimes you’ll think you’ve won the house cup — by being good at sports but also not having discipline problems and just generally excelling at your studies — except then Harry Potter will do some fucking bullshit and we’ll literally take it away from you to give to him and his house (remember, the one with the kids who AREN’T slimy cowards?), because god fucking forbid the celebrated Harry Potter should have to suffer the ignominy of NOT getting all the awards.”

Yeah, no wonder everyone in Slytherin is an asshole.

So, is that supposed to be a comment on the education system?  On how we take  kids if there’s even a hint of the unsavory about them and just drop them all in a hole with each other, ignore them, stigmatize them, and then we act all surprised when they turn out kind of evil?

Yeah, yeah, Harry Potter does tell Albus Severus Potter that if he does get picked for Slytherin, then Slytherin will have gotten themselves a wonderful wizard — but then he completely undermines this thought by saying, “Don’t worry though.  If you really don’t want to be friends with all the shithead kids, you won’t have to.”

Man, fuck you, Harry Potter.  And what the hell, J. K. Rowling?  You couldn’t have ONE Slytherin kid not act like a douchebag?  Not one book where it turns out that, even though you’re in Slimy Coward House with all the other assholes, maybe you still are a bit of a decent person?

But really I think this is just something that Rowling kind of didn’t think all the way through at first, and then kind of couldn’t be bothered with once the series got going.  I think the houses should actually be sorted out like this:

Gryffindor:  you are in PROTAGONIST house.  You will be morally upright, and take action to resolve the plot, either directly or by helping one of the other protagonists.

Slytherin:  you are in ANTAGONIST house.  When someone local is needed to interfere with the protagonists, you will be the ones who act like assholes.

Ravenclaw:  you are in SECONDARY CHARACTER house.  You will be mentioned when information needs to be delivered to the protagonist, or when the author suddenly realizes she hasn’t said anything about the other houses in a while.

Hufflepuff:  who?  Oh, right.  There’s a fourth house.  You are in this one.  I guess, try not to let it get you down?

This is the second problem that I have with the movie.  The first problem is more of an aesthetic consideration, and that is that all the magic is just fucking beams and forcefields.  I’ve left talking about this out, because it’s got me thinking, and now I’m just going to do a post about what I think wizard dueling would look like, which I will do at once.

  1. Moff says:

    Yeah, it would have been nice to see a Slytherin kid come into play as one of the good guys, around Book 5 or so. He or she could be, like, kind of a dick, but a dick with a more cynical grasp on the politics of life at Hogwarts and in the wizarding world in general, who was ultimately opposed to Voldemort simply because rule by an immortal evil dictator wouldn’t afford anyone else the chance to eventually wield power on their own terms.

  2. braak says:

    Honestly, he wouldn’t even have to be that much of a dick. I mean, Slytherin kids had more to them than just ambition, right? Maybe he was a little ambitious, in the sense that he wanted to be a really great wizard, but still just didn’t like the idea of killing a whole bunch of people. That’s not so outlandish, is it? Can’t you want to succeed at life, but still not be okay with mass murder?

  3. Moff says:

    Well, I thought maybe you could for a long time, but you know which side I finally came down on.

  4. Erin says:

    Yeah, it bothers me that there was never a member of Slytherin who turned out to be good deep down, and also that said nonexistent character wasn’t Draco.

    But I knew that going in, so I loved the movie anyway.

  5. braak says:

    I think pretty much all of us knew this going in.

  6. You’ve apparently forgotten that the most Slytheriny character of all, Severus Snape, ends up being the biggest hero of the series after Harry himself.

    And, heck, I could even argue that Snape is a BIGGER hero than Harry! It seems like a serious omission from your article to forget that the head of Slytherin is the whole reason Voldemort was defeated. It kind of makes the whole “Slytherin is evil” thing have a moral point to it all, doesn’t it?

    At any rate, Snape himself doesn’t matter because I think that everything you’re complaining about is in there for a bigger reason. The theme of the whole war with the death eaters is racism. Our heroes oppose the muggle-hating death eaters and yet they still live in a world with houses, revered lineage, and slave elves. The hypocrisy is intentional, I think, and urges us to examine our own lives closer. Sure, you SAY you’re opposed to bad things…but is your life really free of them? It’s a good lesson.

    Now, did JK mean it that way? She clearly meant the whole house-elf thing in that way, but didn’t give clear proof that the rest of it was also meant to be read like that. I tend to believe that it doesn’t matter if she meant it or not…it’s a great addition to the world, so as long as we choose to learn THAT lesson from it then it’s a great thing that it’s in there.

  7. Moff says:

    @Jeff: But Snape’s heroism just isn’t quite the same as a glimpse of a Slytherin student who wasn’t a total asshole could have been. I mean, he’s more the exception that proves the rule than an examination of what it means to be in the “bad” house.

    And the house elf thing is an oddity: There is a lesson there about looking at your own life more closely, but the irony is that Hermione’s quest for house elf justice totally bombs, since they’re really happy doing what they do. The lesson there seems to be that you shouldn’t assume you know what’s best for other people, no matter how the situation appears to you.

  8. braak says:

    I haven’t forgotten about it, I was purposefully ignoring it, primarily because the nature of “houses” sort of stops being a big deal once you get to be an adult in the Harry Potter world.

    And, no, it doesn’t give the whole thing a moral point. Not if you’ve set up a system in which everyone in Slytherin is evil, except for that one guy, and he only turned good because he was in love with (obviously) someone from Gryffindor.

    Which is to say, Snape wasn’t essentially a good person, he only became a good person when he was in love. The problem with the system as it stands is that it both posits and fundamentally endorses the idea that there’s an entire category of people who are essentially evil and, if left to their own devices (that is, not specifically redeemed by Albus Dumbledore) are going to all end up being Dark Wizards.

    The issue of the “racism” regarding the Muggles, rather than belying this structure, actually only serves to enforce it: when talk comes up of magical superiority, or the inferiority of “half-bloods”, this is inevitably represented as grotesque, cruel, or at the least morally reprehensible.

    Not so the continued demonization of Slytherin House; no one ever feels bad for assuming that generally, if you’re in Slytherin you’re an asshole — because there’s no reason that they SHOULD feel bad, since with a single notable exception, everyone in Slytherin House IS an asshole.

    That’s not a hypocrisy on the part of the culture; if it were, we could at least expect the author to notice it. It’s a hypocrisy on the part of the narrative.

  9. braak says:

    @Moff: Yeah, I also have problems with the house elf thing, because I instinctively bristle at the notion that there’s a class of people who enjoy being servants. I think that’s kind of…uh…dangerous ground.

  10. Moff says:

    @braak: It would be kind of great, though, if the whole “putting everybody who’s evil in one house” was a long-term plot by the Sorting Hat to make sure it always had a place source for really filthy hat pornography.

    I dunno — I kinda like the house elf thing, simply because it does something only fantasy or SF can do: gives you a set of characters whose wants and needs just don’t map to those of human beings. It definitely disturbs the reader, but I would rather be disturbed than have the same lesson hammered home that’s already covered by the main thematic arc.

    Also, the characters of Dobby and Kreacher indicate that there is agency on the part of house elves; the point is just that they have to exercise it themselves, not have Noble White Man Granger show up and “liberate” them. And the real-world truth is that such liberation is generally pretty ill-advised, after all.

  11. Lori says:

    I was also wondering if you were going to mention Snape as an example of a “good” Slytherin, he also serves as a reminder that even if you were a huge tool in school you can grow up to be a pretty great example of a human being as an adult.

    I do agree though it would have been a nice complement to Snape to have Draco show some spine and have a redeeming moment in one of the latter books. Or perhaps it would have been even more powerful to see the majority of the tower turn away from Voldemort in the final book, rather then be sent to the dungeon. Not a big heroic moment of defiance for one, but a small quiet one for many.

  12. braak says:

    @Moff: Yeah, that’s good, though I wish the “they just aren’t like humans” idea hadn’t been one that also coincided with the use of a servant class. And I think the notion of it could have been played up, or at least explored in a little more detail, so that the abiding message that we get from it is, “Don’t you see? We’re actually helping the elves by having them be our servants!”

    @Lori: Honestly, I’d probably have been happy if, when that girl says “Grab him!”, one of the Slytherins next to her just said, “Shut up, Jenny.”

  13. [“This movie especially is great, because something is happening basically ALL THE TIME. We don’t need any more god-damn exposition or discussion of feelings. Shit is real. This is happening.”]

    That is the MAIN PROBLEM with this movie. Too much action and not enough drama.

  14. braak says:

    That may have been your main problem, but it was not my main problem. I’ve generally found the drama in Harry Potter to be excessive, manufactured, and sometimes just kind of dumb.

    (I know, I know, even the dumb drama is actually fairly true to life, but so what? I don’t like hanging out with teenagers in real life, and I don’t like hanging out with them in fantasy life, either.)

  15. Jordan says:

    Are you sure you read the books? Re-read the last scene again! I’m pretty sure J.K. Rowling didn’t send Slytherin to the dungeons, so don’t blame her. The screenwriters for some odd reason decided to do that. The scene is a bit different from the movie, but McGonogall gives Slytherin an ultimatum in the book, which I thought was at least a thoughtful implication showing them that Slytherin is still apart of Hogwarts. But the screenwriters decided to play to the movie audience,and give them the “yeah slytherins are all meanies” antidote.

  16. braak says:

    Considering that Rowling had script approval, that she’s in a position in which no one could reasonably bring any pressure to bear on her to change anything she didn’t like, and that the scenes are such an apparently natural outgrowth of the world that no one who saw the movie really seems to have been bothered by it, I feel comfortable holding Rowling responsible.

    As to your other point, I’m not sure that makes the issue any less ridiculous, because in no way does it ackowledge the responsibility of Hogwarts and its staff for producing the villains that it then continues to derive. Why should McGonagall have to issue an ultimatum to the Slytherins, to remind them that they’re a part of Hogwarts? Or, really, why should it be that they don’t think of themselves as part of Hogwarts in the first place? Oh, is it because they’ve been treated like de facto antagonists, like a dark wizard fifth column, for the last seven years?

    This is all bullshit, post-facto rationalization. Listen, I know it sucks when things you like turn out to be imperfect, but you don’t do the art or yourself any favors by pretending that Harry Potter doesn’t have some serious issues of race, class, and gender coded right into it.

  17. Come on, Hufflepuff is best known for spending all day making stuff with safety scissors and glitter!

  18. Julie says:

    Remember most of the parents of the kids in slytherins were death eaters and sided with voldemort

  19. […] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2: Some Thoughts | Threat Quality Press […]

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