Sunday, December 28, 2008

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets -- fearing a name

Director: Chris Columbus, 2002.

This is the second installment of the Harry Potter series, and is both longer and darker than Sorcerer's Stone. All the main players are back, and some new ones are introduced. We meet Lucious Malfoy (Jason Isaacs) and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) for the first time. And sadly Richard Harris returns for the last time as Professor Dumbledore. Just weeks after the release of this film he died, and his role was taken over by Michael Gambon for subsequent films.

With less need for establishing context and characters, it starts with a shorter introduction and gets to the story-line much sooner. Harry has his own bedroom in the Dursley home now, no longer sleeping under the stairs. Dobby, a house-elf, suddenly appears at the most misopportune moment, and warns Harry not to return to Hogwarts because someone wants to kill him. Causing chaos in the house, Dobby disappears leaving Harry literally imprisoned in his room. Only with the help of Ron Weasly and a flying Ford Anglia does he escape and eventually arrive at Hogwarts.

Even at Hogwarts new surprises emerge, such as wizard duels. It is during one of these that Harry learns that he is a parselmouth, a talent usually limited to Slytherins: he can speak to snakes. Then
Harry starts hearing mysterious voices that no one else can hear. When bloody messages appear on the walls, things get darker and a sense of dread descends on the school. Someone has opened the chamber of secrets.

As the plot develops, mudbloods, muggle-born wizards and witches, begin to be attacked and become petrified literally . When it is clear that only the heir of Slytherin can open this chamber, suspicion falls on Harry the parselmouth. So, it becomes the job of Harry, Ron and Hermione to get to the truth before anything more serious befalls the students and the school.

When Hermione herself gets attacked, Harry bewails his need for her mental acuities. She is the smart one, after all. But it is Dumbledore who comforts him: "It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices." So, once again, choice is a key issue in a Harry Potter film. But while it was mostly passive choice in the fist film, here it is active choice. And through those choices comes evidence of character. Harry (and Ron) choose to follow the paths of goodness, even when this leads them into danger. Facing their fears, their choices take them into the lair of monsters. Choice indeed reveals character. Jesus said it in his sermon on the mount: "By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matt. 7:20). The fruit of our lives is the result of our choices and displays who we really are.

Although Chamber of Secrets is more fun to watch than Sorcerer's Stone, it is still like the Ford Anglia, not firing on all cylinders. Watson overacts as Hermione. This could be overlooked in Sorcerer's Stone with so much novelty. But here it is distracting. And her best scene is when she is frozen in bed. Further, the dialog that the actors have to work with is too often cheesy. And then there is the poor quality of cgi rendering Dobby. He just does not look real. Unlike Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, Dobby is not a believable creature.

A key issue raised in Chamber of Secrets is the value of a name. When Harry first meets the menacing Malfoy senior, Lucius says, peering at his famous scar, "Forgive me, your scar is legend. As, of course, is the wizard who gave it to you." Harry mentioning the name that remains nameless, responds, "Voldemort killed my parents." When Malfoy retorts, "You must be very brave to mention his name. Or very foolish," Hermione jumps in, "Fear of a name only increases the fear of the thing itself." Most wizards except Harry would not mention Voldemort's name. They lived in fear of the name and of the wizard that the name represented. The Israelites in the Old Testament also refused to mention the name of the LORD, Yahweh. Even when writing his name in the Torah, they dropped the vowels and used only the four consonants "YHWH," which is often referred to as the tetragrammaton.

God's name, as most biblical names, bears a meaning. It symbolizes all that the person is and was. Yahweh means "I am who I am" (Exod. 3:14). This name indicates his pre-existence, before all things. There are other names (and titles) for God scattered throughout the Old and New Testaments, and they illustrate different facets of his character.

Fear of Voldemort is one thing; fear of the Lord is another. Proverbs 1:7 says "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge." Later, it is said to be the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). This is a healthy fear, a respectful fear. It is right to fear God. However, it is not the kind of fear that drives us away from him in hiding. Rather, it is the kind of fear that forces us to take care in our choices so that we might live to glorify God. This fear is a form of awe, as we realize who God is: the holy one (1 Pet. 1:16), the one who created all (Heb. 11:3), the one who will judge all (2 Tim. 4:1). Contrasting the fear of Satan and his accomplices with the fear of God, Jesus tells his disciples, and by extension his followers today, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matt. 10:28). Like Harry, we need to not be afraid of the Voldemorts in our lives. Instead, we must fear the name of the Lord.

Copyright ©2008, Martin Baggs

1 comment: