Friday, January 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire -- loneliness and unforgivable sins

Director: Mike Newell, 2005.

With the series' first British director (Newell, Love in the Time of Cholera) at the helm, Goblet of Fire carries us into the fourth year of Harry Potter's education at Hogwarts. With the series fully developed, there is no need for introductions or recaps. Indeed, there is no mention of the Dursleys, so prominent in the early parts of the first two films. This is a movie focused on wizards and the darkening gloom descending on the wizarding world. Even the opening scene is dark, showing a secret meeting between Voldemort and his closest followers. The tone is set.

After this pre-credit sequence, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) join the Weasley family at the Quidditch World Cup Final, arriving by portkey, a new plot device that has two key roles here. This is the only portrayal of quidditch in this movie, another sign that Harry's days of fun are starting to wind down. And we don't actually see any quidditch. It does, however, introduce Viktor Krum (Stanislav Ianevski), the world-famous Hungarian seeker. the match, and while wizards are reliving the exploits of the players, Death Eaters descend on the scene and set ablaze the host of tents where the visitors are camped. With flaming fields and chaos as people are running scared, the "Dark Mark" is seen in the sky. This is Voldemort's symbol and a sign that his power is returning, a sign the Ministry of Magic wants to ignore, even forget.

With this as an introduction and dire backdrop, the new year at Hogwarts is enhanced by the presence of pupils from two other schools: the beautiful young woman of Beauxbatons and the strong young men, including Krum, of Durmstrang. They are staying the year at Hogwarts since the school is hosting the famous Triwizard Tournament."Eternal glory! That's what awaits the student who wins The Triwizard Tournament, but to accomplish this that student must survive three tasks. Three EXTREMELY DANGEROUS tasks," says Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon). It is assumed that the reward of eternal glory is a huge motivation for these adolescents and almost-adults. Transient glory often accompanies victory at events, such as sporting competitions. But that glory fades as quickly as the morning mist, so that we can barely remember who won a year later, let alone decades or centuries after the fact. Eternal glory would remain, extending past death. But eternal glory is due to God alone: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power for ever and ever!" (Rev. 5:13) Such eternal glory is not ours to strive for nor to receive. We are not worthy and will never merit such honor. We are, instead, to offer such praise to Jesus and the Father who alone are worthy.

The Triwizard tournament is open to three wizards, one from each school, who are over the age of 17. But when the goblet of fire kicks out a fourth name, that of underage Harry Potter, something wicked is afoot. Harry claims his innocence, "I didn't put my name in that cup! I don't want eternal glory, just wanna be . . . " normal. Harry has already had his fill of notoriety and the visibility and responsibility that ensue. Against his wishes he must take part in the tournament. However, he is suspected by almost everyone of magically cheating to make this happen.

This brings up one of the early issues in the Goblet of Fire -- loneliness. Virtually the whole school turns away from Harry. Even his closest friends Ron and Hermione disbelieve him and abandon him. He is isolated. And he cannot forget it since most of the students sport "Potter Stinks" badges. Knowing he is innocent, Harry still has to endure almost a third of the year friendless. Only Dumbledore and Sirius Black, his godfather, believe him but they are not in positions to overtly do much. This is a difficult situation for a teenager, who feeds off peers. It can be so for us, if we are abandoned unfairly. It was infinitely so for Jesus, the Lord of all. Isaiah prophetically describes Jesus, the suffering servant: "He was despised and rejected by men." (Isa. 53:3). Loneliness can be traumatic, leaving a hole in the heart. Triwizard tournament becomes the stage for the rest of the film. The three challenges, involving dragons, lake-creatures and mazes, focus the narrative. Brendan Gleason plays Mad Eye Moody, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, who is pivotal in helping Harry. Mysterious and reckless, Moody appears more related to the students than the faculty.

In one of his lessons, he gives demonstrations of the three unforgivable curses. These are curses that are never to be used, but were employed by Voldemort and his henchmen in his earlier drive for power. Against the students' wishes, and probably violating school regulations and even ministry law (that's the whole point of being unforgivable), he does them.

Unforgivable actions is another ethical issue. Jesus tells us there is an unforgivable sin. "I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." (Matt. 12:31). The generally accepted interpretation in Christan thought is that this is focusing on apostasy. According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, this "is best viewed as a total and persistent denial of the presence of God in Christ. It reflects a complete recalcitrance of the heart. Rather than a particular act, it is a disposition of the will." Defying and resisting the work of the Holy Spirit in the mission of Jesus over time causes a hardening of heart, and this resultant hardness leads to the unforgiveable sin. climax is powerful and thrilling. Bringing closure to the earlier graveyard scene, Harry witnesses the rise of Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). "He-Who-Shall-Not-be-Named" becomes "He-Who-Has-Now-Been-Seen" with a new body and a snake-like face. With the re-embodiment of evil, everything is likely to change. This is a portent of things to come in future installments. But, even in reality, the introduction of evil and sin into the world in the Garden of Eden caused everything to change (Gen. 3). Innocence was eradicated, paradise lost. The quiet shameless walks with God was replaced with guilty hiding from him. Sin found its place in the human heart and has not been removed since. The human story changed, although there is a future hope of victory (Rev. 19-21).

Afterwards, in the denouement, Dumbledore tells Harry, "Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy." Choice, an overarching theme in this film series, shows up once again. As the Sorting Hat chose Harry for Gryfindor in The Sorcerer's Stone, so the Goblet of Fire chose Harry as a Triwizard champion here. And as Harry had to make choices, of friends and of actions, in the first two movies, so the scene is set for future choices: right or easy. Life is full of such choices, even for us. To take the easy road or the path less traveled which harbors snares and dangers. It may not be easy but it is the right path, the moral choice. As Jesus said, "narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matt. 7:14)

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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