Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince -- Unbreakable vows

Director: David Yates, 2009.

The Harry Potter phenomenon is back with this sixth installment of the series.Yates, who directed the last one (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) is back at the helm, and will bring this epic to a close directing the remaining two films.

Prince picks up where Phoenix left off, without need for re-introductions. We know who the characters are. We remember the gripping conclusion of the fifth film: Voldemort is back, Death Eaters are on the prowl, evil is raising its ugly head. The effects are even being felt in the world of muggles. The opening scene here offers a dazzling display of special effects, following several death eaters on their whirlwind flight above and through the streets and alleys of London.

The series has come a long way. The CGI is impressive and believable. The acting has matured as the young actors have developed. Of course, surrounding them with the best of British thespians and leaving them there for almost a decade obviously has had an impact.

When Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione (Emily Watson) return to Hogwarts, there is a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: Severus Snape (Alan Rickman). He has moved from Potions, and Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) has been enticed by Headmaster Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) to return as Potions Teacher. Joining Slughorn's potions class, Harry gets an old textbook with the inscription, "This book is the property of the Half-Blood Prince." Hence the film title. Prince details Harry's twofold mission: to find out who this Half-Blood Prince is, and to recover a memory.

Now that this trio of wizards is beyond puberty, romance is in the air in a strong way. This is one of the downfalls of this film. After the terrific start that is dark and dizzying, the movie turns light and comic, a mood that seems out of place given the circumstances. The first hour is focused on love interests that slow the plot down. Several of the scenes seem unnecessary and don't add much to the narrative development. What makes good reading in the book does not always make good viewing at the cineplex. However, the final half-hour is exciting and emotional, with a shocking ending.

Despite these criticisms, the film has some strong scenes. Most of these involve either Bellatrix Lestrange or the interchange between Dumbledore and Harry. Helena Bonham Carter brings a seductive malevolence to Lestrange which makes her perhaps the best wicked woman in recent movie history.

One particular scene has Harry and Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) running through rippling fields of wheat in pursuit of Lestrange only to find themselves enticed in a trap. With more than a nod to Signs, this is one of the creepiest moments, and involves one of the few fight scenes in this film.

For all that, good versus evil is the recurring theme weaving its way through Prince. Harry Potter stands for good; Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) represents evil. Both these characters seem to pull away from their two close friends (Ron and Hermione, Crabbe and Goyle), so that they are much more isolated than in previous films. It is almost a classic mano-a-mano for these two teens.

As in earlier Potter films, choice is a key issue. Here, though, it is choice in the passive sense of being chosen. In response to a comment from Hermione, Harry says, "But I am the Chosen One." He has a sense of his role in the impending confrontation. If Harry is chosen on the side of good, Draco is the flip-side of the coin: "Voldemort has chosen Draco Malfoy for a mission." Both are chosen.

This sense of chosen-ness illustrates the imagery of Harry as a Christ-figure and Draco (and later Voldemort) as an anti-Christ figure. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate chosen one (Lk. 23:35). He fought the battle of good vs evil at the cross, where evil appeared to gain victory on "Good Friday" only to be conquered on Easter Sunday (resurrection day). Though the final battle is yet to come, good has triumphed thanks to this chosen one. He, in turn, has chosen us to follow him in this life (Jn. 15:19), experiencing victory even when circumstances make it look like defeat. In submitting to Jesus, trusting him and obeying his will, we can experience the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10).

Speaking of obedience and trust, the best scene in the movie comes close to the start when trust is required. When Bellatrix Lestrange brings Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory), Draco's mother, to see Snape, she slithers around him like a femme fatale, whispering "sweet" words in his ear until she finally commands, "Make the unbreakable vow." And this vow looks much like a wedding vow, with the couple standing hand in hand.

This raises the topic of "unbreakable vows" for us. In pledging ourselves in marriage, a pre-Fall biblical institution (Gen. 2:23-24), we commit to live as husband and wife until death. This is our unbreakable vow. Yet, how often is this vow broken, leaving a trail of heart-ache and devastation in its wake? Like Snape, we must enter into such vows with a sense of trepidation and holiness. As followers of Jesus, we stand on hallowed ground when we say our wedding vows "before God". To break the unbreakable should be unthinkable.

The unbreakable vow also makes us think about the promises of God which are his unbreakable vows. He has promised sinners a forgiveness that heals and purifies (1 Jn. 1:9). To all who would receive him and trust him, He has promised a place in his family as children of God (Jn. 1:12). He has promised these followers a love that is unbreakable (Jn. 3:16). He promised that nothing could separate them from this love (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, the Bible has a plethora of promises from the God of creation. But perhaps the most surprising and incredible promise is that he would be with us forever (Matt. 28:20), puttnig himself in us ("Christ in you, the hope of glory", Col. 1:27), giving us the very fullness of his being (Col. 2:9-10). He who could not be contained by space is now contained in these fragile and earthy clay jars of ours (2 Cor. 4:7).

Our job, in this life, is to obey what Dumbledore commanded Harry and Jesus commands us: "Trust me!"

Copyright ©2009, Martin Baggs

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