7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I

Speaking of Maggie Smith clucking disapprovingly and long pauses where people think about their feelings…

Y’know, when they announced that the last Harry Potter book was going to be split up into two parts, I was wholly against it.  I seemed to  be the only one – everyone else would note that “so much happens in the last book!” To which I would reply, “No, nothing happens in the final book!”  (I’m a great conversationalist).

But my point was valid. The final Harry Potter book’s plot goes something like this: Harry and his friends hide in the woods while they search for the hidden Horcruxes. They wander around for a while, not finding Horcruxes and bickering. Then they go to Hogwarts, find all the Horcruxes, there’s a big battle, and they kill Voldemort (whoa, spoiler alert!).  That’s the whole book. Considerably more happens in Books Four, Five, and Six, but all of those were able to be weeded down to single movies. How much time can you really spend watching three kids wander through the woods?

Evidently, quite a while. Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part I is 146 minutes long, and seems perfectly content to move a slower pace in order to focus more on the characters and their struggles. And I loved it. I’ve completely switched camps, which is ironic because all the people I was arguing with about it not needing to be two movies also switched camps. Most people I discuss the film with had the same complaint: it was way too slow for them.

I couldn’t disagree more. Part of the fun of the Potter books is getting to spend time with the characters, to interact with them as they work to defeat whatever plot Voldemort has cooked up that year and deals with yet another untrustworthy Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher (whoa, spoiler alert!). Each of the movies strips away all the details, all the interactions, and all the quirks, and just says “what do we need to hit in order for this movie to make sense?” For once, we got to experience the characters’ journey with them, rather than jumping frenetically from action sequence to action sequence. If you’ll forgive the snobbishness, this may be the first Harry Potter movie that is actually a film (I’ll admit, that was a terribly snooty thing say. I vomited a little inside).  But there’s a great scene midway through the movie where Harry tries to cheer up Hermoine by dancing with her to Nick Cave’s “O Children,” the two of them trying to cover the other’s sadness with false cheerfulness, but neither of them is capable of overcoming the weight of the burden on both of them. It’s a moment of such emotional maturity from a series where the characters used to spend their time whizzing around on broomsticks and cheerily buying Puking Pastilles.

There’s a scene in the Lord of the Rings movies where a voiceover explains that Frodo has realized “that the quest will claim his life,” spelling out clearly for the audience the stakes of the character’s quest. This movie, God bless it, never spells that out. It’s a film about death, really – three characters venture into the woods in order to complete a mission that will almost certainly claim their lives. Two of them are ready for that, the other needs the whole movie to come to terms with that reality.

Of course, the movie never really says so explicitly. But from the very first moment we see our main characters on the screen, we watch them cut ties with their lives in preparation for death. Harry wanders through an empty house, saying goodbye to the last remainder of his life. Hermoine erases herself from her parents’ minds and her image out of her picture frames. It’s a sad image to start a children’s movie – watching teenagers put their affairs in order before their mission claims their life.  And it’s remarkable that a children’s movie so implicitly trusts it audience to understand its message: some things are worth dying for.