Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Part 1, has been receiving very good, and well-deserved, reviews, and raked in 330 million dollars at the box office on its opening weekend. It’s an extremely entertaining film, and in almost every aspect comes close to matching the value of the book. As must be, the film has to do some things differently from the book, not least having to end at the mid-point, but the film’s artistic choices rarely leave one unsatisfied. There is a lot of story to cover, even to include just half of J.K. Rowling’s massive, 759-page seventh volume in her epic tale, and the film covers it well, albeit at a breakneck pace.
But David Yates, the director, and Steve Kloves, the screenwriter, did make a few artistic decisions that left me unsatisfied… (SPOILER WARNING: if you haven’t seen the film and do not want to hear specifics about it, now is the time to stop reading, hopefully to return after you’ve seen it.)
I didn’t think it right, first of all, that the film chose not to portray the Dursley’s departure, especially Dudley’s and Harry’s final farewell, where the two boys make a certain peace with one another. The Dursley’s play such an important role both in the books and in the films, they deserved better here at the end. Also, I liked the scene (not in the book) where Harry and Hermione, after Ron runs out on them, relieve the tedium and frustration of their search for the horcruxes by dancing playfully to a song on the radio—it’s just the sort of thing that two lonely and bored teenagers, even ones with feelings for other people, would do in such a situation. But I didn’t think the embrace of the Riddle-Harry and Riddle-Hermione in the scene where Ron destroys the horcrux-locket with the sword of Godric Gryffindor needed the Riddle-Harry and Riddle-Hermione to be—even in highly-stylized fashion—nude. This goes farther than the book (see Chapter 19, “The Silver Doe”), and takes the film beyond the level of appropriateness, in this parent’s opinion, for children, say, under fourteen. But then again, I think the book itself is not appropriate for children under fourteen.
But perhaps most noteworthy of all, the film hollows out the beautiful Christian imagery that J.K. Rowling builds into one of the most moving chapters of the book, Chapter 16, “Godric’s Hollow,” where Harry and Hermione (before Ron returns) travel to Harry’s birthplace of Godric’s Hollow to search for the sword of Godric Gryffindor. The film does have Harry and Hermione pass a Christian church, where we hear the congregation singing a Christmas carol, and Hermione does observe that it’s Christmas Eve. But then the film ignores the words on the gravestone of Kendra and Ariana Dumbledore: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” a direct translation of Matthew 6:21. And it also ignores the words on the gravestone of Harry’s parents: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” from 1 Corinthians 15:26. Most of all, however, the film leaves out Rowling’s image from pp. 324-325 of the book: “Behind the church, row upon row of snowy tombstones protruded from a blanket of pale blue that was flecked with dazzling red, gold, and green wherever the reflections from the stained glass hit the snow.” As my friend John O’Callaghan, professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, has pointed out, this image clearly attempts to persuade us of the way in which the light of Christian revelation (in red, gold and green), flowing out from the church in the midst of her liturgy, illuminates and vivifies the human flesh that, to paraphrase St. Peter in his First Letter, withers like the grass beneath the snow and the gravestones. It would have been lovely if this beautiful, intensely cinematic, and profoundly Christian, image from Rowling’s book would have made it into the film.
These are my criticisms. Yet there is much in the film that I do very much like, not least David Yates’s decision to go in many scenes with a Cinéma vérité approach, which gives the film a tenser, grittier, more realistic texture that jibes very well with the darker themes of the story. An interesting "anatomy of a scene" by David Yates—of the scene where Harry, Ron and Hermione fight the Death Eaters in the café on the Tottenham Court Road (in the film, Shaftesbury Avenue)—is currently available on the New York Times website. In this analysis Yates discusses his decision to employ Cinéma vérité.
I’d love to hear what you liked, or didn’t like, about the film. Meanwhile, have a wonderful Thankgiving and I’ll be back with you next week.