Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) was dashed to his death from the Hogwarts Astronomy Tower near the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, two movies ago. In this, the eighth and final outing, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, the professor appears to Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) in a mystical limbo. Here, Harry must decide to die or return to earth to continue fighting the evil Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes). “You wonderful boy,” Dumbledore greets him. “You brave, brave man.”
Yes, the boy wizard has grown up. He’s got stubble on his chin, a fiancé in-waiting, and his destiny to face. Many of us can mark time with Harry Potter’s journey. My neighborhood pal was in junior high when he began accompanying me to the Harry Potter screenings–soon he graduates from Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island and then is off to Afghanistan. So young. Like Harry Potter, he has learned from worthy mentors and is now old enough to face adult terrors.
Lord Voldemort and his horrible minions, including sadistic femme fatale Bellatrix Lestrange (Helena Bonham Carter) and the other soul-sucking Death Eaters, have become masters of both the Magical and the Muggle worlds. Misery and destruction ensue, draped in the mordant black and white hues of Third Reich newsreels. Years ago, to make himself immortal, Voldemort murdered seven people and turned their life force into objects, called horcruxes.
To kill Voldemort, Harry, Hermione (Emma Watson), and Ron (Rupert Grint) must find the hidden horcruxes and destroy them. Hermione, the brainy strategist, insists they create a plan. “Hermione,” Harry cries, “When have any of our plans actually ever worked? We plan, we get there, all hell breaks loose!”
True to form, outrageous obstacles thwart their way–an inferno-spitting dragon, a duplicitous goblin, a trolley ride into the bowels of the earth, and an army of stomping ogres–to mention a few. There’s occasional levity, such as when Helena Bonham Carter hilariously plays Hermione trying to imitate herself as Bellatrix Lestrange. In the midst of a fierce battle, Maggie Smith as Professor McGonagall pulls off a spell to create mammoth stone soldiers. “I always wanted to do that spell!” she giggles. There’s even time for romance– Hermione and Ron kiss–finally.
Though the malevolent Voldemort dominates Deathly Hallows, the adult character who steals it is Severus Snape, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, played with slithering gravitas by Alan Rickman. As he lays dying, Snape insists that Harry gather some of his tears. Harry pours them into the pensieve, whose inky waters reveal Snape’s true nature. In a series where betrayal happens at every turn, it’s touching to learn that one long love secret has been kept.
At Hogwarts, David Yates (who directed the previous three Potter films) lets out all his cinematic tricks to create a truly epic, spectacular battle between the magical forces of good and evil. Details often determine the outcome of war. Such as when Narcissa Malfoy, mother of Harry’s sworn enemy Draco (Tom Felton), sees that a badly injured Harry is still breathing but announces he’s dead in order to give Harry time to recover. Gangly Neville Chamberlain (Matthew Lewis) emerges as a surprising new hero, wielding the magical sword that saves the day.
What’s always been inherent in J.K. Rowling’s wondrous tale is that it really is a Christian allegory. Good and evil are in constant battle–and when good wins, it gathers strength to fight evil another day. Self-sacrifice is the essence of true love and such love lives beyond the grave. Friends are loyal, honest and brave. Young people respect their elders.
At Hogwarts, the greatest virtue is imagination. As Dumbledore says to Harry, “Of course, it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it’s not real?”