Friday, 22 July 2011

There's something about Lily

Is it just me, or does virtually every bloke in the Harry Potter films have a slightly creepy - and slightly morbid - obsession with the mother of the Boy Who Lived? Far more universally adored than Harry himself, she is continually dragged back from the dead into discussions by most, if not all, of the male characters who knew her at school. In fact, by the time we reach The Deathly Hallows, "You have your mother's eyes" has, become something of a refrain throughout the series, to the point where Remus Lupin is able to recognise Harry from his "mother's eyes" alone, and Harry himself wearily finishes off the adoring sentiments of his mother's many fans, including both her teachers and her fellow students:

"You're eyes, they're..."

"My mother's. Yeah, I know."

I'm not sure if this eyes thing featured so prominently in the books. Perhaps it's just more noticeable in the films because of the compressed time frame. In any case, the ironic thing is that after they've all banged on about it for seven years, it turns out that Harry's eyes aren't actually his mother's at all - not even metaphorically. In the eighth film, we finally get a glimpse, via the pensieve, of the young Lily who, at least according to Snape's memories, has big, brown eyes. In fact, it would have been pretty difficult to find an actress with a pair of eyes more different to Daniel Radcliffe's. At the very least they could have coloured them digitally.

Other than that, however, David Yates has once again done a fantastic job. The last two films have, I think, far outshone their predecessors (much as I enjoyed them all), and I think that more than anything this is down to good direction. Neither of The Deathly Hallows films have demonstrated any reluctance to pick up on, and even develop further, the much darker and slightly political resonances of the later novels. The Ministry of Magic in Part 1 was even slightly Orwellian. And yet they've still managed to maintain the sense of magic and wonder and the optimistic spirit that first captured my ten-year-old heart.

I'm not one to geek out about minor changes or to be scary and fangirly. I'll admit to loving the Harry Potter books, but not uncritically, and not without an awareness that Rowling couldn't possibly have had any idea where she was going the series when she started writing the Philosopher's Stone, other than, of course, that the series would have to end in a big showdown between Harry and Lord Voldemort (to quote Harry in the most recent film, "Let's finish this how we started it, Tom - together"). Nevertheless, her style does pick up and accrue more depth as she goes along, which worked quite nicely for people of my generation, who grew up along with Harry and his friends. The slightly two-dimensional, archetypal figures from the first couple of books gradually develop into more complex characters, with touching - and sometimes disturbing - backstories. As I suspect is the case with most grown-up "fans", if that's not too much of a contradiction in terms, my favourite characters are now easily Snape and Dumbledore, both of whom undergo quite a dramatic process of revelation and reassessment in the later stories. Far from having always been the twinkly old Merlin we've grown to love, we learn, along with Harry, and much to his dismay, that Dumbledore's past is as shady as midnight in Knockturn Alley, and his offences seem to far outweigh the mistakes made by the hard-done-by, lovesick and embittered potions master. We begin to get the sense - though things are never made wholly explicit - that Dumbledore's identification with the young Tom Riddle probably went further than he'd like to admit. Though in Harry he recognises similar power, and similarly headstrong characteristics, we feel that he really means it when he speaks to his protégé as if he were the better wizard - by virtue of being the better man. Conversely, Snape reveals his hidden depths in the form of love and compassion, having suffered for love of Lily, and then put his life on the line for the sake of his rival's hated offspring. In Yates' film, these complexities emerge, variously obscured and clarified.

Snape's story is heart wrenching: it is the dying man's last tears (he is killed, not instantly with a curse, but slowly and painfully by means of repeated spells and snake attacks), that Harry must take to the pensieve in order to learn the truth. And his dying words? "You have your mother's eyes." Naturally.

Less explicitly, the darkness in Dumbledore is alluded to both at the wedding in the previous film, where an elderly guest forces Harry to question whether or not he knew Dumbledore at all, and again in the latest film, by Aberforth, Albus's brother, whom Hermione, Ron and Harry encounter in Hogsmeade. Aberforth tells them that his brother "sacrificed a great many things" in his pursuit of power, including his own sister - though no further information is either offered or asked for. In the books, of course, this backstory is expanded to explain Dumbledore's fraught love/hate relationship with his friend and rival, the "dark wizard" Grindelwald. And given Rowling's own comments regarding the headmaster's hypothetical sexuality, it's easy to see this relationship as being as suffocatingly intimate as that between Lord Voldemort and Harry, who houses a piece of the former's soul. Despite this, however, we are provided with only a brief overview of this past, almost none of which is supplied by Dumbledore himself, and thus entirely excludes his own opinions and feelings. In cutting down these references to a younger Dumbledore, Yates conveys the same sense of frustration at Dumbledore's deliberate secrecy and concealment.

The use of CGI, too was impressive. Of course, it is undeniable that this film will have had one of the highest budgets in the industry at present. Nevertheless, costly doesn't necessarily mean good, as anyone who's seen a Transformers trailer recently could tell you. What is important is that special effects are used responsibly, rather than excessively. The Gringott's dragon was stunning, and the big finalé felt properly apocalyptic. It's always the small things that count in the end, and one of my favourite things visually was the after-battle debris. Papery flakes of ash floated through the air in one of the most delicate and appropriate uses of 3D I've seen: most of the time, 3D just proves annoying and unnecessary. There, it was glorious. It was such a good ending, that I wished they'd left it there. Of course, they were never going to...

The "19 Years Later" section was, unfortunately, as cheesy, laughable, and gratuitous as anyone who has read the books would have expected. Not one of the all early-twenties actors looked even nearly old enough to have children starting secondary school, despite some hopeless efforts at stubble, paunches, old-farty clothes and, in Ginny's case, an attempt to give her a post-baby chest (bear in mind the actress still looks about thirteen). The worst of the lot was poor Tom Felton, whose "grown-up" Draco seemed to be sporting little more than a ridiculous fake beard as a marker of age. Still...

While I'm on the subject of age, here's a little bit of interesting trivia. Alan Rickman is actually more than ten years older than all of the actors he's supposed to be the same age as, more than fifteen years older than David Thewlis (Lupin) and Geraldine Somerville (Lily). In fact, he's a mere five years younger than the ancient, grandfatherly headmaster, played by Michael Gambon, and considerably older than his brother Aberforth, played by Ciaran Hinds. It just goes to show you that it's not long before those things stop mattering, however silly everyone looked in "19 Years Later".

1 comment:

  1. I always imagined that they meant it more literally - Harry always carries around a little bag containing his mother's eyes for good luck or something. The folk that say to Harry that he has his mother's eyes, they aren't saying it with fascination, they're saying it with disgust.