Sunday, 17 July 2011

Harry Potter and the Unsettling Omissions

Obvious statement: there are things to love and things to hate about the new Harry Potter movie. Some changes they made, such as the shield around the castle, were fun and even sensible. Others, such as the omission of the confrontation in the Ravenclaw Common Room and the long, drawn out fight against Voldemort at the end, were disappointing and aggravating. But what disturbs me is what happens when we line certain changes next to each other.

The changed parts under consideration:

- Hermoine speaking to Griphook
Hermoine never mentions to Griphook how she is as much an outsider to Voldemort as goblins are, as she is a Mudblood.
- Neville filling Harry & co. in as to what has happened at Hogwarts
Neville fails to mention how Muggle Studies has changed to how Muggles are inferior creatures. Furthermore, the Cruciatus Curse is used on first years instead of Muggle-born students.
- The Snape flashback
Snape’s anti-Muggle prejudice is omitted, as is his memory of calling Lily a “mudblood.” Instead of becoming a complex, flawed character who is still a bigot, he becomes another savior figure. Lily’s understandable (though tragic) choice to leave Snape is undone and instead she is a fickle girl who goes for the hot jerk. Rowling in an interview said that that was the moment where Snape lost Lily. Thus the film omitted from Snape’s past what was probably its most crucial moment.
- Dumbledore’s backstory
There is no mention of Grindelwald’s backstory, leaving us no idea how Dumbledore got the Elder Wand. Furthermore, this means that there is no mention of Grindelwald’s “Muggles are inferior” beliefs, nor can there be any allusions to Dumbledore’s love.
- Neville’s stand against Voldemort
Voldemort does not commend Neville’s status as a wizard from a pureblood family. Also, Neville gives a long speech about how Harry’s heart lives inside of everyone even if he is dead.
- Luna and Neville end up together
This addition not only is never alluded to in the books, but even goes directly against who Rowling said the two marry in interviews.

Any of these parts taken under consideration individually would seem reasonable perhaps. I might take umbrage (or even Umbridge) at the grotesque mishandling of Snape’s backstory and Neville’s Oscar speech, which was a heavy-handed waste of time that could have better been used showing Harry repairing his original wand, but whatever. However, when all of these are lined up together, we see a systematic deletion of the Pureblood agenda from the last film.

This deletion is pretty surprising, especially when one considers that this is the central ideological conflict of the book series. The final movie would make one believe that the fight is not about a pureblooded Wizard community vs. an inclusive one, but simply the Evil Wizards vs. Harry Potter (as underlined by Neville’s speech).

The bad Wizards must be exterminated so that the good ones may live. Harry never tries to reason with Voldemort. He does not try to get him to repent to save his soul. We do not even know in this version if he casts the harmless “expelliarmus” when he kills Voldemort. Harry in this version is out for blood, as are many of the “good guys.” This film is not one about tolerance; it’s one about cleaning house. It’s not a film about inclusivity; it’s about getting rid of everyone who stands in your way. Even the Malfoys don’t have a place at table in the final celebration.

Why is this film giving up Rowling’s message of tolerance, a message so prevalent in the books I used to accuse it of being heavy-handed? Because, ultimately, this film is a very conservative film. In this climate of tea-partiers running Congress and Mormon vampire tales ruling the box office, perhaps a bleeding heart film about love of those who are different is not the smartest financial strategy. Notice that the filmmakers even ensure that Dumbledore cannot be gay, since he has no one in his backstory with whom to be gay. There must not be the slightest hint of anything that could keep the red states from inflating the box office gross.

Bigotry is fine. It is not a trait of the bad guys. It’s not directed against the good, smart people like Hermione. It is not something that could lose you the love of your life. It will never try to tempt you to the wrong side by telling you that you would benefit from it. Perhaps bigotry is more than fine…perhaps it just doesn’t exist.

So what does the film leave us in its place? The compulsive, aggressive heterosexual coupling we see enforced on Neville and Luna (a single boy and a single girl can never just be friends!). And we now have a new enemy. We have the flamboyant, foppish Other, whose skin and facial structure is very different from the straight, white kids he is terrorizing. Instead of Hitler, Voldemort is everything that Hitler would decry in a frantic speech. He is a freak of nature, a sexual pervert who in a moment of near-pedophilia gets grabby with Draco Malfoy (again, not in the book!). In the final fight, he ties up Harry like a good bondage master and terrorizes the other children with his very large, very aggressive…snake.

Note how daintily Voldemort holds his wand

Thus we have Voldemort as the abject figure. The abject racial other. And the abject homosexual who endangers the future. Lee Edelman in No Future argues that:

…in the uncannily intimate connection between Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort [we see in the Child] a Symbolic resistance to the unmarried men…who embody, as Voldemort’s name makes clear, a wish, a will, or a drive toward death that entails the destruction of the Child. (Edelman 21)

Edelman wrote No Future before the final three Harry Potter books were released, three books which turned the tables, making Voldemort the one obsessed with living forever, whereas Harry underwent a thanatopsis. In the final book, we learned that no one should want to live forever, that to be a true master of Death is to accept its inevitability.

The movie however fulfills Edelman’s argument. Harry never really dies. Instead, futurity is hammered into our heads. Neville’s speech leads us to believe that even when hit with an Avada Kedavra curse, Harry still lives. Everyone carries a piece of Harry. Whereas the book had Harry “die” to protect the people of Hogwarts with his love, the film has Harry “die” only to turn every person at Hogwarts into his Horcrux. Voldemort is right; only one person can live forever. That person is Harry. The Child, the eternal enemy of the abject queer, will live forever. Any maturity he gains along the way, from his acceptance of his mortality to his tolerance of his enemies, must be forgotten, just as any of Peter Pan’s memories must be for the sake of his eternal childhood.

Thus, in the wake of the absent messages of tolerance, we see a film made with Death Eater ideology. A film of seeking eternity at the sake of others, a film of expelling everyone who is different from you, a film of victory through brute force, a film of omissions of difference and celebrations of purity. And, to the defense of the filmmakers, it worked. Through such careful planning, they offended no one. The offense is not even clear except when placed carefully against the book. Instead, everyone loves it and the film is on its way to earning enough money to warrant a rather large vault in Gringotts.

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