Monday, July 27, 2009

Harry Potter & The Half Blood Prince

I have avoided writing about Harry Potter. So much is written already by so many others. I could not resist this latest installment though.

Cinematically, the whole series has been impressive. The frame is always used beautifully, and in "Half Blood Prince" is extremely effective. This is the art of cinema. When done well, a film is clean, beautiful and evocative. The film student will probably hufflepuff the whole idea, but I believe the images from the Potter movies to be some of the finest being shot in films today. As an example, the scenes with the bird cage and Draco Malfoy are simple, yet evocative. Draco is caged. An obvious metaphor, but the beauty of the shots really makes you think about the whole situation. He is torn amongst childhood, his being chosen by Voldemort and trying to live up to his family's sinister past. He is in the cage. But the cage can quickly become empty. And he knows it, since he is the one that removes the bird. How far can he go before he makes himself disappear? Just one example from a series that abounds in beautiful shots. The mise-en-scene is not taken for granted, unlike so many other films.

The attention given to rich detail is what modern big-budget fantasy excels at. There is an exhibition of Potter film props at Chicago's Museum of Science & Industry in which the detail on every item - from costume to intricate wand details - is plainly evident. If you're a Potter fan, I hope you get to see this show.

Thematically, "Half Blood Prince" hits a very interesting note and seamlessly binds generations.

A major focus is on the memory of the elderly Horace Slughorn. A good portion of the film focuses on Slughorn telling stories from his past. The frames in these films are awash in sepia tones, the photographic color of nostalgia and age. Slughorn struggles with his reputation. He believes how he is perceived is all that remains for himin his old age.

Draco struggles with growing older and making choices. Harry struggles with the same. Dumbledore struggles to assist both of them. And Harry must convince the older Slughorn to also make the right choice, but somehow not berate him for any past indiscretions. Slughorn must understand that his reputation is not in trouble, and only the yonger Potter can help him with this. Slughorn must admit what he has done, becoming more a hero than the fool he thought he was. Being true to others allows you to be true to yourself, no matter your age. It's a nice scene when Harry holds Slughorn's hand to assist him in giving up his memory. Too often the young and old are played off each other, instead of assisting each other with their own special skills. The Potter films could be analyzed just for what they say about respect between the ages. Even here, in which Potter and friends can be slightly snarky teenagers - joking about Dumbledore's old age - Potter and friends have always impressed me as being respectful to their elders who warrant respect because they give it. They are also shown respecting each other and themselves.

Another take on this theme is how age must be responsible for at least trying to help youth, giving guidance in decision making. Though Dumbledore being a father to Harry is obvious, there are many more young wizards and witches at Hogwarts. Dumbledore tries to save Malfoy. Snape, of course, actually does.

Knowing the seventh book makes Snape a wonder to behold in this film. There is no question for me that the literary Snape is one of the great adult characters of all time. The cinematic Snape is almost equal. Alan Rickman evokes so much with so little that it is easy to overlook his work. The interiority of the literary character is not easy to bring to film. When Snape reveals he is the Half Blood Prince - all is really revealed. But nothing is obvious. And aren't we all Half Blood in the end? The struggle of light and dark is played out constantly in us. Appearances can always be deceiving.

My last comments are on a minor part of the film, but a true surprise for me. I recently completed a paper on the mythological themes from the Unicorn Tapestries, the medieval tapestries hanging in the Cloisters in NYC. The tapestries were featured twice in "Half Blood Prince" and used the themes of the unicorn hunt to perfection. It was rather odd how they combined the tapestries, but no matter. The focus was on the seventh, in which the unicorn is captured in an enclosure, under a pomegranate tree.

We see this the first time as Draco stands in front of it. The second time has Harry and Ginny in front of the tapestry. There are various interpretations of the symbolism in the tapestries, both old agricultural myths of the Holly King and Oak King, as well as Christian re-interpretations.

What came to mind with Draco was the maiden who lures the unicorn to her, only to lull it into serenity and then be killed. At the same time, the unicorn goes willingly, giving itself up so that it can bring about rebirth. Draco ponders it for a shot - perhaps never understanding that Dumbledore's death is the sacrifice that is needed. However, he has a choice. As Dumbledore says in earlier film - between what is right, and what is easy. Because his guidance is poor, Draco can only proceed with the plot to lure in the old wizard.

When Ginny and Harry stand before the tapestry, the symbolism of the unity of man and woman comes forward. The unicorn stands enclosed under a pomegranate tree, symbolizing that rebirth and ultimate redemption by giving of itself. Ginny of course is aiding Harry in ridding himself of harmful magic, even while she is declaring her love for him in the most obvious way yet. It's a quick scene, but very beautiful.

As well, the passing of Dumbledore to come can be compared to the passing of the Holly King, as it is time for a new king to take over. Quick thoughts only, but it is great to see such works being used in this series.

I will post my unicorn paper to give a more detailed analysis.

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