Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

To Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II last night, an interesting puzzle for auteurists. It is incredible to me that in order to understand this series you have to invest more time than you would watching The Sorrow and the Pity, but there it is. Eight movies, four different directors. Only two screenwriters, but is there really any question that the auteur of the Harry Potter movies is Rowling herself? This seems odd to me, but I think it must be so-- although Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell and David Yates all had distinctive enough styles in the end the universe that Rowling has created is so dense and rich that a director confronted with it is forced to invent ways to include as much of it as possible, if only by reference, or in the background. Creative choices and editing are usually decisions about what to exclude, what to leave unseen or unsaid, but I have no doubt that these movies have more packed into them than anyone could see without a Movieola.

The entire Harry Potter phenomenon has been an interesting thing to observe. An entire generation-- as it happens, the generation that my daughters belong to -- has grown up with these books and these movies. Interestingly, that generation also includes the actors who portray the principal characters. It is nice that Matthew Lewis, who plays Neville Longbottom grew up to be such a good looking guy-- there is a lesson there that a lot of people don't learn until their tenth high school reunion. So what does it mean? Having been marked by this series, what will the Harry Potter generation take away from the experience? As fond as I am of the books they seemed to me to get woolier and woolier as they went on, more and more ad hoc. One interesting way that the movies differed from the books was that they were a little tighter as narrative, with a clearer sense that there was an actual narrative arc being constructed. I may be wrong about this, but there were times reading the books when it seemed to me that Rowling wasn't sure where exactly her narrative was taking her, and relied for long stretches on her inventiveness to carry it while she worked out where the hell the thing was going. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that-- I have lots of Sonny Rollins albums that sound like that's what he's doing. But this is a story, and stories have beginnings, middles and ends. Stories are told to show us something. What is the Harry Potter story supposed to be about? One thing that strikes me is that, unlike Disney movies, these stories seem to be about the strength of a mother's love. Harry's mother saves him, of course-- but so does Molly Weasley, and even Narcissa Malfoy. Fathers, interestingly, are less dependable. Harry's father was a bully and kind of a jerk. Is there any doubt that Lucius Malfoy insisted on naming his son Draco? Luna Lovegood's father is useless and weak, and Dumbledore, the supreme father figure of the series, is at the very least calculating and oblique. We see at the end that Harry has become none of these things, but it is, I think, because he has absorbed the lessons from the women around him that has done so.

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