Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2
I open at the close.
More than once, Harry Potter has pondered the inscrutable meaning of the mysterious words scripted on his enchanted Golden Snitch.
Now the close is at hand.
Indeed, as Voldemort's vise grip tightens, the end is upon everyone Harry holds dear should he fail in his quest to vanquish his adversary. It's a last-ditch race against time as Harry, Ron, Hermione and assorted allies seek to unravel the few final mysteries that might tip the balance in Harry's favor in a final showdown.
Specifically, the trio's task involves locating the remaining Horcruxes, objects Voldemort imbued with bits of his soul. Destroy all the Horcruxes—destroy the Dark Lord. It's a quest that will plunge the threesome into the cavernous heart of Gringotts, a goblin-staffed, dragon-guarded vault. And then into a dank room of forgotten treasures beneath Hogwarts itself.
Voldemort, however, is not one to tarry. Armed with the potent Elder Wand (pilfered from Albus Dumbledore's grave), he and his minions march on Hogwarts to begin the final assault on the forces of good.
But as the story lurches inexorably toward that prophesied close, Harry uncovers a stunning secret—the key to Voldemort's undoing … as well as his own. And so he departs, alone, to meet He Who Cannot Be Named in the Forbidden Forest.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort hisses. "The boy who lived, come to die."
[Note: Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
If there's one virtue that stands out in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, it's sacrifice. Harry's sacrifice is significant, of course. But everyone who sides with him—from Ron and Hermione to looser compatriots (students and professors) at Hogwarts—also risks everything to confront the evil Voldemort personifies.
And they do so with full knowledge of the possible repercussions. Repeatedly the Dark Lord speaks in a horrific spiritual whisper that everyone can hear, devilishly tempting them to abandon Harry … and the dire fate awaiting them if they don't. Yet no one defects.
Even when Harry's dead body is presented to them, they resist still.
One of the story's most remarkable revelations involves Severus Snape's demise. Voldemort's pet snake Nagini delivers Snape's fatal blows, but Harry captures the man's tears as he passes. He magically uses them to learn about Snape's history, Dumbledore's death and the key to defeating Voldemort. And he is startled to discover that Snape had been acting as a deeply planted double agent striving to protect him.
As for Harry himself? He learns that when Voldemort killed his parents many years before, he unknowingly bequeathed part of his soul to the closest living thing at the time: the infant Harry Potter. The last Horcrux, then, is Harry himself, who must die to defeat Voldemort. Steeling himself, he makes the ultimate sacrifice by offering up his life to his nemesis.
By way of a supernatural encounter with his parents, we see poignant evidence of how important, and even sacred, family is. And the film's final scene, 19 years after the final battle, echoes those ideals as Harry and Ginny's children, along with those of Ron and Hermione, head off to Hogwarts.
As our reviews revolving around the Harry Potter books and movies have piled up over the years, Plugged In has talked at length about the role and place of magic in them. And, no surprise, there are mounds of magic here yet again, much of it in the service of warfare. What is of special importance this time around is how the eighth film deals with the subjects of death, salvation and the afterlife:
When Harry finally tells his Golden Snitch, "I am ready to die," it opens, revealing the Resurrection Stone inside. Immediately, the spirits of Harry's long-dead parents and several others show up to encourage him as he prepares to face his certain doom. Still, as he heads off to meet Voldemort alone in the forest, the weight of what he must do is heavy upon him—most likely a conscious parallel to Jesus' emotions and struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Continuing his Christ-like course, Harry dies and is then given the opportunity to return from the dead to finish the fight against evil. In the interim, he wakes in a shimmering white world (evocative of King's Cross train station) and is greeted by Albus Dumbledore, who acts as a spiritual guide there. Dumbledore implies that this afterlife is a good place for those who have chosen to love, saying, "Do not pity the dead, pity the living and all those who live without love."
Also important: Harry notices a small, goblin-like being smeared with blood underneath a bench in that way station. Dumbledore cryptically says it's a piece of Voldemort's soul—perhaps the one Harry carried within himself—but little else is said. At the very least, though, it implies that there is no beatific afterlife for those who choose the path of evil.
Putting all the pieces together, the picture of the afterlife that emerges shares broad similarities with the Christian worldview—even as it exhibits several glaring inconsistencies. There is life after death in Potter's world, and it's an existence in which the faithful are rewarded and reunited with loved ones. And as for the wicked, it doesn't seem to go well with them. What's absolutely absent, though, is any sense of who is presiding over the afterlife … and why. There is no God offering forgiveness or judgment. Instead, there's only the vague sense that "good" people go on to a good reward while evildoers do not.
At best, it's an incomplete message. At worst, it's an unbiblical affirmation that our salvation depends on our works, for better or ill, instead of depending upon a Savior who died on our behalf to accomplish what none of us could on our own.
Elsewhere, on a more temporal plane and after Voldemort's defeat, Harry ends up with the nearly omnipotent Elder Wand. Instead of using it, he chooses to break it in half and throw it away, a powerful symbolic statement about resisting the temptation to misuse the massive power it affords. Defying that last bit of positivity, however, is Harry's pursuit of critical information held by the Grey Lady, a ghost who inhabits Hogwarts.
One of Hermione's outfits, especially once wet, reveals a bit of cleavage. She and Ron kiss passionately. Harry and Ginny steal a quick smooch.
The skirmishes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 escalate here to a no-holds-barred battle royal between Voldemort's forces and Harry's allies, who are holed up at Hogwarts. The melee—both magical and physical—resembles the battle scenes in two of The Lord of the Rings films, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
The battle for Hogwarts begins with magic—both offensively and defensively. Those within create a shield around the school that keeps arrow-like spells from the Dark Lord's forces at bay—temporarily. Several ground troops unwisely try to penetrate the shield … and get incinerated.
Using the Elder Wand, Voldemort overwhelms the shield. Soon, the school's defenders—many of them still adolescents—are overrun by his bloodthirsty forces. Magic blasts and ground combat lead to casualties on both sides. A bridge full of Voldemort's forces, for example, is blown up. Meanwhile, evil wizards in Death Eater form strafe the buildings to destructive effect. Harry's friends return fire. As a result, numerous camera shots show the citadels and courtyards of Hogwarts strewn with the bodies of the dead.
Generally speaking, combat is grim but not graphic. But there are some exceptions. A werewolf can be briefly seen feeding on a dead student. A flaming body hurtles past our view. Upon death, some of Voldemort's soldiers (Bellatrix Lestrange among them) explode.
During a lull, Hogwarts' beleaguered denizens tend to the bodies of the fallen. Combatants sport bloody wounds. We hear Nagini repeatedly pummel Snape. Goblin pursuers fall from a mineshaft track to their deaths. Magical fire consumes others. Etcetera.
When each Horcrux is destroyed, Voldemort feels pain. Not enough, however, to stop him from killing Harry with his wand. The Dark Lord occasionally vaporizes his own troops when they displease him. Finally, after Nagini, the last remaining Horcrux, gets (graphically) decapitated, Voldemort withers into bits of ash floating in the wind.
Crude or Profane Language
Mrs. Weasley steps between Bellatrix and her daughter, Ginny, spitting fiercely, "Not my daughter, you b‑‑ch." We hear the English vulgarity "bloody" four or five times, twice paired with "h‑‑‑." There's another use of "h‑‑‑" on its own, and an utterance of "blimey" as well.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Aberforth Dumbledore (Albus' bitter brother) is shown pouring what looks like wine into a goblet.
Other Negative Elements
When Harry chooses to rescue Draco Malfoy from almost certain death, Ron yells, "If we die for him, Harry, I'm gonna kill you!"
It's almost impossible to overstate the cultural significance of J.K. Rowling's epic Harry Potter saga. Since young Master Potter's arrival in 1997, his seven-book story has sold a stunning 450 million copies in dozens of languages. As for the franchise's big-screen adaptation, it's already the biggest series ever, having grossed $6.37 billion internationally before this film was even released.
For fans, I suspect Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 will prove a fulfilling (if undeniably dark) finale to a theatrical journey that's spanned a decade. Harry and his friends' ultimate triumph over Voldemort is, of course, a forgone conclusion. But that doesn't diminish how satisfying it feels to see the Dark Lord finally get what's coming to him. All in all, this eighth film is a compelling capstone that highlights sacrificial bravery, casting Harry as a Christ figure who willingly lays down his life for the sake of those he loves.
Clearly, Rowling appreciates and respects that biblical theme. And throughout the series, some Christians have sought out and identified many poignant parallels between Harry's story and Jesus'. The young wizard's journey is, after all, a tale of bravery, hope, sacrifice and redemption, as is the gospel story. Others, equally studious of the text and subtext presented on the page and onscreen, have squirmed and wrestled with—and ultimately shunned—a story stocked with content that flies directly in the face of what the Bible teaches about magic and communicating with the dead.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, perhaps more than any of the other films in the series, seems unlikely to resolve those tensions. Indeed, it highlights them.
Harry's sacrifice undeniably echoes Christ's. And yet, the perspective the film ponders when it comes to salvation and the afterlife is as thin as the narrative itself is rich. Anyone looking for guidance and answers with regard to life's deep questions—consciously or not—is unlikely to find anything more helpful here than a reminder of good's ultimate victory over evil. Simultaneously, characters' ongoing fascination with witchcraft, along with their willingness to seek guidance from the dead, leads in a spiritually perilous direction.
One more important aspect of the film deserves attention: It, like its immediate predecessor, is dark and full of death. Good prevails … but at great and terrible cost, a cost we witness firsthand as the corpses of would-be young wizards are strewn among the rubble at Hogwarts.
Such is the grim reality of the war between good and evil in fantasy and real life. It is always a war with casualties and awful collateral damage. And I will end by noting that learning this lesson by way of fiction is both beneficial and hurtful.