Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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Lindy Keffer

Movie Review

They’ve grown taller. Their voices have begun to change. And they’re ready to take on the next big boarding school mystery. J.K. Rowling’s popular young wizard and his friends are back for their second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Harry has passed a predictably miserable summer with his awful adoptive family—a holiday made all the worse by the interception of all correspondence from his school friends Ron and Hermione. To top it off, he receives an ominous visit from a house elf named Dobby. This digitally animated ascetic begs Harry not to return to school, warning that there is a plot afoot to harm or even kill the famous young wizard. But return Harry does, and discovers right away that evil is indeed lurking at Hogwarts. He repeatedly hears a sinister voice hissing, “Kill. Kill! I want blood!” Meanwhile, the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher seems more interested in his perfect hairdo than in battling corruption. Threatening messages are being written on the school walls in blood. Students are turning up literally petrified, and many think Harry’s to blame. On top of that, his life is once again endangered by strange magic at a Quidditch match. And finally, Ron’s sister Ginny (who has a huge crush on Harry) winds up in the clutches of a nasty, conniving villain.

True to form, Ron, Harry and Hermione strive to stamp out the Dark Magic in their midst. They discover that centuries before, one of the school’s founders, Salazar Slytherin, had taken a racist vow that all prospective witches and wizards who didn’t possess “pure blood” would be banished from Hogwarts. To accomplish his vendetta, Slytherin endowed the school with a secret chamber and placed in it a monster that would violently eliminate “mudbloods,” or wizards of Muggle (non-magical) lineage. Not able to carry out his holocaust himself, he ensured that his heir would one day come to Hogwarts, open the chamber and finish destroying the mudbloods. From all the nasty business going on this term, it’s clear that the time has come and the chamber has been reopened. But even Harry and his mystery-solving pals are unprepared for what they find there.

positive elements: Vanity is decried when Defense against the Dark Arts teacher Gilderoy Lockhart is exposed for a fraud. Prejudice is likewise put down with the defeat of the chamber’s monster and its racist mission. Even though he’s a famous wizard, Harry acts with humility and kindness toward lowly house elf Dobby. Friendship and loyalty are praised as the relationship between Harry, Hermione and Ron grows. Harry’s loyalty to wise professor Dumbledore proves to be a key factor in his battle with the chamber’s monster.

Harry once again doubts his own character, upset by the fact that he has several skills in common with the Dark Lord Voldemort, who tried to kill him as a baby. But when he questions Dumbledore about almost having been placed in the dark-leaning Slytherin House, Dumbledore reminds him that the main reason he wasn’t is that he asked not to be. “It is not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.” A good lesson about the rightful use of any talent, and how one’s character is not predetermined, but forged on a daily basis.

spiritual content: Magic, used for good or for evil, is the cornerstone of this movie. Ron and his brothers ride in a flying car. The Weasley family travels using magic dust called “floo powder.” Harry and his friends take classes in Potions, Herbology and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Professors Snape and Lockhart lead their pupils in a Dueling Club, teaching them to disarm enemies with magic spells. Ron’s broken wand continually causes his spells to backfire on him. Harry hones his skills as a Parseltongue (one who can speak to snakes). In a game of Quidditch, someone curses a ball so it will chase and injure Harry. Harry and his friends spend lots of time conversing with Moaning Myrtle, the whiny ghost of a student who was murdered in the girls’ restroom. They also transform themselves temporarily into the likenesses of other students with a “polyjuice potion.” Dumbledore’s pet, Fawkes the phoenix, has healing power in his tears. [Spoiler Warning] Ginny is put into a trance by a villain because she has been pouring her heart out in a magical diary. Later, Harry defeats the villain because his loyalty to Dumbledore magically calls help to his side.

sexual content: None.

violent content: Far too much for a movie that will be seen by children as young as 6 or 7. Uncle Vernon falls from a second-story window. A “whomping willow” tree tries to whomp Harry and Ron to death. Harry, traveling by floo powder for the first time, accidentally winds up in a dark room with piles of shrunken heads. Harry and Ron are almost run down by a train. Filch, the school’s caretaker, threatens to kill Harry. A Quidditch match turns violent (several players are knocked from their flying brooms and Harry’s arm is badly broken). Dobby often “punishes” himself as a reminder of his subservient position. Punishments include beating himself in the head (shown) and ironing his hands (not shown). Myrtle punches Ron (of course, it doesn’t hurt him because she’s a ghost). An enormous nasty spider grabs Ron by the neck. Many smaller but equally nasty spiders menace Ron and Harry, and threaten to eat them. Ron and Harry are nearly buried in a rockslide. Ron knocks out a professor with a stone.

Most disturbing are Harry’s encounters with the chamber’s monster. First, he merely hears the beast chanting, “Kill. Kill. It’s time to kill,” and “Let me rip you. Let me tear you!” Later, he meets it (and its master) face to face. [Spoiler Warning] In the ensuing battle, the monster’s eyes are gouged out and Harry attacks it with a sword, only to have one of its giant fangs implanted in his forearm. The monster’s master is destroyed when Harry repeatedly stabs the magic diary that is the source of his power. Ink bubbles out of the diary, but only those familiar with the book will know that; moviegoers will think it’s blood (as if Harry were stabbing the villain himself).

crude or profane language: Ron takes a liking to the phrase, “Bloody h—!” He uses it a handful of times. Harry’s Uncle Vernon utters a muffled, “What the h— was that?”

drug and alcohol content: None.

other negative elements: Some gross-out elements are included, the most difficult to watch being an extended scene in which one of Ron’s spells backfires and he ends up vomiting live slugs into a bucket. Also, Ron’s father works for the Ministry of Magic, and his job is to ensure that wizards don’t misuse “Muggle artifacts.” In spite of that, Mr. Weasley is fascinated with Muggles and himself illegally uses many of their inventions.

A disturbing theme carried over from the first movie is disregard for rules. It could be argued that Harry and his friends are simply taking extraordinary risks justified by extraordinary danger. But the film makes it seem that Harry and company are being rewarded because they broke the rules rather than in spite of their disobedience.

conclusion: The success of the first Harry Potter movie—and the expected success of this sequel—lies in their extreme faithfulness to the books. Of course, some details are omitted so as not to make a very long movie even longer. But director Chris Columbus knew that the artistic license usually taken with movies based on books would be a recipe for disaster in the case of Harry Potter, which has made avid readers out of millions. That said, it’s no surprise that there are really no surprises here. And nothing that will change many minds. The battle lines have already been drawn regarding Harry Potter’s treatment of magic. Those who thought it was harmless hocus pocus before will likely continue to think so. The same goes for those already convinced that it’s an instructive depiction of the occult. What will be easy for both sides to agree on is that the violence and fear-factors in this movie are quite inappropriate for the younger portion of Harry’s intended audience. Moms and dads who wish to ward off the curse of nightmares should keep their kids out of The Chamber of Secrets.

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Lindy Keffer