I remember the fateful day so clearly: Thursday, Nov 18. I woke up extra early, rasping “Accio alarm clock!” as I peered at our quiet Muggle campus outside my window. The premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 was seventeen long hours away at that point, but the zing of excitement was enough to propel me out of bed. I had purchased my tickets to the midnight showing about two months back, surreptitiously checking Fandango for their availability whenever no one was looking at my laptop. My addiction is legend among my peers, and I’m past the point of shame. Seventeen hours…seventeen hours…
Harry Potter fandom is an infinitely complex and passionate one, wending its way through millions of hearts, young and old. Since the first film adaptation (the charming and action-packed Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone) debuted in 2001, the rabid world population of Potterheads has perhaps doubled – fed by a constant flow of well-structured, artistically ambitious movies with both box office appeal and a connecting thread of tender nostalgia. Harry and his loyal BFFs Ron and Hermione are heroes for our generation, layered youngsters whose dangerous journey toward adulthood contains many of the same emotional milestones we all face. Well, other than multiple attempted murders by Voldemort, I guess.
The latest incarnation of the franchise, Deathly Hallows, follows in the footsteps of every Potter film since The Goblet of Fire – it still delivers the wondrous allure of author J.K. Rowling’s magical universe, but shades it with an undercurrent of anguish and nihilism. Call it growing pains; since Harry and his friends started to grasp the sheer direness of their world around age 15, moments of real pain and conflict have begun to sneak their way into these marvelous adventures. In Deathly Hallows, our protagonists are all 17 years old, bereft of their safe fortress of Hogwarts and forced to undergo a physically and emotionally taxing journey toward destroying a series of magical objects guarding Voldemort’s immortality. The film, a depiction of the first half of the last book of the series, covers the brunt of that pilgrimage toward an unknown destination.
It is a strained movie, a work which pushes its characters past their innocence into dark and isolated mental territory. The color palette is less vibrant than the films before The Goblet of Fire, immersing the story in a dense, dark, richly textured atmosphere. Harry, Hermione, and Ron somehow seem more real as they apparate their way through abandoned forests and mysterious small towns, their teenage features haggard with worry and streaked with dirt. The dialogue is easy and quick, delivered with the distinct sensation that the actors need little rehearsal to enact thier complex relationships; Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson are so adept at inhabiting the skins of their characters that the audience forgets they haven’t been courageous, young, witty wizards all their lives. Deathly Hallows (spoiler alert!) contains a few important deaths and supremely depressing plot twists, and these are delivered with a surprising amount of restraint and sensitivity. Whereas the camera jerked wildly around Harry’s screaming face during godfather Sirius’ death in The Order of the Phoenix, our window to a similar situation in Deathly Hallows is still and peaceful. We get the feeling, as our hero does, that death occurs as a result of a larger and nobler journey.
The impact of the film is powerful, perhaps because it symbolizes the beginning of the end for Potter-crazies. The fact that movies were still coming out after the books concluded gave the fans something else toward which to direct their energies, something to analyze eagerly and use as an excuse to gather with like-minded friends. With only one more film coming out, I was curious about the temperature of the fan reaction among students who, like me, still count themselves among Dumbledore’s Army.
“It’s iconic of my childhood,” said Ian Defoe PO ’11. “We were the same age as Harry when the books were coming out. I think it works out nicely that the last book came out when we graduated high school and the last movie is going to come out when we graduate college.” Indeed, Deathly Hallows: Part II will premiere about a month after this year’s seniors make their way into a world that seems as soulless and desolate as the graveyard in Godric’s Hollow. The films are a marker of age and time for college students who were once smart, voracious young readers. Anna Bessessen PO ’11 remembered, “The books were always a fun family investment; we all read them together when I was little.” As the books developed and addressed themes for older preteens, the way we absorbed them changed as well: “Once I hit the fifth grade, I wanted to be reading on my own and get some autonomy. I love Hermione,” she smiled. “Just having a smart girl in the books to be attached to and connect with was really encouraging. She was a role model.”
The film came out to rave reviews, garnering gigantic crowds for the nationwide midnight premiers and provoking rampant Potter hysteria and a slew of crazy costumes. Many Pomona students swallowed their pride, and like me, booked their spots at these midnight shows for a taste of the delicious anticipation and overwhelming experience of viewing the film with other fans for the first time. “I feel like I went with thousands of other college students,” enthused Wintaye Gebru ’11. “It’s like watching a movie at home with your friends…people were laughing, shouting out comments. It was a very unusual movie-going experience.” I wholeheartedly agree – there was a moment when fantasy versions of Harry and Hermione began a steamy hookup, and the feeling in that theater was simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. Girls gasped, then whispered furiously, then squealed louder and louder until the soundtrack was dulled by the cacophony of utter delight.
Students also enjoyed the film itself, regardless of its surrounding hype. Said Gebru, “It was even better than any of the films before, surprisingly funny and darker. And that’s a trend that’s carried well…all the actors have hit their strides.” Bessessen agreed, “I thought it was interesting that they took it in a new direction and made it even more adult.” We may have responded to the slapstick physical humor and sweet, simple moments of the first few films, but now that Potter fans are older and wiser, they crave something darker and deeper.
And they crave more. What will the future hold once the series ends? Katie Cettie PO ’11 may have the answer: an epic fan-penned side series of more than 2,000 pages, published by Potter fan and amateur author Cassandra Claire. The story, which I thoroughly enjoyed for a full month last summer, is constructed in an almost identical style to Rowling and offers a bevy of new invented spells, legends, plot twists, and juicy explorations of our favorite Hogwarts students. “Don’t quote me on the fanfiction! I’m so ashamed!” she laughed. “But it explores these characters in new and different ways. It’s a whole extension of the Harry Potter world.” Fans will stop at nothing to extend the joy, sadness, growth, and awe of the series; faced with its imminent end, the feeling of resignation and uncontrollable emotion among die-hard fans is high. Silas Berkowitz PO ’12 offered this poignant thought: “We all crave magic in our lives. Harry Potter gave that to us.” That’s the truth – the series may be an escapist fantasy, but it is also a mirror. It summarizes our collective journeys of childlike wonderment and adult discovery. Now that it’s over, all I can do is lament and remember fondly, and try to get grad school to accept my O.W.L.s.