I came to the Harry Potter books late. I didn’t read them until my children wanted to read them. As a result, unlike those who had to wait patiently or not so patiently for the next installment in the series, I was able to read all seven books in quick succession. It is only in light of book seven that the whole series makes sense. Harry’s ultimate purpose and author J.K. Rowling’s message come to light.
I have seen all the movies as well. The last three were family events we eagerly looked forward to seeing in the theater. Overall, I found the movies a little disappointing, but there was no way they could not be. The books were so huge and masterfully written with so many different subplots and motivations. There was no way to convey all of that on the big screen. Yet, they were entertaining and my children greatly enjoyed them, even though even they would cite all the inconsistencies between the two mediums.
The last movie, in the theaters now, is arguably the best as far as it goes. It is fast paced, entertaining, and features some great one-liners to lighten the mood amidst all the pain. It follows the story line of the book rather closely and wraps up all the loose ends. I’m sure that those who have only seen the movies are fully satisfied.
Yet, as a Catholic reader of the books, I left the theater feeling as if the movie had missed the whole point. Yes, Harry goes to the forest to die at Voldemort’s hands. He does not resist. He has learned what he must do and he sets out to do it. But, the reason he does it is lost. In the movie, his motivation seems to be that he was told he must. In the book, the whole reason he goes to the forest is because by his death, he will save everyone else. No one else will have to die. It is the ultimate self-sacrifice. “Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
Of course, Harry doesn’t actually die. What he does have is a near-death experience in which he is reunited with his esteemed headmaster, Albus Dumbledore. The movie uses many of the same lines as the book, but it misses a key part of the conversation. In both venues, Harry is given the choice whether to return to the world or go on. In the book, however, Dumbledore tells him, “By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart.” Once again, the motivation is self-sacrifice.
The final battle between Harry and Voldemort is also lacking in substance. The reason Voldemort’s spells no longer work on anyone is because of Harry. In the book, Harry tells him, “I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people . . . I’ve done what my mother did. They’re protected from you. Haven’t you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can’t torture them. You can’t touch them.” Just as his mother’s love saved Harry all those years before, now his love has saved his friends.
The movie also misses that even at the end, Voldemort had a chance at redemption. All was not lost. Harry had seen part of Voldemort’s soul in his near-death encounter. It was an ugly, writhing thing. Even after all Voldemort had done to him, his family, and his friends, Harry still encourages him to repent and change his ways. “Before you try to kill me, I’d advise you to think about what you’ve done . . . Think, and try for some remorse . . . It’s your one last chance . . . I’ve seen what you’ll be otherwise.”
Despite the offer, Voldemort continues with his plan. It is important to note that Harry doesn’t kill him — he only disarms him. Voldemort’s own spell backfires and ends his life. Voldemort chose evil and his future in hell. Even at the end, he could have made a different choice.
The Christian themes of self-sacrifice and redemption pulse through the book, yet were unfortunately ignored in the movie. If you are a Harry Potter fan, you will definitely want to see the movie. You will enjoy it. But do yourself a favor and read the books as well in order to fully understand the true motivation behind the acts.