Monday 18 July 2011

The moral message of the movie - Harry Potter Deathly Hallows part 2


I have been to see the newly released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2.

I can pronounce it an excellent movie - in particular the middle section from the death of Snape, which packed as powerful an emotional punch as any movie I have seen.

At any rate I was reduced to a blubbing wreck by it for a continuous period of some 20 minutes; which hasn't happened to me with many films, and none before quite so much as this one.


As I had predicted, this last part of the series continued to delete almost all of the the deepest moral and spiritual theme of the books - which, as I discussed recently, are concerned with the soul:


However, this leaves open the question of what is the deepest moral message of the movie, and by implication of the whole series of movies. What was it that moved me so?

The deepest theme of the movies, in my opinion, is the validity and importance of steadfast, unrequited, disinterested, sacrificial Love.


This theme gets a double emphasis from the stories of two major characters of Harry and Snape.

Harry is motivated explicitly and throughout by love for his dead parents, who died when he was a small baby, and of whom he has (initially) no memories. Ultimately, this love leads him to allow himself to be killed by Voldemort. He allows himself to be sacrificed for love.

Snape, we discover towards the end of the last book, was motivated covertly and throughout by love for Harry's dead mother Lily; a love which was unrequited (except, partially, during their childhood) - and for which he endures much fear, horror, hazard and suffering until he is finally killed by Voldemort. His whole life, since the death of Lily, has indeed been a sacrifice, a martyrdom, for love.


Harry and Snape's greatest love is for the dead, indeed the focus of their love overlaps; and this love is not actively reciprocal.

Since Harry's parents are dead and 'therefore', so far as he is aware until near the end, the love is unilateral; Snape's love was explicitly unilateral since Lily repudiated him. Yet both Harry and Snape both voluntarily acquiesce to death for this love.

What can this mean?


In a modern, worldly secular morality, unrequited love, love for the dead, suffering unto death, martyrdom are all behaviours generally regarded either pathetic, stupid or pathological.

Harry and Snape would therefore be regarded (from a modern and this-wordly perspective) as losers, creeps or nutters.

Yet, clearly this is not the case in the world of the movies (and even less so for the books): which implies that Harry and Snape's love is not worldly, but transcendental.

The implicit validity of Harry and Snape's love is implicitly pointing-offstage at some transcendental, presumably divine, source of validation - whereby disinterested and sacrificial love is worthy and admirable.


Also, implicitly, is lurking the idea that Harry's and Snape's whole lives are made not just purposeful but also meaningful (that is to say their lives are redeemed) by their love (this unrequited love); and therefore that the love of specific persons can be a proxy for the love of God (since how else could their love be a saving love?).

The redemptive nature of sacrificial love is particularly obvious in the case of Snape who is a mostly-wicked man redeemed by only two virtues - Courage in pursuit of Love: but these virtues are enough.


So, even the Harry Potter movies - which have substantially deleted the deepest (and Christian) stratum of the Harry Potter books - are predicated on a vision of human life and behaviour in terms of unconditional love -- a perspective that is (to say the least) unfashionable; and would indeed be regarded by mainstream modern morality as at best incomprehensible, more likely pitiful, and at worst frankly deluded.


Note: In the movies especially, the workings of disinterested sacrificial love are much more obvious and focused for Snape than for Harry (Harry has several other motives for his self-sacrifice, many of them straightforward and mainstream; such as helping his friends, appeasing Voldemort, trying to prevent suffering etc.) - and I suspect that this clarity and singleness of motivation accounts for much of the widespread fascination with the character of Snape.



TrueNorth said...

I saw the movie with my son and we were both unimpressed. I was hoping for a cathartic ending, a la "Return of the King" - which had the same effect on me that "Deathly Hallows" seems to have had on you - but it never shifted out of emotional neutrality. The whole Potter series is like that for me: entertaining enough but not engaging.

This is not a slam at the content of the books, merely at its execution. For instance, the death of Snape. It is hard to feel much sympathy for a character you have hated for the whole series just because his real motives are explained in a brief flashback while he is dying.

It can be done, mind you. Alistair Sim in "A Christmas Carol" pulls it off very well, but probably because even while Scrooge is being, well, Scrooge-like, we are privy to the back story that explains why he is the way he is. The turning point in the movie merely frees the good side of Scrooge we have seen all along.

(The music helps too. Howard Shore's theme for LOTR can evoke tears by itself and the strains of "Barbara Allen" in "A Christmas Carol" are similarly evocative.)

Kirby said...


I just have to slightly disagree with the analysis of Snapes motives being revealed only then. I didn't even crack a book until after the 4th movie, but I already "knew" that Snape was some kind of double agent at worst. His "hatred" of Harry never seemed real, like, say, Umbridge's. I always felt that Snape was purposefully hard on Harry for Harry's own good, and never for Snape to vent his feelings. So the flashback was, for me, the full explanation of what was suspected all along. For me.