Friday, December 10, 2010
Scenes I Love: Harry Potter and the Dance to Nick Cave
Although I do not go to the cinemas all that often (I average a modest once a month), and although it has become second nature to look forward to a raw indie romance like Blue Valentine over Christopher Nolan's latest venture, I will always make an exception to see the latest Harry Potter film in theatres. I have seen every film of the franchise in theatres, beginning when I was 12 years old and counted down the days until November 16th. When the day came, I had my hair in hippie braids, wore a one-shoulder top and was escorted by a dear family friend (a near surrogate stepmom) to the majestic and utterly old-fashioned Raven Theatre in Healdsburg, California. For ten years I've matured at the same pace that the books have--and, later, their respective films. With each new director, the franchise was chiseled into something closer resembling the deft combination of escapism and darkness, of political allegory and British humor, of childhood wonder and emotional maturity that made J.K. Rowling's novels more magical than dragons, goblins or golden snitches. And with all due respect to the more light-hearted efforts of Christopher Colombus and Mike Newell, we all know it was the more character-charged and tonally dark visions of Alfonso Cuaron and David Yates which shaped the Harry Potter adaptations into what we love today.
And with much greater respect to Alfonso Cuaron, who is the most artistically successful director outside of the Potter franchise and one of my favorite working directors, I believe David Yates to be the best director of the Potter series--if it was Cuaron who finally got the trio into street clothes, it was Yates who truly treated them as ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances. Under his guidance, the films found the perfect balance between visual magic and poignant character development (for this reason, the teenage actors' performances have blossomed beautifully to the point where they truly hold their own against the pro adult actors; in the opening montage of Deathly Hallows Pt 1, all three captivate the screen without any dialogue). When it was announced that the adaptation of the final book would be split into two, I scoffed that it was just the studio's way of making more money, not knowing the tricks of Yates' sleeve which would make the latest film the greatest adaptation from Rowling's series.
After the first half hour in which every scene feels like an excuse for a high-adrenaline action scene, the movie settles into a near post-apocalypse road movie with Ron, Hermione and Harry as the weary travelers with Horcruxes, home and heartbreak on their minds. It is in their scene and their turmoil which the film is at its strongest, and by freeing up the time restrictions by splitting the movie into two parts, it allows for moments of striking vulnerability and unspoken emotions which momentarily make the film stand alone from its franchise and become a truly wonderful piece of filmmaking. Has Harry Potter become an Ingmar Bergman movie? Not yet (unless you count the first book's very real chess game as an homage to The Seventh Seal), but this amount of character-driven scenes is rarely found in a fantasy franchise, let alone one mass-made for a younger audience.
The most beautiful moment of which I write involves probably the first inclusion of previously released "Muggle" music in a Potter film. Ron has left, jealously believing that Harry and Hermione have become an item. Alone in a tent and missing their friend, Harry fiddles with a radio (just as Ron did to calm his nerves) until he settles on "O Children" by Nick Caves and the Bad Seeds. Trying to lighten the melancholy mood, Harry wordlessly offers her his hand for a dance. Though not in the mood, she accepts somewhat begrudgingly; after a few awkward steps, the soundtrack rises at the chorus, depicting images of the fragility of childhood and faith found (the voice! The choir! The deep bluesy voice of Nick Cave!), and Hermione and Harry are able to smile again. For a moment, their eyes lock and though a certain amount of chemistry is there, they deny it out of the love they feel for other people (Harry misses Ginny perhaps more than he realizes, and Hermione in fact reciprocates Ron's love for her as well as his inability to admit it). The strength of their characters--and friendship--has never been more maturely or poignantly realized than in this moment, and one which would never have seen the light of day if the seventh book had been adapted into one movie instead of two.
At the cinema, my dad leaned over to whisper in my ear with a somewhat mocking tone, "Was this in the book?"
"No," I whispered back, still jazzed at what I was witnessing on the screen, "And that's exactly what makes it so special."