Over the years there have been culture phenomena I’ve avoided for various reasons. It could be as fickle as my mood, the presence of Eric Robert’s Ugly Sister (or ERUS, as Justin coined), or the fact that I just missed the entry point before the culture became saturated by the book, TV, or film series. In “Better Late Than Never,” I look past my objections to see if the culture was right or wrong to embrace the phenomenon so strongly.
Title: Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix
Release Date: July 11th, 2007
Objection: Last time, I said I was alone. When this film came out, I was truly isolated in what had now become an active antagonism against all things associated with the Boy Who Lived. Had I known Voldemort’s aims and his eventual torching of the Quidditch field, I might’ve enjoyed the whole series from that bleak standpoint. But no, thanks to the curious glances from people who learned I liked fantasy, comics, and Doctor Who, but not Potter, a hate grew in my heart. Not unlike those Death Eater tattoos, it became a great fire whenever a new Potter film or book neared release. This installment was no exception.
The Film: Following the return of Voldemort at the end of Year 4, Harry has spent the summer isolated from his friends and the Wizarding World. When a pair of Dementors accost Harry and (guh) Dudley, the young wizard learns that the Ministry of Magic has put its collective head in the sand on all this Dark Lord business. Leading the charge is the Minster himself, followed by a column of toadies including Delores Umbridge, whom we meet when Harry is put on trial for using the Patronus charm in front of Dudley.
The fact I understand all of this now should not go unnoticed.
Finally back at Hogwarts, Harry finds his fellow classmates quite cold and even contemptuous of him … and that’s just counting fellow Gryffindors. It seems most everyone has bought the Ministry’s line that Cedric Diggory’s death during the Triwizard Tournament was an accident and no such horse-hockey about You Know Who Means a damn.
In fact, you might be a seditious traitor if you’re playing such jazz.
Concerned that Hogwarts might be a hotbed of rebellion, the Ministry dispatches Umbridge to keep the young people in line. While she seems all sweet and rosy … if a bit overzealous in her chipperness, she’s a sadistic bitch and proves it rather quickly when punishing Harry for his “lies” about Voldemort.
I should probably mentioned that Umbridge has also sanitized the Defense Against the Dark Arts course to be a book-based curriculum without any practical training. It flies in the face of every previous teacher to hold that post. Remember Kenneth Branagh, the windbag that was really full of himself? Yeah, he was a better instructor than Umbridge. But, really, teaching isn’t her aim. She hopes to topple a rebellion that the Minister believes will begin with Dumbledore.
So, she gets more and more authority as Harry, Ron, and Hermione begin training the kids on their own. Collectively known as Dumbledore’s Army, the group features Ginny, the Weasley Twins, real series hero Neville Longbottom, and a new character introduced in this film, Luna Lovegood.
The first time I saw the movie, I instantly loved Luna. She was odd, said mad things, and stood out against the increasingly gray palette director David Yates brought to the proceedings. Like Neville, I wish she could have more screentime, but that’s okay because something kind of amazing happens in Order of the Phoenix: I get Harry.
I know, it surprised me, too.
For the first time in the series, Harry has some sort of dramatic weight to him. Pushed into a corner by Dumbledore in some feeble attempt to protect him from Voldemort’s mind-invasion powers, Harry comes to find Hogwarts and the Wizarding World as unwelcoming as his life with the Dursleys. It took me three viewings to really get it, but Harry’s hurting in a very human and familiar way. As a contrast, the film offers us just a few short scenes between Harry and the always awesome Sirius Black. In those moments, we see a family starting to emerge and Harry feeling like he finally has a place in either world.
And then it’s pulled from him because that’s how these stories go.
Isolation is the key theme of the film and even though it was staring me in the face the whole time, I only really got it on my third go. Voldemort wants Harry isolated so that he might more easily slip into his mind and break down Hogwarts from within. It’s quite devious and it would be a great trick if not for the fact that Harry is never really alone. He always has his pals, then his Army. Hell, he’s even got Severus Snape in his corner. It all becomes text when Harry tells Voldemort that he pities him because the Dark Lord will never know love or friendship.
Yeah, it gets perilously close to a “power of love” ending, but avoids that pitfall because the sort of love Harry’s talking about is camaraderie. I don’t know much about Voldemort’s early life, but I’m sure it wasn’t filled with happy days in the park surrounded with friends. It was pretty dark and lonely … the sort of place from which Dark Lords spring. Okay, except for Morgoth, his deal was rebellion right from the start. See, he hated the music of the Ainur and thought he could run things better than Eru Illuvatar and–
Sorry, started talking Tolkien again.
Anyway, notice that I’m going on about theme in this one and ignored the plot and the whole allegory Umbridge represents? That’s because the Harry presented in Order of the Phoenix is a compelling character and all that other stuff more or less serves the treatment of Harry as an isolated (but not really) kid. In turn, having a central through-line makes this movie more cinematic than its predecessor. Like Azkaban, there’s meat and heft in the picture. It has some episodic elements, but they mainly fall into the two main strands of the story: Umbridge or isolation. And while I’m gripping, it is overly-long and it took me three viewings to really appreciate the whole isolation thing.
Verdict: I think if I had seen this one at the time with an open mind, I would’ve come to appreciate it like a I do now. That said, it does require the knowledge of the previous films and my ever-present hatred of Quidditch to–
OH MY GOD, THERE’S NO QUIDDITCH IN THIS MOVIE! PRAISE THE EYE AND HIS WHITE HAND!
Where was I? Oh … yeah. I suppose if I could’ve accessed the whole isolation thing in the theater, it would’ve broken my hatred of Potter. I would’ve seen the main character as a character and really enjoyed the aura of doom surrounding the story. I also would’ve waited in anticipation of the next film to pick up those strands and get to the dark business that surely lied ahead.