Purism vs Revisionism: My Reflections on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 [includes spoilers – read AT YOUR OWN RISK!]

Leaving the theater after having viewed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, my first reaction was disappointment.  I wondered if I should have waited for the film’s release to DVD instead.  After further reflection, I realized that I was judging the film based on purist expectations and that my initial judgment may not be entirely fair.  After all, the film did deliver the essential theme and message of the Harry Potter story as written by J.K. Rowling. However, some revisions crept into the film which I refuse to ignore.

Initially, my purist expectations left me feeling shortchanged and disappointed, even though I am aware that adaptations typically omit or modify details from a novel.  I admit I hoped for incorporation of specific details from the novel, but some omissions and revisions chafed my sensibilities.  I looked for Neville’s character growth and heroism to be reflected with more clarity as in the novel; yet, while it was there, it was reticent and delayed – not in the portrayal of Neville’s character by Matthew Lewis, but in the way the scene was written.  Also, Hagrid’s “little” brother was omitted entirely. In addition, I eagerly anticipated the film’s version of Harry’s final conversation with Dumbledore’s portrait, and I expected to see Harry repair his original Phoenix core wand as his only act using the Elder Wand (in the novel, Harry did not break the Elder Wand, but planned to return it to Dumbledore’s tomb –  the film leaves us wondering whether Harry continues to use Draco’s wand); I was more than a little disappointed when those events were omitted and modified:  revisions that significantly alter both the tenor of Dumbledore’s mentorship of Harry and the importance of the wand story line! The film’s alteration of the deeper mentor/hero connection between Harry and Dumbledore is just plain sinful.  I also wanted to see Kreacher during the Hogwarts battle, but again, I was let down (including that brief scene would perhaps have taken more graphic animation time than the producers wanted to invest, but cripes! – they certainly had the MONEY to invest!). Along with these omissions, the film departs from minor details in the novel (attributing quotes or ideas to characters other than the original character in the novel), and the departure of this nature that most irritated me was the scene at Gringott’s when Hermione has the wild idea of climbing onto the dragon’s back to escape. In the novel, it was Harry’s idea, and it should have remained his idea in the film.  Several other departures of this nature annoyed me. So, here again, I reveal my purist expectations. The finer details of the novel – as can be expected when a novel is adapted to film – were lost.  But that doesn’t make the film bad, nor does it make the film a complete revision of the original text. 

Reflecting on my initial reaction, I considered the revisionist question: is the integrity, essence, or spirit of the novel maintained in the film? I have to say yes, especially where Snape’s story line is concerned, even though details of his discovery of Lily’s body were added.  Alan Rickman’s nuanced portrayal of Snape’s character is, as always, flawless.  Harry continues his evolution as the modest hero who discovers that he has a choice and still he chooses what is right even though that choice requires him to sacrifice his own life.  In the process, Harry experiences the deeper meaning of sacrifice, compassion, and courage– as any character worthy of the title of hero must. The film clearly depicts the contrast of Harry’s humility and compassion against Voldemort’s arrogance and indifference.  Daniel Radcliffe concludes his portrayal of Harry with authenticity and believability, and Ralph Fiennes portrays Voldemort’s inhumanity and narcissistic vanity authentically as well – as do all of the actors in their respective roles.  Other questions as to the major characters, the setting, scene order, plot line, and overall themes I answered similarly – the film (as all of them have done for the most part) stayed true to the integrity of the novel overall.  Rowling wrote a story of a young wizard who experiences a heroic journey, and the film maintains the essence of her work.

Then I had another thought. What if I hadn’t read the novel at all? Would I get the same message or theme from viewing the film?  Generally, yes. I have to admit I would.  But another question creeps in at this point – would I be missing something in the film adaptation of Rowling’s work? I have to answer yes to that question as well. In order to fully appreciate Rowling’s story of Harry Potter, one must read all of the novels as Harry’s heroic journey encompasses the entire series.  I thoroughly enjoy the novels, and I also enjoy the films.  Still, even after watching the films, when I reread the books, the images in my mind will remain my visualizations. My future reading won’t be sullied by someone else’s vision of the finely crafted characters and descriptions that Rowling employs in her writing. I will always be grateful that I had read the novels before I had watched any of the films. Similarly, my appreciation for the contributions by screenwriters, actors, directors, and graphic artists with each film is much deeper because I have also read the books.  In adapting a novel for film, redaction is necessary.  That said, I highly recommend reading the novels for a full, rich, and engaging experience of Harry’s journey. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Having read the final novel multiple times, I had high expectations for this film.  When the film fell short of my reader expectations, I was disappointed. Yet, the film’s cinematography, acting, and graphic elements amazed and awed me, and the film’s powerful portrayal of the most intense moments of battle thoroughly engaged and entertained me. Even though I knew how the story would end, I was captivated by McGonagall’s army of knight-statues, I held my breath and became tense during battle scenes, and I cried when Snape was murdered.  I wiped tears from eyes again as Harry experienced Snape’s memories of finding Lily’s body and mourning her death (a scene not expressed in the novel). In watching the film, I rediscovered the story that Rowling shared with the world when she invented Harry Potter, and in that, I was NOT disappointed.

In order for the films to be produced, J. K. Rowling had to envision the story and write the novels first. Other writers worked with Rowling to write the screenplay for each film. But, in each case, WRITING brought the characters, the descriptions, the settings, the plot, and the adventure to life. Without imaginative original writing, we would never have had the stories.  I’ll never be disappointed in that.
© 2011 lkl
All rights reserved.  This work may not be reproduced in any form or via media without the author’s express written consent.


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