Harry the Fifth

A review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

We waited and we hoped and then we went to the midnight show. We were not disappointed. They got this one just right; the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is perhaps the best so far in the series. Like any other devoted Potter-ite, I have a few critiques but on the whole, as in JK Rowling’s book, Harry’s Occlumency lessons with Severus Snape, the training of Dumbledore’s Army, and the Ministry of Magic’s dogged denial of reality add up to a cinematic ride that pulls viewers along as if they were traveling by portkey (you know, that magical object that gives you the sensation of being sucked forward at an alarming speed from somewhere behind your navel).

If you don’t know what Occlumency is then you also might not be aware that July 2007 is a big month for Harry Potter. The fifth movie in the series is out this week, and the seventh and final book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows debuts July 21. When a new Harry Potter book comes into our house you learn not to put it down because someone will take it and start reading it while you’re in the bathroom. Harry Potter quips and quotes have become a part of our family lexicon. When that first book debuted in 1997, I doubt any of us, our little family sized fan club or the rest of the world, had any idea what a wonderful broomstick ride this would all become.

Big-Screen Translation

As with all good fantasy writers Rowling transports us into another universe where the rules are different but human nature is the same. She also has a wonderful ability to remind us in fresh ways of what we already know. Anger, hate, fear and prejudice corrupt. Friendship redeems. Love trumps all. Her bullies rouse your righteous anger, her victims elicit your sympathy and her capacity to relate human experience with gut-twisting authenticity keeps you turning the pages and rushing to theaters to see how Rowling’s books translate to the big screen.

Order of the Phoenix is no exception. Both book and film hold a steady candle up to Rowling’s overriding theme of redemptive love. Under the capable direction of David Yates, Rowling’s key characters come to life. Luna Lovegood, Harry’s newest friend, is marvelously loony with just the right amount of peculiar insight balanced by some of the films biggest laughs. Delores Umbridge, the usurping, authoritarian bureaucrat, with her pink outfits and poofy office bedecked with mewling kitten plates is exactly the wolf-in-sheep’s clothing that she needs to be.

Yates’ use of a wonderful array of special effects never overwhelms his characters and he also has a unique ability to convey Rowling’s sense of adolescence with all its awkwardness and beauty.

Is Voldemort Back?

When we last saw him Harry Potter was reeling from his battle with the evil Lord Voldemort and from witnessing Voldemort’s murdering of Harry’s classmate Cedric Diggory. The Order of the Phoenix opens with a dramatic dementor attack against Harry, which is quickly denied and downplayed by Cornelius Fudge the Minister of Magic. Who is determined to squelch any discussion of whether Voldemort has actually returned. “The evidence of the dark Lord’s return is incontrovertible” Dumbledore, Harry’s mentor and headmaster at Hogwarts, argues. But like many of our real-life institutions Fudge’s refusal to see reality is not only infuriating, it’s dangerous.

In her books, Rowling’s deft hand stirs real life truths into her rich recipe of fantasy. The effort to cover up and quiet those who raise concerns supersedes the responsibility the institution has to keep safe the vulnerable and to do right. The nature of bureaucracy is to attack even those doing good if it might make them look bad. Don’t we know it. Without so much as whispering “Global Warming, the war in Iraq, Sex Abuse Scandal or Pharmaceutical Cover Up” the film conjures our ire towards self-justifying institutions.

All on Board?

Admittedly, Order of the Phoenix doesn’t waste much time bringing anyone who’s missed the Hogwart’s Express so far up to speed. If you don’t know what’s going on already you might get left behind. Fortunately, director David Yates has restored the cool-headed, even-tempered Dumbledore (supplanted in the previous film by a sputtering fuming caricature that bore little resemblance to earlier versions). Yates’ use of a wonderful array of special effects never overwhelms his characters and he also has a unique ability to convey Rowling’s sense of adolescence with all its awkwardness and beauty.

How was Harry’s first kiss with the girl he’s been pining for? “Wet.” he replies, still dazed and grinning, as he tells his friends about it. Harry’s growing confidence as he becomes teacher to his peers, his struggle between doing things alone versus relying on his friends, and the palpable pain of loss all keep the tale on firm footing.

Order of the Phoenix leads us through a flight of fancy replete with wizards, giants, centaurs and castles but keeps a firm grip on us by connecting it with our own human experience. Why can Harry and his friends have any hope of ultimately defending themselves and their world against the growing evil they will face? Harry closes the film surrounded by his friends with a smile, “Because we have something worth fighting for.”