Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Rated R Our ratings: V-5; L-1; S/N-2. Running Time: 2 hours 30 min.

Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the Lord has heard the sound of
my weeping.
The Lord has heard my supplication;
the Lord accepts my prayer.
All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck
with terror;
they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.
Psalm 6:8-10

Our three friends have more than Quidditch on their minds as they eat together.

2009 Warner Brothers

Well, it will be more than “a moment” until the forces of evil “be put to shame,” at least in J.K.

Rowling’s exciting but dangerous world, where it requires seven novels before the forces of Good overcome the evil power of renegade wizard Lord Voldemort. (And the good news for us Potter fans is that the filmmakers will require eight films, Warner Brothers announcing that the last volume in the series will be split into two films.) The important thing in the world of the psalmist, and as I just told a friend who has been swayed by the Potter-films-are-Evil crowd, in the world of Harry Potter as well as that of the Bible, evil is overcome, though not without a high price.

David Yates, director of the fifth Potter film, returns to bring us an exciting film version of the sixth of J.K. Rowling’s books. Visually, the film’s muted palette matches the dark mood of the novel. The most colorful scenes are those of the exciting Quidditch matches when the red robes worn by Gryffindor’s team seem especially bright compared to the stark blacks and blues of most of the other scenes, especially those taking part at night or in the semi-darkness of Ho0gwart’s halls. There are a number of differences from the novel, but I suspect that fans still will probably be pleased. However, if you have not read the book, you will be a bit confused at times—lots of terms such as “Horcrux” and “Pensieve” are tossed around, and there are a plethora of characters, some of whom are not identified, but familiar to those who have read the book or watched the previous films in the series.

The film opens with the deadly war raging between the followers of the evil Voldemort and those led by Dumbledore. Voldemort’s Death Eaters attack London from the sky thus spilling the violence over into the Muggle world, resulting in the destruction of London’s Millennium Bridge. Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon), needing the help of Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), comes to London to fetch his favorite student and magically transports the two of them to a remote village where Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent), a former Hogwarts professor resides. The Headmaster skillfully lures Slughorn back to the school, where he commissions the reluctant Harry to find out what Slughorn has long concealed about his relationship decades earlier with Tom Riddle, the disturbed orphaned student who became Lord Voldemort. This information is vital, the Headmaster assures Harry, if they are to defeat the Dark Lord.

Back at Hogwarts the school is no longer the colorful, cheerful place it once was, now that the students are under attack by Voldemort’s forces. Dumbledore announces that Prof. Snape will be the new teacher of the Defense Against the Dark Arts class and Prof. Slughorn the Potions teacher. The private lives of our by now-mid adolescent trio becomes more complicated as their hormones rage through their bodies. Harry seems interested in several girls—or is it the other way around?—and only with the onslaught of danger (in which the Weasely’s ramshackle home is destroyed during an attack of Death Eaters) does he admit his love for Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright). Ron (Rupert Grint), his ego inflated by his great success in defending Gryffindor’s goal during the Quidditch matches, easily succumbs to the wiles of the pursuing Lavender Brown (Jessie Cave), which fuels Hermione’s (Emma Watson) jealousy because of her own designs on him. During her time of anguish Harry offers her the limited comfort that a faithful friend can bring in one of the film’s most poignant scene. And, of course, the ever sneering Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is lurking about Hogwarts, often sneaking off to a secret cupboard. Early in the film the boy’s protective mother makes Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) vow that he will carry out the mission that Voldemort has given her son, the murder of Prof. Dumbledore.

One early reviewer remarked that the darkness and the action have overshadowed the humor to be found in the previous films, but I found this not to be the case at all. There is plenty of it to enjoy, such as: Harry’s response when Dumbledore whisks him to the village where Prof. Slughorn lives, “ You must be wondering why I brought you here.” ” Actually sir, after all these years I just sort of go with it.” Or Hermione’s words to Harry when she sees Ron and Lavender making out, ” Excuse me, I have to go vomit.” And when she sees the silly look on the love-sick Ron’s face, Prof. McGonagall (Maggie Smith) saying to Harry, “Potter, take Weasley with you. He looks far too happy over there.” And who will not at least smile over the lugubrious tears of Rubeus Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) over the death of his pet giant tarantula and the attempt of Slughorn to comfort him, followed by their drinking bout.

After a series of rousing adventures (some of them tragic), the film ends on a much quieter note than the novel, the funeral and climactic battle of the book being omitted. (Apparently the latter will be part of the next film—remember, the producers have announced that there will be two more Harry Potter films, which should do more justice to the series’ lengthy final novel.) Indeed, this film, with its anti-climactic ending, is really a lead-up to the final clash between the forces that will now be lead by Harry Potter and the mighty Voldemort, with two brief scenes emanating hope—the flight above Hogwarts of the bird that was the symbol of the Order of anti-Voldemort wizards that Dumbledore had helped found, and the assertion of Hermione that Harry will not leave the school and hunt for the Dark Lord all by himself. Again, the film imparts to viewers, young and old, lessons of the power of love, courage, and faithful friendship, not bad for a film bound to lure millions of fans to the theaters during the next few weeks. Children and youth leaders should have a great time discussing this with their groups, as well as parents and grandparents.

For Reflection/Discussion

Might contain spoilers.

1. What scene stands out for you, maybe be your favorite one? Compare the over-all mood or tone of this film to the earlier ones. How does the cinemaphotography contribute to this? Or the time of day when so much happens?

2. How have our three heroes changed through the years covered by the six films? And so, of course, what new interests have Harry, Ron, and Hermione acquired?

3. What form does prejudice take in the film? How does the film’s title reveal this? Compare this to past concern in our country over “mixed blood.” Note how Prof. Slughorn talks with Hermione about her parents and their profession—detect any paternalism?

4. What title does Harry assume? Compare “the Chosen One” to biblical titles given to Jesus of Nazareth. How does even Harry’s forehead contribute to this. How is his mark also a sign of love, as well as of “chosenness” ? What does Dumbledore tell Harry that saved his life when his parents were killed? Note how this conversation about love is a recapitulation of Dumbledore’s words to the hospitalized Harry at the conclusion of the first film.

5. How does Harry show that he is a true friend, especially to Hermione?
How could the whole series be regarded as an exploration of the nature of friendship?

6. How did you feel when the Death Eaters attack and destroy the Weasley’s home? How had they become Harry’s family?

7. There are several flashbacks to Tom Riddle and Prof. Slughorn. What has Riddle done that is like Jesus’ warning in Mark 8:36? (Note that some translate the Greek word as “soul,” rather than “life.” What is a horacrux, and how many of them are there? Why is it important for Harry to find all of them?

8. How is Dumbledore’s life, and especially his sacrifice at the end, one of love and service? What has he apparently given up over the years? How have the students at the school taken the place of a family for him? (And what did Harry have to give up at the beginning of the film in order to accompany his mentor?)

9. What is the bird that flies over Hogwarts at the end of the film? What does it mean for the story and our heroes, especially in the light of what has just happened? How do we need such resurrection symbols in order to carry on? (Those who have read James Agee’s novel A Death in the Family—what does the uncle see at the graveside service of his nephew’s father?)

10. When Harry declares that he is dropping out of school in order to fight Voldemort full time and that he must do it alone, what does Hermione say to him? How is she wiser at this point than he? Compare her assertion to Ecclesiastes 4.9-12.

11. Like the biblical Book of Esther, God is not named in the Harry Potter series. Where do you see him in this story? What “moments of grace” are there? How would you defend the series against those who still persist in declaring that the books and films are anti-Christian?