Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating: V-3; L-1; S/N-1.

Those who are my foes without cause are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good
are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!
Psalm 38:19-22

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.
For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of his mouth are mischief and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good.
Psalm 36:1-3

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends are 13 now as they enter their 3rd year at Hogwarts. We would expect them to share the usual angst of teenaged growth and confusion, and Harry certainly does. In the episode at the Dursleys that serves as a prologue (as in the previous films also) Harry no longer suffers in silence the outrageous insults inflicted upon him. When the Dursley’s dinner guest Aunt Marge denigrates Harry with her acid tongue, he maintains control over his emotions, but when she insults his deceased parents, his fury erupts. Casting a spell upon her that inflates her like a Good Year blimp, Harry rushes to his room, packs, and storms out of the house, leaving behind the angry but frightened Dursleys. Up in the sky we see dear old Aunt Marge floating away to a fate about which we are not told.

It is now night, and the dark street seems ominous. Harry catches a glimpse of a black dog with menacing-looking sharp teeth, but it is quickly obscured by the arrival of the Knight Bus, a 3-decker affair driven by Ernie the Bus Driver, but guided by the Shrunken Head. It is a wild ride through the crowded London streets, at one time a head-on collision with two other buses avoided only by the ability of the bus to shift its shape so that its narrow width is able to pass between the two on-coming behemoths. Deposited at the Leaky Cauldron pub, Harry expects to be reprimanded by the Minister of Magic who greets him. He knows that he has violated the ban on student wizard’s using magic outside of school. To the boy’s surprise, Minister Cornelius ignores his infraction and seems unusually solicitous about Harry’s safety, insisting that he stay at the Leaky Cauldron rather than returning to his aunt and uncle.

Harry soon learns that a dangerous and mysterious wizard named Sirius Black has escaped from the dreaded prison known as Azkaban. Black had been convicted of being in on the plot to betray and lead Lord Voldemort to the hiding place of Harry’s parents. Now it is suspected that he is out to kill Harry as well. So serious is the danger that the authorities have dispatched the formidable Dementors, guards at the prison, to run down Black and to guard the outer perimeter of Hogwarts. Dementors are beings so dark that they can suck the soul out of a person, as Harry learns on the train enroute to school. Joined in a compartment by his friends Hermione (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint), Harry is far more affected than his friends by the Dementor who is checking the various compartments. Drawing upon Harry’s darkest fears, the Dementor is close to destroying the boy when the man sleeping in a corner of the compartment springs to life and casts a spell that frees Harry and sends the Dementor away.

The rescuer turns out to be Prof. Lupin (David Thewlis), the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. He will become very important to Harry, enabling the boy to learn the rarely used Patronus Charm as a defense against the Dementors. He also harbors a dark secret and a connection with Sirius Black (Gary Oldman) that will teach Harry and friends that they must not judge things (and people) by appearances or accepted opinion.

Hogwarts seems darker but more animated in this third picture. The paintings certainly are livelier, and the ghosts of mounted knights cavort through the corridors and dining hall more frequently—but the students are now so used to them that they pay them no attention. The faculty is back, with Michael Gambon admirably filling the robes once worn by deceased Richard Harris. Prof. Snape (Alan Rickman) is as haughty and suspicious of Harry as ever, and Maggie Smith as dignified as ever as McGonagall. Robbie Coltrane is as lovable as ever as Rubeus Hagrid, now an instructor in the Care of Magical Creatures. They are joined by Emma Thompson as the somewhat addled Prof. Sibyl Trelawney, teacher of the art of Divination, a topic that the rationalist Hermione looks upon with scorn. Of course, Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) is back to hector Harry, especially when word of how Harry succumbed to the Dementor on the train spreads among the students.

It is obvious that the surprising selection of Alfonso Cuarón (director of Y Tu Mamá También) to direct the film was a wise choice. He brings a knowledge of teenagers and the complexity of Rowlings plot that makes this by far the best of the Potter films. The last sequence in which Harry and Hermione must travel back 24 hours in time to fix something in order to save several lives is wonderfully filmed. We learn why Hermione has disappeared from time to time and what caused seemingly mysterious things to happen (such as the unexplained smashing of a vase in Hagrid’s hut)—also the sad secret that will drive Prof. Lupin from Hogwarts. The scene between him and Harry near the end is as heartwarming as anything out of the original Good-bye, Mr. Chips. I haven’t seen 142 minutes go by so swiftly in a long time, while still wishing for more. The soaring flight of Harry atop Hagrid’s pet hippogriffin Buckbeak is perhaps the most thrilling one filmed since Superman treated Lois Lane to a pass-over of Metropolis. There are lots of action thrillers out there chronicling the battle of Good vs. Evil, such as Van Helsing, but these pale by comparison.

We do not know whether or not Harry knows the Psalms—there are neither chapel services nor references to faith and religion in the books—but if he did, I believe that Psalms 36 and 38 would speak to him. Psalm 36 surely is an apt description of Lord Voldemort and Malfoy, the latter being but a junior-sized version of the Lord of Darkness.

Harry is certainly beset by those who “render me evil for good,” and They are his “adversaries because I follow after good.” I suspect that Harry, as well as Hermione and Ron, will be among the surprised ones to whom Christ will say, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” and “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:34 & 40)

For reflection/discussion (Warning: Contains spoilers—do not read these if you have not seen the film or read the book.)

1) At what points in the film do we see Harry unleashing his temper? True to what you know of the teen years? In what other ways does the director show that Harry and his friends are leaving childhood innocence behind?

2) What are the “inner journeys” that Harry, Hermione and Ron embark on in the film?

3) What clue are we given that Prof. Lupin is subject to powerful forces beyond his will? Do you think his dismissal is fair? And yet is the concern for the welfare of the students valid? What does it show about the nature of Prof. Dumbledore that he was willing to give Lupin a chance to teach at Hogwarts?

4) Power is an important part of the story: what forms of power do you see? What determines whether it is good or bad? For example, how does Harry use the various forms of Power given him? Malfoy? If you had the power to go back into time and change something, what would it be? Or if you had an Invisibility Cloak what would you use it for?

5) What do you think of the employment of beings as cold and sinister as Dementors for guarding Hogwarts? Like the Rolling Stones hiring Hells Angels as bodyguards at their infamous concert years ago? What often happens when you ally yourself with the unsavory? What rationale do you think the Ministry of Magic might use for employing the Dementors?

6) Facing consequences is another interesting theme: How is Harry willing to face the consequences of his acts? Malfoy? (In the latter case consider the episode of the Hippogriff.)

7) Probably all of us enjoyed seeing Hermione deck Malfoy, but what do you think upon reflecting about the incident? Really the best way to deal with an enemy? (Compare with Matt. 5:44.)

8) Why does Harry argue that Pettigrew should not be killed?

9) In what ways have our trio grown by the end of this adventure?