Friday, December 15, 2006

Dumbest Harry Potter Interpretation Ever?

Galley Reader P.G. sends us this short piece about new Harry Potter David Yates, who's at the healm of the film version of Order of the Phoenix. Here's a clip from the piece:
"Phoenix," the fifth book in author J. K. Rowlings's series, is by far the most ideological, and seems allusive to post-9/11 politics. Harry knows that the evil Lord Voldemort has been reborn and is building an army, but the wizarding government, the Ministry of Magic, refuses to believe him. At Hogwarts, a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, the ministry's Dolores Umbridge, won't teach the students actual defense spells, under the pretense of protecting them. As the world grows more dangerous, and Umbridge restricts more and more of the students' personal freedoms, Harry and his pals form a secret club to teach themselves how to battle Voldemort and his minions. "It's like the French Resistance movement of the 1940s," Heyman says. Which is right up Yates's alley. "There's a really interesting principle at the heart of this story," says Yates, in an exclusive NEWSWEEK interview. "The ministry is this bureaucratic authoritarian regime trying to impose a fundamental doctrine on this liberal wacky school. The ministry isn't very good at accepting the beauty of differences. Everything has to fit in a box, and if it doesn't fit, it must be removed. The wonderful thing this story tells kids is that it's OK to be different."

Except that that's exactly not the point of Order of the Phoenix. The message is more properly understood as: The world is a dangerous place and sometimes, no matter how deep in the sand you try to stick your head, bad people will try to kill you. If you refuse to fight back, you're a willing accomplice to evil. Hogwarts isn't a whacky liberal enclave--it's Sandhurst, where Churchill is teaching a rising generation of warriors how to fight the battle their parents shirked. And the Ministry of Magic isn't John Ashcroft's Justice Department or the Catholic Church or whatever other repressive, patriarchical, neanderthal hive Yates might want to equate it with: It's the frackin' League of Nations.

At least, that's what I took away from Order of the Phoenix. But maybe I'm just a neocon warmonger. Tell me where I'm wrong.


jon said...

JVL, You're expecting moral and political clarity from Hollywood? Wow! I'd have hoped you'd know better from your wonderful interpretation of the Star Wars movies.

One I just came across: Superman Returns. Mentions of Superman standing for "truth" and "justice" were made. They seemingly forgot the "American way" part. This couldn't have been a coincidence.

What is happening is that even though conventional drama has the need for the hero in whatever conflict is going on--man v. man, man v. Lord Voldemort, etc.--current sentiment is to fold before admitting that there're somethings worth fighing for and some people in need of an asskicking. That position suggests of moral certitude, and the only thing that any of these "culture" types are certain of is that the only remaining evil is moral certitude.

E.g., Obi Wan: "Only a Sith speaks in absolutes." Uh, isn't "only" an absolute?

The only remaining option is for a Straussian sit-com.

Jacob said...

I'm pretty sure that the "Only a Sith speaks in absolutes" was intended to be ironic. Asides from the fact, as you've pointed out, that it is itself a statement of absolutes the Sith are complete moral relativists. Remember Palpatine's "point of view" speech?

jjv said...

To answer your question, you are both 1) correct about Harry Potter and 2) a neocon warmonger. Can't wait to see how it ends.

jon said...

Remember Obi Wan's "point of view" speech to Luke on Dagobah? I suspect the Sith are at least aware of the incoherence and hence more philosophic.