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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

by Yoda
posted on 12/30/10
One of the more jolting things about growing up is that people stop telling you what to do next. By this point, most young people have strained against the confines of authority as long as they can remember, and the sudden freedom accompanied by becoming a full-fledged adult is like a rush of cold air: equal parts refreshing and harsh.

This is the situation we find our triumvirate of protagonists in throughout much of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1. As Harry, Ron and Hermione enter adulthood, they find themselves without Professor Dumbledore. And after chafing against the rules of Hogwarts and the wizarding world at large for six films, they suddenly have the terrible freedom to do whatever they wish, and the humbling responsibility that comes with it. Specifically, the responsibility to find the remaining horcruxes.

A horcrux, for those of you who limit your vocabulary to actual words, is an object in which a piece of someone's soul has been magically hidden. Lord Voldemort has split his soul into seven pieces and spread them about, which rather elegantly explains why he's always popping up again after it appears he's been killed. Destroy them all, and he'll finally stop doing that. But where to look? Without the aid of Dumbledore neither Harry nor his friends have any idea, and they meander about the wilderness for roughly half the film. Yes, even wizard adolescents lack direction.

To less devoted fans of the source material it's possible that this portion of the film may drag, but it creates a useful ennui: when characters start bristling at each other and tensions flare up, it's all the more believable because you'll probably share their frustration with the lack of progress.

Your reward for enduring these scenes is an animated sequence of stunning artistry that is the high point of the entire series thus far. The sequence reenacts a famous bedtime story and is emblematic of the film's general level of gusto. There are moments of genuine beauty here, and there's a strange indie-vibed confidence throughout. Somehow, director David Yates has taken a multi-billion-dollar franchise and made it feel like the work of someone who has nothing to lose. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 is full of little visual flourishes that would only work if executed flawlessly, which they are.

These last few installments are not straight words-to-visual adaptations, as the first two films were; they're emotional creations in their own right. One could hardly have faulted Yates for playing it safe and transcribing the last few books, as if merely translating the story from one language to another, but these latest films -- and Deathly Hallows in particular -- have personalities of their own above and beyond that of the books. But there is restraint, also; there are times when the film has to pull back and emphasize things by leaving them alone, and it always knows one from the other.

The most encouraging development of all is the growing distinction between the oft-mentioned "darker" tone the films have taken, and their level of actual maturity. One can hardly find a review that does not mention how "grown up" the films have become, but up until now this has been largely superficial: characters dying on screen, falling in love, or facing increasingly grisly looking enemies. Deathly Hallows goes deeper, portraying adulthood as a subtle mental process marked by responsibility and choices, not merely more serious subject matter.

There's no denying that Deathly Hallows has the series' cumulative time and weight behind it, and that it benefits from this greatly. If you've watched this far, you can't help but respond as characters say things they can never completely take back, or meet their very end. As this ambitious series of films does the same, one can only hope that it does so with the same degree of confidence and skill as this penultimate chapter.