Friday, July 15, 2011

Pötterdämmerung (or, It Ends, Again)

[Art by RLKarnes, here.]

Well, we're back from vacation. And just in time for the Twilight of the Gods, Potter-style--or in other words, a midnight showing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2", which finished up about seven hours ago. Don't look for much of a review of the film here; I'll say something about it, but I've more to say about the whole HP thing, and the mixed joy and sadness I felt as the movie came to close. No Friday Morning Video this morning, folks; throwing up some old pop music video today would seem almost...disrespectful.

Take a peak around the web, and it's obvious: us fans are melancholy, exhilarated, and wistful. An odd mixture, that--but then, this has been an odd journey. It comes to an end--or at least, some sort of "end", even if the passion doesn't fade (though it almost surely will)--with a movie that contained almost no surprises; we just wanted to see it, with these actors, on the big screen. The story almost wasn't the point--we've known how it ends for four years now, and have had all that time to deal with it, reflect upon it, and even amend it (if we're inclined towards fan fiction, as I am). Moreover, we've known that Rowling's story wasn't a grand epic, though it often read like and affected us like one. It wasn't the sort of story that invited emotional revolutions or world-historical analogies: it was just the story of a boy, however much Rowling (and the script-writers who followed in her wake) arguably struggled with the very different, heavier, stranger, darker, more mature story within the bildungsroman which she, until the very last word, insisted (perhaps most crucially to herself) that she really was writing. We know all that. And we know that these films we love are, well, just adaptations: just riffs on the essential tale. So why were we--and here I mean the hundreds people who, like me and my oldest daughter, watched the midnight showing of Deathly Hallows Part 2 at our local theater earlier tonight (one of whom stood up a few minutes before the movie began, loudly called for everyone's attention, and then proposed to his girlfriend in front a cheering, costumed crowd), and I mean the millions more across the world who did the same early this morning--so caught up in it all? Caught up to, dare I say it, a Wagnerian degree?

I would suggest this partial explanation: because in a world where a relatively small amount of disposable income, a smattering of education, and the presence of some sort of mass media environment makes possible the emergence a participatory fan culture--of a fandom, in other words--the objects of fan affection don't take on the character of gods...but they do take on the character of a shared and venerated set of referents; they become something that, in however small way, we orient ourselves towards and around. In a sense, I'm not saying anything here that hasn't been said by social psychologists and cultural historians about kings and Hollywood actors and athletic stars for generations: geeking out over a person, to say nothing of a story or practice or art, is a particular part of human nature (maybe not every human's nature, but more than a few of us). The fact that this particular obsession takes the form of following through on a narrative that's already been enacted for us already, on page, doesn't necessarily change the way it works. At least not for me; as a member of this community of fans, I needed too see this film, to be part of it and all the joys and controversies and debates which surrounded it, perhaps even more because I knew how it ends.

Okay, this makes it all sound entirely performative and ritualistic, and of course it wasn't. I really did want to see how they handled Harry and Professor McGonagall and Neville and the Order of the Phoenix and the whole of Dumbledore's Army confronting Snape and organizing Hogwarts against Voldemort's attack (absolutely my favorite part of the movie, crammed with all sorts of wonderful character moments and visuals and dialogue, as was the battle itself, though I must register a strong dissent at killing off Lavender.) I really did want to see how they handled the Chamber of Secrets scene with Ron and Hermione (not what it could have been--I would have liked a little more dialogue, and by the way, why did we get the whole room exploding in water and drenching them, instead of, for example, that water attacking Hermione, as the Horcrux-locket fought back against Ron?--but it was wonderful that it was on screen at all). I really did want to see Ciarán Hinds as Aberforth Dumbledore (very nice, but his scenes were compromised by the fact that, throughout both parts of "Deathly Hallows", Kloves and Yates never did figure out how--or perhaps never even seriously attempted--to explain why Dumbledore's backstory or family were important to Harry's choices at all). And I really did want to see how they handled the revelation of Snape's ultimate loyalty and tragedy (to which I have to disagree with the emerging critical consensus: while Snape's final moments with Voldemort and Harry were dramatic and powerful, I found the pensieve scene rushed and not a little incoherent--seriously filmmakers, would it have killed you to give the single most important sequence in the entire story of Snape from all seven books five additional freaking minutes of screen time?). So no: it wasn't all ritual and performance; I really was curious about, excited and anxious about this final movie, and I really did cheer as the all the work which went into it came to an end. But let me be honest: there's almost no way I could have disliked the movie last night, and definitely no way I would have missed it (though the midnight showing was perhaps a little much). I'm too much a fan, too caught up in the exultation and sorrow and reflections of this concluding moment, for it to have been otherwise.

And now? Well, it was nice seeing the Epilogue from the book on screen, but I really kind of wish the film had ended with that wonderful scene of the trio standing on the broken down bridge to Hogwarts castle, Harry having broken and thrown the Elder wand into the abyss, leaving our heroes with no magical ties left to the curse of Voldemort, and simply standing, holding hands, and staring into their future. Like the somber artwork at the beginning of this post, that's the moment I think the movie should have ended upon--since, after all, that's where all us fans are standing as well. Having gone through it all, we wonder what comes next (Pottermore, perhaps!).

Not that everything about the fan experience has been, or ever will be, somber: one of the great joys of Rowling's works, and the whole fandom her work inspired, has been the humor, the whimsy, the silliness, the defiance, the delight of it all. I'm talking about The Mysterious Ticking Noise (which another group of fans before the showing last night started chanting out for all of us); I'm talking about Wizard People (beware--not child appropriate); I'm talking about A Very Potter Musical; I'm talking about thousands of gags and stunts and parodies online. But for now, I'm thinking of the more somber stuff out there--the expressions of devotion that take the deepness lurking about Rowling's story, and turn it into something that captures both the sadness and the fulfillment us true fans feel. (Start with the "documentary," The Battle of Hogwarts, easily the best fan film I've yet seen, and go from there.) And if you want to try to understand how we feel, staring out into a future in which we've done pretty much everything any Harry Potter fan could offer their Gods, you could given this video a listen:

And, since we live in the age of the mash-up, this one as well:

It's nearly 11am CST, the day after my own personal Pötterdämmerung; I've survived, and I'm happy I went through it all. And if Rowling writes another book...I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

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