With Half-Blood Prince, Finally, Harry Potter Has Breath
by Brandon Lee Tenney
July 16, 2009
It's an odd thing, Harry Potter. As someone who is fairly well read and someone who tries his best to stay abreast of the now and the verge of geek culture, Harry Potter and the seven novels that contain him were never high on my "To Read" list. When the first book was released, I can't say I remember even noticing. Upon the second novel's release, I remember picking up the first, thumbing through it, sitting down with it -- but ultimately returning it to my sister's shelf. She, three years younger than me, was more ably taken by the books. She identified more with the characters; characters who, for all intents and purposes, were experiencing life much like she was (save for the magic, of course) at that age. Experiences that I had dealt with three years prior. Harry Potter, therefore, simply did not become a part of my life.
That is until the 2001 release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. From that point on, for eight years now, I have been a devout fan of the Harry Potter universe -- as incarnated on film. I have been able to experience this epic coming-of-age story from a unique perspective -- as someone wholly removed from the baggage carried by those who are all-too-familiar with the Harry Potter of the page. Of course, I am not alone in this, but as I said earlier, it's an odd thing for me that I am not familiar with the pages upon which the boy wizard was born.
And up until tonight, I revelled in that oddity.
Last night, as the closing credits began to roll at the end of the latest installment of the Harry Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I, for the first time, was left wanting more. Or, rather, I felt like I hadn't been given enough. For the first time I felt a pang of realization that perhaps what had been left out, altered, shifted, and concealed through and by the adaptation process was more important than what I had actually seen on the screen in front of me.
Though another pang clenched my gut as well. A pang in opposition to the first. A guttural and instinctual response that I often try to temper later, rationalize and qualify so as to not speak in hyperbole. As the last fade decrescendoed to black, my thoughts centered around one word: masterpiece. Spinning around that word were similes qualifying such a claim. Half-Blood Prince is like a fine cigar: a slow burn housing notes of brilliant character that linger long after the exhale. Still spinning were praises of boldness, of admiration. The boldness of leaving out the very villain atop which the entire plot balances. My admiration of such a character driven story here and now, as the penultimate entry in the series. My praise of those characters to whom I, until tonight, had merely known as archetypes and plot devices -- for tonight, with Half-Blood Prince, I finally feel like I know Harry and Ron and Hermione. My praise of showing so ably the absolutely intangible experience of moving from childhood to the very brink of adulthood.
But spinning around that word -- masterpiece -- was also trepidation. Trepidation not unlike that felt throughout the film itself. That ominous wariness that blankets Half-Blood Prince from Fade in: to Fade out. Though there are moments of levity, of honest-to-goodness joy in the film, happiness never lasts long in Hogwarts. And so too did my smile never last long on my face. There's an uneasiness about everything. A stillness. A silence that's used much like an artist uses negative space in a painting. Though seemingly insignificant, seemingly empty, it's there that the composition is crafted. So too it is there that Half-Blood Prince weaves its plot, its architecture.
And it's there that that first pang of realization began to prod. Not a whole lot actually happens. Though I now feel more connected to the characters than ever before, I am more invested in their plight, their journey, their world -- I was left hanging with nothing to actually invest in. So, as the sold-out Sarasota, Florida theater full of die-hard fans began to rise at almost three in the morning, the grumbling began. I needed not look any farther than to my immediate left where my sister, still teary-eyed, sat shaking her head. "They left out so much," she said. "You have no idea."
She's right. I don't. I've not the slightest idea what screenwriter Steve Kloves and director David Yates decided to leave off the page, out of camera, or on the cutting room floor. I've no idea if the characters we saw should have been seen more, if scenes we didn't see should have been seen, if moments that were only hinted at should have instead been scenes of great weight and significance. But such is my experience. Would have I had enjoyed a bit more action, a scene or two explaining some lingering questions, or a pay off for some obvious setups -- of course. Though I wholly admire the stunningly truthful character development and growth -- do I wish that perhaps just a bit more would have happened or at least a more cathartic climax would have occurred? Yes. Yes I do. And perhaps with all of that I would have known more about what is happening, the intricacies of the plot at hand -- but I most certainly would not have known to whom it is happening in such vivid detail. And, for me, that is paramount.
While Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince may not exactly be a masterpiece, it's as close as any of the films in the series have come. What I'm choosing to do is view this film as a kind of interlude, a foundation for the climax that is to come. David Yates has given us the very core of Harry Potter with Half-Blood Prince. A core of young adults who are just now realizing their agency over their own lives. We needed this film, just as it is, in order to embark on the sure-to-be action packed, plot driven finale that will be Deathly Hallows. Even if there is plot that may have been more important than a tear-filled examination of unrequited love, a comedic quidditch tryout, or a foreboding meditation on peace, I am glad to have given up the plot. A body that walks without a beating heart is a zombie. So too is a film without breathing characters. Finally, Harry Potter has breath.