[Note: This is an evaluation, not a review, and is done for the purposes of pointing out anything in the movie that could be problematic from a moral and/or biblical viewpoint, and it is written primarily to inform parents. Please do not email me and tell me that I think fantasy is bad, or that because children know the difference between reality and fiction, this movie is okay. I don’t think fantasy is bad at all, and I realize most children know the difference between reality and fiction, but that is not the issue here. Please read this first, and my articles on the Harry Potter books as well, before emailing me if you have objections. Thank you.]
Technically and artistically speaking, this may be the best Harry Potter movie so far. However, it was also the darkest, which is not surprising since the book it is based on, the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, is the darkest book of the first four. The PG-13 rating is well deserved.
As in the book, the movie starts with Harry’s dream, which is actually a psychic vision, of Voldemort and two of his aides killing an elderly caretaker. The killing is not shown but implied.
No movie can include all the details of a book, and quite a lot is left out for this movie from the 734-page book. See my article covering this book, along with the 2nd and 3rd books, at http://cana.userworld.com/cana_morehpotter1.html. For instance, two of Mr. Weasley’s sons gamble but Mr. Weasley simply tells them not to tell their mother about it. This is left out, as are many other scenes from the book.
Sadistic Spells and Death
The focus on magic is quite strong in this movie, especially in the beginning and at the end of the movie. In the class for Defense Against the Dark Arts, Prof. Moody tells the students that he will show them the 3 “unforgivable” curses, which are spells that 1) command, 2) torture, and 3) kill. An example of this is performed for the students using a rather hideous looking insect as the victim. Even thought it’s just an ugly insect, the torturing and killing scene is gruesome, sadistic, and unsavory. (It turns out later that this Prof. Moody is not the real Moody, but an imposter who is actually a Death Eater, one of Voldemort’s followers). A further sadistic spell is used by Moody on Malfoy, a student. Although Malfoy is Harry’s nemesis and adversary, it is hardly an example of morality to show a child being turned into an animal and then sadistically thrown around with the use of magic. In the book, it’s made clear that Malfoy is in pain when this is being done.
The killing curse, called the Avada Kedavra, is perhaps better known as “‘Abracadabra.” This word has a history. According to one author on the occult, abracadabra is thought to be derived from Abraxas, the name of a demon (Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, The Complete Book of Spells, Ceremonies & Magic, 2d ed. [St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1996], 293). Another author considers Abraxas to the name of a gnostic deity of time, with “the arms and torso of a man, the head of a cock, and serpents for legs,” (Bill Whitcomb, The Magician’s Companion [St. Paul: Llewellyn, 1994], 401). Gonzalez-Wippler describes him this way as well, though she says he has the head of a hawk (Gonzalez-Wippler, 293). The earliest record of the magical use of Abracadabra is found in a Roman poem on medicine written in AD 208 (293). The word must be written from top to bottom in pyramid form, dropping a letter in each line until the last line at the bottom contains only the first letter, “A,” (294). Voldemort uses this spell in the movie (and the book) to kill Cedric, one of the students in the Triwizard Tournament.
The movie continues in a very focused way on the Triwizard Tournament, which involves Harry and three other students (two from outside witchcraft schools) in a competition involving three tasks that is presented as potentially deadly. “People have died in this competition,” the students are told. The minimum age for it is 17, but someone has entered Harry’s name, and his name is chosen. Because of the “absolute” rule regarding this choice of names, Harry must participate even though the headmaster, Dumbledore, and others do not think he is ready and actually seem to fear for his life. In other words, those in authority allow a young teenager to risk his life because of the “rule” about the tournament. This is quite ironic in light of the fact that in previous books and movies, some of the authority figures bend or even break the rules for Harry.
Harry is helped in the 3 tasks by being told what is involved, or by given clues. A friend gives Harry a special plant to swallow so that Harry can stay underwater for an hour in the 2nd task. Harry does not find out things on his own but is given help by others. This cheating is presented more strongly in the book. It turns out that the false Prof. Moody engineered this so that Harry would be in the Tournament to be endangered and later captured.
Some would say that Harry redeems himself by his acts of bravery during the Tournament in saving people in the 2nd task, and in rescuing another contender during the 3rd task (though this contender, Cedric, gets killed a short while later). While it is true that Harry is brave and unselfish in doing these rescues, it does not negate the cheating (or the emphasis on magic), though the cheating in the book is more pervasive (as is Harry’s lying).
One scene involves Harry in a large spa-like bath where he sits naked while trying to figure out the clue for the second task. Moaning Myrtle, a ghost (she was a student who was murdered several years ago), flits about Harry and gives him hints about the clue, all the while trying to get a peek at his private area.
Harry is helped by the ghosts of his dead parents, and by the magic in his wand, during the final showdown with Voldemort.
The Re-Embodiment of Lord Voldemort
After a frightening run through a large maze in search of the Goblet of Fire, Cedric and Harry end up in a cemetery where Cedric is killed by Voldemort. The portrayal of Cedric’s death is vivid and wrenching. There is nothing subtle about it. Later, after Harry brings Cedric’s body back to the school grounds (after his death, Cedrick’s “ghost” asks Harry to take his body back), the audience sees Cedric and the open-eyed expression of death on his face. Showing this is entirely unnecessary, especially for a PG-13 movie that the filmmakers must know a lot of children under 13 will attend.
Harry is tied up, and a ritual is performed by Voldemort’s aide, Wormtail. In a cauldron, Wormtail places a bone from Voldemort’s dead father, cuts off his own hand for the “brew,” and cuts Harry’s arm deeply, adding Harry’s blood to the mix. The disembodied substance of Voldemort is placed in the cauldron and he comes out of it in a bodily, though hideous, form.
Due to this ritual, which is intensely horrifying in the movie, Voldemort now has Harry’s blood in his body. This serves to further strengthen the connection between Harry and Voldemort. They share the feather of the same bird in their respective wands; they both speak parseltongue, the language of snakes; Harry’s scar, inflicted when Voldemort tried to kill him as an infant, hurts and burns when Voldemort is near or is after Harry; Harry is able at times to have a psychic vision of what Voldemort is doing; and now Harry’s blood runs in Voldemort’s veins.
What is the purpose of this connection? As with the connection between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies, the connection shows the light and dark side of magic (the Force in Star Wars). This is not about good and evil so much as it is about using power. The source for both the dark powers of Voldemort and for the sorcery of Harry and Dumbledore is the same. The indication in the books is that those who become dark wizards do so from their own will; that is, it is entirely under one’s control as to whether one is a dark or white magician. The message is that as long as one chooses to use these powers for good, then one is good.
Harry and Lord Voldemort engage in a “duel” with their wands. During this encounter, Harry’s deceased parents appear in ghostly form and give their son advice so that he is able to cut off contact with Voldemort and flee to the Goblet, which takes him back to Hogwarts. Thus, Harry is aided by magic and by the ghosts of dead people.
This duel is power versus power, magic versus magic, but how is Voldemort’s magic different from Harry’s? It is not; the source is the same. Voldemort is always presented as someone who once was a promising student but went over to the “dark” side. Another movie presents the same concept. In “Star Wars: Episode III,” the Sith chancellor tells Anakin, the future villain Darth Vader, that the Sith and the Jedi use the same Force, but the Sith go deeper and use it in a more powerful way. So it is with Voldemort, he is casting spells, but uses his power in a malicious manner, thus making him evil. In the Harry Potter stories, the evil lies not in the use of magic or spells, but in one’s intentions.
A Good Hero?
What is ‘good’ exactly according to the movie? If Harry is good, then it must be good to use magic for good, since that is what he is doing. In the occult view of magic, power is the ultimate source and magic is neutral; there are no standards of absolute good and evil. Therefore, one’s intentions, the results of one’s actions, and one’s subjective rationalizations for the actions are the measuring rod. But if one bases good on God as absolute good, as taught in His word, then practices such as spirit contact, divination, casting spells, and deception would not be practiced by ‘good’ characters without remorse and consequences.
This brings us to the crux of the problem with Harry Potter. It is not that the movies or books present occult practices or immoral actions. It is not just that the story endorses these actions for Harry. The issue is what is the nature of good, and how is it defined? If Harry is good, or is doing good, and if these stories are about good versus evil, then what is this ‘good’ based on? Where and what is the standard for good? Where is the moral absolute? Does it reside in Dumbledore, who is the head of a school that trains students in real occult arts such as astrology, divination, numerology, magical potions, and casting spells? Does good reside in Harry, who has been shown to lack a moral character and who is gaining power through magic? Does the good depend solely on intentions or outcomes, as the Harry Potter storylines suggest? Or does the good depend on magic itself, the neutral power that enables one to practice light or dark magic?
One cannot claim the books or movies teach a moral lesson of good versus evil if no clear picture is presented of what this ‘good’ is, or if a distorted picture of good is depicted. Nor can one say that magic or one’s intentions are the standard for good, when it is God who is the only true standard. Since God condemns occult practices (see Deuteronomy 18:10-14), then these practices can never be good, no matter what one’s intentions might be.
My recommendation is that no child under 14 or 15 should see this movie, and ideally that no one should see it at all. The movie is very dark, contains some obscenities, and offers little that is compatible with God’s word or with a Christian worldview. In fact, the movie flouts concepts opposed to God’s teachings. The few places where morality is given a pat on the head ultimately drown in a sea of paranormal magic and deception.
But due to the gross desensitization in our culture to violence, to darkness, and to the occult, it is more likely that what is shown in this movie will be accepted as “normal.” This allows further desensitization, so that the envelope will continue to be pushed just a little more each time, and our children will be exposed to even darker stories and movies until there will be no lines to cross anymore.