[Note: As noted in my evaluation of the first Harry Potter movie, this is not a movie review but rather an evaluation of the movie, especially for parents of younger children who are wondering about the movie’s contents. This evaluation is made with children in mind, not with the adult viewer in mind. The movie is rated PG, though some scenes border on a PG-13 rating, in my view. The writer is a former professional astrologer and formerly involved in various occult practices.]
There is a lot of action and suspense, along with some humor — especially the kind of humor children enjoy — though Prof. Lockhart’s vanity provides some good laughs for adults. There is good acting by some characters, mostly on the part of those who play unlikable characters (the roles of Lucius Malfoy and Filch), and by Alan Rickman who plays Prof. Snape. Unfortunately, these parts are brief.
There are several scenes too intense and scary for younger children, especially under age 10. I would strongly suggest that no child under age 8 see this movie, and I have strong reservations about saying that even children 9 and 10 could see it. Some of the scary scenes include giant spiders chasing Harry and his friends in order to eat them (this is done in a way that will seem realistic to children); a creepy, ghostly voice heard by Harry; menacing writing on a school wall in red that is suggestive of blood; a fast-moving Quidditch game during which children are almost knocked off their broomsticks; screaming Mandrake plants that appear to be like babies, which will eventually be killed to make a potion to heal petrified students; a hanged ghost is suspended above a student who has been petrified; Harry and his friends drink a magical potion to turn into other people; a ghostly girl who haunts the girls’ bathroom tells how she died; a cat that has been hung (it turns out to be petrified, not dead, but it looks dead and presents a repulsive image); petrified students (they look dead); the monstrous basilisk, a giant snake, which chases Harry; and Harry’s fight with the basilisk.
Moral Relativism: No Bad Deed Goes Unrewarded
The beginning of the movie shows Harry being spirited away (pun intended) from his home with the dreadful Dursley’s by his friends Ron and Ron’s two brothers. Ron is driving a flying car and Harry escapes in this. Later, Ron and Harry, after having missed the train to Hogwarts, fly this car to Hogwarts. Ron is not supposed to be driving the car; the car itself is an illegal object, since it’s a Muggle object that has been enchanted; and the car is seen by several Muggles, a no-no in the world of magic. However, there is no punishment for Ron from his parents: his mother reprimands him and his father dutifully pretends to scold him, clearly finding the adventure amusing.
At Hogwarts, Prof. Snape tells Harry and Ron that the action of using the flying car would cause expulsion if he could decide. However, Prof. McGonagall gives Harry and Ron rather light punishments. Furthermore, the car itself has been made magical by Ron’s father, who is in charge of the department in the Ministry of Magic that is supposed to monitor and fine those wizards/witches who enchant Muggle objects, a violation of the rules. Here we have the person who is supposed to enforce a certain rule and who violates it with no compunction whatsoever. Not only that, he winks at his son doing the same thing. This adult laxity in following or enforcing rules pervades the books.
There are other violations of rules and/or questionable behavior: Harry and Ron venture into the dark forest, which is against school rules; Harry and Ron use the invisibility cloak to sneak out of Hogwarts, violating a curfew; Harry and his friends drug some cupcakes in order to render Malfoy’s friends unconscious, then drag them away to hide them; and Harry and his friends venture into the Chamber of Secrets, which they know is forbidden and dangerous. None of these actions are regretted or punished; in fact, these actions bring Harry fame and reward.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione make a potion to turn themselves into friends of Draco Malfoy, Harry’s nemesis. Hermione is the one who comes up with this idea, and she says that doing this will be breaking about “50 school rules,” (this is an exact quote from the book, p. 159, 1999 paperback edition). In the book, Hermione tricks Prof. Lockhart, by lying to him, into signing a permission slip for her to get a normally forbidden book on potions from the library. The movie also leaves out the detail in the book that the children steal ingredients for this potion from a professor.
Their adventures lead to danger, and at the end of the movie, Professor Dumbledore clearly states that Harry and Ron have both broken school rules, “therefore, it is only fitting that you both receive rewards.” This is a quote: I took notes on this and double-checked with someone else, who heard the same thing. In other words, Harry and Ron break the rules and Dumbledore states that due to that, they will be rewarded. [Note: In the book it is not much better. Dumbledore first says to Harry and Ron, “I seem to remember telling you both that I would have to expel you if you broke any more school rules,” and then he tells them this: “Which goes to show that the best of us must sometimes eat our words. . . You will both receive special awards for Services to the School and . . [ . . .] . . two hundred points apiece for Gryffindor” (pp. 330 and 331, 1999 paperback edition)].
Spells, Occult Views, and Death
Naturally, there is spellcasting by both adults and children. In fact, it seems that whenever there is a threat or problem, one only has to cast a spell or use innate magical powers. We see the magical flying car; Harry can speak to snakes (as can Voldemort, the villain); magical potions transform Harry and his friends into other people so they can spy; Harry and Ron use an invisibility cloak; Hermione casts spells to help out; two professors have a spell “duel;” Ron does a spell which backfires on him; the villain uses a magical diary to hypnotize Ron’s younger sister into carry out evil deeds for him (Voldemort); Harry magically attacks Voldemort (aka Tom Riddle) by stabbing Tom’s diary; and other episodes.
Death is referred to or hinted at fairly often: the mandrake plants, which are pulled out by students and look like screaming newborns (though with ugly faces), will be boiled and made into a potion; the herbs professor tells the students that the cry of a mandrake can kill those who hear it; there are references by adults to the fact that a student was previously killed in the school and that soon more students may be killed; Harry sees a scene from the past which shows the dead student being carried away on a stretcher; Moaning Myrtle, the dead girl whose ghost haunts the girls’ bathroom, tells Harry and his friends how she died; and the petrified cat and students appear dead-like.
Much will undoubtedly be made of the phoenix that appears in this movie by those who wish to find Christian symbols, since the phoenix dies and rises from its own ashes. However, though the phoenix was once used as a Christian symbol of resurrection, in Harry Potter it clearly is not Christian. The phoenix is also a symbol in the occult art form of alchemy (as well as being a symbol in many non-Christian cultures such as ancient Egypt). Since the very first book is based on the theme of alchemy, it only makes sense to see the phoenix in that context. There is nothing in the books so far to suggest a Christian theme, either implicitly or explicitly. In fact, the themes clearly present occult practices and worldviews, and I believe a clear case for that is made in the CANA articles on the Harry Potter books . One cannot make the phoenix, or any other creature, a Christian symbol simply because one desires to. Meanings that are not there cannot be read into the books. The context must be taken into account, as well as the fact that many symbols change meaning over time throughout cultures.
Similarities between Harry and Lord Voldemort, the villain, are noted in this movie (it is more emphasized in the book). Both speak parselmouth, the language of snakes, for example. Dumbledore tells Harry that Voldemort probably transferred some of his power into Harry when he tried to kill him as a baby. This is similar to the tie between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, when Luke discovers Darth Vader is his father. This is a classic yin/yang occult view of complementary opposites explained in the CANA Harry Potter articles and in the CANA article, “The Dark Side.”
As a friend of the writer’s stated about this movie: “The use of magic and sorcery is a way of achieving power and status. By altering the normal laws of nature, the characters can be a law unto themselves. Therefore, there is no higher sense of morality. Especially when Harry is commended for breaking rules.”
There is no moral context presented in the movie; rather the message is that the end justifies the means, especially because Harry and his friends lie, steal, and break rules, and yet are rewarded for this in almost all cases. One or two episodes of this behavior would be regrettable, but a constant stream of it is disturbing. Harry is usually rescued by others or by magic in the movie; he rarely relies solely on himself. The flying car helps him and Ron escape the spiders; Hermione makes a potion for them to spy on Malfoy; a ghost gives the clue about the Chamber of Secrets; and, at a crucial moment, the phoenix pecks out the eyes of the basilisk, and then a sword is conveniently presented to Harry in order to slay the basilisk. Although Harry shows bravery in slaying the basilisk, bravery is not enough of a moral quality by itself. Bank robbers and murderers can be brave (and loyal).
I am going to repeat something said in the evaluation of the first movie, because it cannot be said enough: I believe strongly in Christianity being able to reach the culture and being aware of what is around us. However, we need not expose our children to everything the culture has to offer. I am often told that Harry Potter is just a story, that it is fiction. Being a former Literature major, I am quite aware of what fiction is. In fact, I am so aware of what fiction is that I realize what a powerful vehicle it can be to convey ideas and messages. Additionally, the stories refer to actual occult practices.
“Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” movie is moral Swiss cheese in an occult context.