A Passionately Dementored Fifth
By: Rianne Hill Soriano
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Harry Melling, Emma Watson, Jason Boyd, Rupert Grint
Directed by: David Yates
Not everyone will like ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ mainly because of its really dark and heavy demeanor; but if you look beyond, you will appreciate how passionately intense this deliciously dark affair is. The significant story that is clearly tinged with sharp satirical thrusts keeps up with themes on isolation, loss, and grief. It is a powerful and poignant coming-of-age story about the darker threads and currents of growing up and facing the unpleasant realities in life.
This fifth installment of the Harry Potter franchise is bleak, dark, moody, and malevolent. The childish wonder offered by its predecessors is a true past. Say good-bye to magical chocolate candies and Quidditch fun. And say welcome to hormonal changes, politics, and rebellion. ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ draws as if all happiness has gone from the story, just like how the Dementors attack Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) during the first sequence of the film. And the effectively involving treatment by director David Yates makes a great deal on the creeping heaviness and unease needed by the film. It is an advantage to the story itself, and yet a disadvantage to those audiences who would rather want another dose of fun, colorful, and magical moments with the young wizards and witches of Hogwarts. So far, the only festive moment on the film is the rebellious fireworks display by the Weasley twins Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) as they invade the exam hall that is controlled by the new fascist head of Hogwarts Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton).
‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ ushers a climate of mind games, repression, sexuality, adolescent changes, paranoia, betrayal, fascism, power struggle, madness, and death. It overflows with devious plots, clever machinations, vicious mind control, subservient media, crooked government system, social injustice, black propaganda, and adolescent anxieties. The metaphors are mainly implicit and have a lot to do with growing up and greed of power. The magical teens are going through a difficult transition to young adults, and at the same time, they are keeping up with semi-delusional torturers and power hungry fascists. And from here, Harry and his band of school rebels start to prepare themselves on their own for the battles ahead. His underground force named Dumbledore’s Army secretly trains in a hidden spot inside Hogwarts to refine and develop their magical skills amidst the brooding dictatorship inside the school.
In the story, Harry is completely conflicted, isolated, and angry. His inner demons constantly wreck his peace of mind. He is haunted by nightmares and the tragic death of a classmate. He is struggling to evict Voldemort from his own mind. And just like any teenager with adolescent hormones moving here and there, his journey towards the dark becomes imminent.
As the fight turns political, hidden meanings become not so hard to find. Rather than having his heroism and skills regarded as he fends off an attack of two Dementors, Harry is threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts. He is summoned before a hostile tribunal similar to a Stalinist show trial before the increasingly Orwellian Ministry of Magic. Then, the students of Hogwarts are forbidden to learn anything that might be useful in battle with the threat of overpowering the Ministry of Magic (sounds familiar in so many ways, times, and places). Moreover, the altering of media information through the Daily Prophet becomes a much more serious depiction of the misuse of media power for selfish intentions. The pink and stout new teacher and Ministry of Magic puppet Dolores Umbridge becomes a classic force of resistance with a vein for sublimated violence. She embodies a rigidly delusional character abolishing civil liberties that have been a major trademark of Dumbledore’s liberal standards. She treats the students with an iron rod and decisively eliminates most personal freedoms to bring a fascist order in the school.
For such a two-hour film adaptation of what is originally hundreds of pages of a book, it is a true challenge for the film to keep up with the allotted screen time for its many characters and plotpoints. Screenwriter Michael Goldenberg has necessarily compressed and streamlined the material. And understandably, the film is not capable of accommodating every role the best characterization it could have for the benefit of the film’s entirety. With Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), their significance in the story seems to shrink as Harry grows. They seem to only have a slightly more screen time as Neville Longbottom (Matthew Lewis) and the rest of the student characters including the queer and luminous newcomer Luna Lovegood (Evanna Lynch) and Harry’s love interest Cho Chang (Katie Leung) who actually just fades away after her kissing scene with Harry. However, for this installment, Ron’s sister Ginny (Bonnie Wright) makes the most impact among the rest of Harry’s friends as she exudes a certain teenage glow. The teachers also get particularly short acting stints. Minerva McGonagall (Maggie Smith), Remus Lupin (David Thewlis), Sybil Trelawney (Emma Thompson), and Alastor ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody (Brendan Gleeson) only show up with expectations from the audience that they are already established characters from the past Harry Potter films. The doleful Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) keeps up with a short but more significant screen time than most professors with some key revelations on his relationship with Harry and his father.
The film is brimming with impressively dark and gritty performances. Imelda Staunton exudes the creepy charm of a twisted instructor as the plump and pink Dolores Umbridge. This tea cozy bureaucrat sent by the Ministry of Magic to impose its will on Hogwarts leaves such a trademark with her odd little hysterical titters. Helena Bonham Carter as the shrieking maniacal villainess Bellatrix Lestrange adds a lunatic note to her demented character. Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort, the wrathful villain who started it all, keeps such a compelling persona in his every inscrutable stare against Harry. Gary Oldman gives such a simple and yet emotional farewell as Sirius Black. Michael Gambon becomes an elusive character as the Hogwarts headmaster Dumbledore. The way it is presented, his significance to this installment is to become Harry’s saving grace. As always, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint as Harry, Hermione, and Ron have clearly imbibed their characters for the entirety of the Harry Potter series. Harry clearly gets the spotlight being the main character. The two supporting characters Hermione and Ron slightly moves away from the spotlight for this installment. Newcomer Evanna Lynch embodies a certain enchanting and beguiling personality as Luna Lovegood. Her falsetto voice generally works, though it seems not perfectly on key all the time. Katie Leung as Cho Chang gets that that kissing moment with Harry under a magically sprouting sprig of mistletoe. However, it lingers just a bit too long and there is not enough chemistry between them.
As always, the special effects are undoubtedly superb. The climactic face-off against Voldemort and his henchmen at a Ministry of Magic storeroom shown in its 3D glory at the IMAX theater adds some resplendence to the wizard dueling as the wands double as deadly weapons. And although the 3D effects are clearly not perfected yet, it is such an exciting medium that is truly delighting to watch already. And noticeably, the IMAX technology is continuously improving in offering a new form of cinematic entertainment for the people.
‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ is a deliciously dark affair. It is the needed transitional work in the seven books of J. K. Rowkling. And while this fifth book is necessarily a dark and heavy one, it could be possibly branded as the least enjoyable of the lot so far. Personally, although Alfonso Cuaron’s ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ is still on top of my list, I do appreciate this fifth installment for the darkness it brings.