Why You Get Wood for Fantasy: Harry Potter and Such

You know why I love Harry Potter? Let me tell you. Well, in a minute. Like any writer (who doesn’t actually know how to write) knows, you always have to write a whole lot of unnecessary non-sequiters before you let your readers in on the main point. Of course, there are many things I love about Harry Potter. After all, what kind of citizen of the world would I be if I didn’t love one of the biggest film franchises in history? Not a very good one I think.

Down with the trilogy, in a good way

I have always enjoyed how closely the various directors and producers choice to adhere to J.K. Rowling’s original source material. Some have a problem with this because the makers sometimes chose staying true to the books rather than making the best possible movie they could (regardless of reliance on their HP nerd audience), but I am fine with that, after all it’s basically a kids’ movie for twenty year olds nowadays, which brings me to my next point—I have grown up with these actors. I remember reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (yeah, that’s right—the English version) while driving around with my family in the English countryside (my mother hails from England and spent the first twenty two years of her life there so we were visiting her parents during the summer). Emma Watson was actually in my class at my college (before I dropped out of course. Don’t worry, don’t worry! I’m going back, got to get that book learning in nowadays). Point being, these actors began their role as Harry, Ron and Hermione at the exact same age I was. I grew up with these people. Not to mention that the movies are pretty well done; the stories, characters and actors are irresistible; and let’s be honest, Emma Watson is unbelievable attractive and magnetic in almost every way.

The thing I find most interesting for purposes of this piece of writing right here though is that no story better demonstrates how people with good chemistry (and by chemistry I do not refer to inter-personal relationship, I refer to endorphin feedback in the brain) can have bad shit happen to them, just horrible shit, and come out of it OK. Harry grew up in an extraordinarily cruel environment—neglected, made to sleep under the stairs covered in spiders, beat up by his bully of a brother and his friends, wearing disgusting old clothes that didn’t fit him, miserable and alone. This is the kind of thing that people go to jail for—it is basically criminal neglect. It is so funny how just because this is some kind of fairytale, fantasy-land, Harry doesn’t come out of the experience as the eleven year old who procures and Uzi and shows up in home room the next morning cocked and ready to rock. But no, Hagrid drives in on a flying motorcycle and whisks him off to a world sometimes difficult and threatened by evil but full of excitement, surprise, beauty, friendship and fulfillment. This is in opposition to a story like Lord of the Rings—in that Frodo was so damaged by the ordeal he had to leave for the White Shores with Gandalf, Elron, and Galadria, his time had come to an end.
Two forces are at work here, one is that people with good chemistry do better, but that is only one part of it. The second is the concept that there is a possibility for redemption and savior. We all look for that, we all crave it. That is a huge part of what has made America such a sick country right now, and not “sick” like a blonde kid who just caught a big wave, but “sick” as in ill, diseased, dying—the beautiful are on the covers of GQ and People; the powerful, the rich and the genius are on the covers of Time and The New Yorker, but where the fuck are we? Nowhere. And for some that is very difficult to deal with.

However, I am not trying to turn this into some horribly negative prophecy. My point is that this is exactly what is so beautiful about children’s books and Harry Potter especially. Fantasy is the possibility of something better, something else. It almost always involves a child who has either lived a life of monotony and basic unhappiness or has maybe even been mistreated, being led to a world of fulfillment, possibility, and knowledge. This is either extremely unhealthy for people to read, or the best possible. Either way, I have enjoyed it.

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Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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“The Dude Abides”…Well, No, But I try

I watched “The Big Lebowski” for the third or fourth time with my father last night, what an unbelievably good film. A Jeff Bridges American Masters documentary had been on PBS a few nights before (cut off in the middle by the Blizzard of 2011 robbing us of our power). The documentary obviously featured a few comments on Jeff Bridges most famous movie, and my dad said to me, “which is good, but of course a little overrated”. By the end of the film, my father was singing a much different tune.

Walter (played by John Goodman) bellowing things like, “The Chinaman is not the issue here!” and “you mark that frame and you’re entering a world of pain”, emptying Donny’s ashes from a Folgers coffee can that he bought at Ralphs all over the Dude, and constantly bringing up his “friends that died face down in the muck” in Vietnam is the highlight of the film. His energy ties all the characters together, and just like Sam in The Lord of the Rings, the film is almost more about Walter than it is about the Dude. He is working through his trauma from his time in Vietnam and a divorce from his wife. Walter is the catalyst, the tide that moves it all along, especially because he continually makes the worst decisions of anybody in the film (and that is saying a lot), misguided choices that propel one error into another, “the human comedy perpetuating itself”, until the steam train of errors can finally creak to a stop at the bowling alley. That is not to downplay Jeff Bridges performance, whose acting while getting thrown into a limousine saying “Careful man! There’s a beverage here!” is enough to keep me smiling for a few days. I saw a Coen brothers interview once where they spoke about their directing of Jeff, “he would come up to us before a scene and ask, ‘you think the Dude sparked one up on the way over here?’ And if we said yes, he would go over in the corner and rub his eyes until they were all red, then do the scene. That’s about all the directing we had to do for Jeff.”

Sam Elliot, who along with Alec Baldwin has one of the all-time great voices (Morgan Freeman not included, fuck Morgan Freeman), is perfect. “I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that, knowing that the Dude is out there taking it easy for all us sinners”—if only it were that simple right? Though maybe it is, we all have a bit of the Dude in us, we just have to let him out for a little play time now and again. “The Dude abides”—you have got to love that, and I know you do. Apart from the occasional recreational drug use and cross-faded driving, Jeff Lebowski does abide, as we all should.

Julianne Moore is good (and dare I say, pretty attractive). It is creepy to me seeing a very thin David Thewlis as Knox Harrington, the video artist, because all of a sudden it occurred to me that he was Remus in the Harry Potter films, a role I had always enjoyed him in.

The soundtrack, from Bob Dylan’s charming “The Man in Me” to Townes Van Zandt’s cover of “Dead Flowers” is simultaneously heartfelt, psychedelic, and just straight up pleasant to hear. The Coen brothers sure as hell know what they’re doing. I would highly recommend another Coen Brothers picture, “Barton Fink”, to anybody who wants to see the best performance of John Goodman’s career in a fascinatingly dark psychological film. It may seem a little slow or overly strange at times, but in the end that movie is one of my absolute favorites. Anybody who knows anything about “getting all balled up at the head office” needs to see this one.

Published in: on January 15, 2011 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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