Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: Movie Review
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The second edition of Harry Potter is slightly better constructed and more emotionally involving than the first movie, which, of course, will help it to make a lot of money. However, be forewarned: knowledge of the Harry Potter books or the first movie is a necessity for fully comprehending this second in the series. It is not a stand-alone movie.
Like the first two books and the first movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets suffers from an ambling, prolonged introduction that doesnt quite clarify what the jeopardy is or who the villain is. With nothing at stake, the movie at first appears to be a series of vignettes. When the jeopardy does engage, the movie becomes an exciting action adventure fantasy that follows the classic model of heroic tales, but, then, it has several curtain call endings. Several of these manipulate the audience into feeling good about the characters in the movie and perhaps even clapping for the movie.
The movie opens with Harry back at home with his horrible uncle, aunt and miserable cousin Dudley. These caricature people make it clear that they do not like Harry and that he should stay in his room and not interfere with their lives. A nicely animated CGI house elf named Dobby appears, who is one of the few real characters in the movie. He warns Harry not to go back to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Like any house elf, Dobby makes a racket. Uncle Vernon puts bars on the window to Harrys room, and three of Harrys friends from Hogwarts, including the red-haired Ron Weasley and his brothers, rescue Harry from the clutches of his muggle relatives in a 1950s flying British car.
After several adventures, Ron and Harry make their way back to Hogarth and find out that some strange things are happening at the school, all of which point to a curse that will be unleashed if the ancient Chamber of Secrets is opened. Harry finds a book with no writing that speaks to him and tells him about a boy named Tom Riddle, who found the Chamber of Secrets 50 years before. One by one several people are petrified. Harry unlocks the Chamber of Secrets riddle and ends up in mortal combat with a monstrous snake and the person behind the plot. After this, there are several curtain calls, which tie up loose ends in the story and promote great feelings about each one of the previously harmed or incapacitated characters.
It would be foolish to think that Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets won't do well at the box office. Although there are some plot holes and loose ends and dramatic flaws, the movie has enough vim, vigor, and melodramatic moments to make it a very popular film.
Cognitively, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets still fails on the same merits as the first movie. At the end, Dumbledore tells Harry that hes broken at least a half a dozen school rules, then awards him the school's highest award. Anyone whos studied the influence of television and film on children will realize that this will send a clear message to children in the imaginative stage of development that they can break the rules and be rewarded for doing so. Since Harry is an attractive and well meaning hero, this role modeling is even more powerful.
Also disturbing from a cognitive perspective, there is a slight suggestion of infanticide when the mandrakes are taken screaming from their pots and the students are told that they will kill the mandrakes to produce an antidote to cure the petrifaction of the people. On the other hand, there is a clear refutation of racism in the movie and even a refutation of an incipient National Socialist/fascist group of wizards who want to wipe out all mixed blood wizards.
Harry Potter is certainly a spiritual movie, but it is not a movie that conforms to a Christian or Jewish theology. Furthermore, it gives false messages and imputes false beliefs to those who see it, although with its grab bag of myth-conceptions, allegory and illusions, Harry Potter can be used to lead people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Dumbledore calls Harry to make a wise choice, the Chamber of Secrets lies beneath a baptismal font, snakes and those who command them are seen as the source of evil, and there is self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Furthermore, there are elements of good over evil. There are even suggestions that Harry is speaking in unknown tongues when he talks with the snake. These are just a few of the many spiritually redemptive and incarnational moments. They follow the redemptive pattern of heroic tales where the hero descends into a dark underworld to do battle with the forces of evil and returns victorious to the world above, where he presents a boon of some kind to those who have been oppressed. These elements can be used for evangelism, will please those who want to like the film, and may be used to claim that the film has some Christian merit.
However, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets has not divorced itself from the nominalism (or virtual unreality of all that exists) that is so abhorrent to believing Jews and Christians. The Judeo-Christian tradition believes in real pain, real suffering and the real need for a real savior, though Jews and Christians differ on who that savior is. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, witches and warlocks can create substantial things (food, spells, monsters) out of nothing. The world is not real, but merely a great thought, and the key to manipulating that nominalistic reality is merely saying the right words in the right way at the right time. Thus, those with superior, or Gnostic knowledge, become the wizards or witches who can manipulate reality. In effect, they can become as gods. This, of course, is abhorrent to Judaism and Christianity, just as the opposite extreme that everything is material and doesnt matter is abhorrent.
It is interesting to note that the story involves a book that has the power to destroy, a book that is based on nominalism. Thus, the movie itself has the same problematic potential as the book in the story that causes all the trouble.
The best thing that could happen is for parents and children to decide that there are better ways to spend their time. If they like fantasy, try the first episode of Lord of the Rings, which does cohere to a Christian worldview.
If children do see Harry Potter, and many will, remind them that Jesus Christ is always ready to liberate them from fear and witchcraft if they call on His Name, and try to get them to think through the various elements of the movie. Here are a few media-wise questions you can ask them:
- Is it good that Harry is rewarded for breaking the rules?
- Would you want your friends or enemies to be able to cast spells on you?
- Would you want to live in a world where reality changes frequently (stairs move, passageways disappear, animals change into goblets)?
- Would you want to live in a world where other people could change your reality?
- How is Harry a hero? What makes him a hero? Is he a good role model?
- Do heroes disobey the rules? If so, when and why?
- Who is the villain? Why?
- Does the movie honor God or the Bible? Why or why not?
- Why does the movie include an image of a Christmas tree with a star on top? What does this image mean?
- Were parts of the movie scary to you? Why or why not? Is it good to be scared?
"Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD." -(NIV)
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