Take him, Dark Lord, please.
Harry Potter and the Lord of Bores
Saturday was a special occasion for my daughter and me. The question was: what would she most like to do, even if it happened to be the very last thing I could stomach, root canals and Republican sycophancies included. Sadie’s answer (no wizard-worthy mystery there): a trip to “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.” It was an ashen experience all right. But nothing rising from it. As I told her when we were walking out of the theater, had there been a revolver handy, my brain splatters might not have made it out with the rest of me, and she and her mother would have gotten an expensive cleaning bill. The last time I was so mind-numbingly bored was sitting through the first installment of “Lord of the Rings.”
To Sadie of course, the latest boilerpot of Potter was the best of all possible whirls (whorls is more like it, but of that in a moment). I’m not sure why from her perspective: getting a thirteen-year-old to pin down a couple of impressions on more than the crest of hyperbole is a bit difficult, and I’ve never surfed in my life. Around a Japanese restaurant’s grill later on I sallied about for an explanation a couple of times, an idea, anything that might shed a bit of light, or magic, on what I was missing, only to realize that I’d never survive in the rip-currents of her one-two combination: dogmatic self-certainty about the canonization-ready Potter series in whatever shape, language, medium or chemical element, and equally unforgiving certainty about her father having more than an accent in common with Voldemort.
It was, by the way, only a short while ago, seeing the names of those characters in print, that I found a smidgen of a pleasure in them, and yes, an unexpected sympathy for the One Whose Name Don’t You Dare Say (or some such edict, written in a style reminiscent of the Godzilla school of unsubtle literature, had it ever existed): heard from the mouths of babes, or from that of the Potterpot himself, “Vool-de-wart” sounds a lot more like the third-rate spice for a low-rung Lebanese dish, or something closer to Voldebore, than the mildly clever, if unwittingly poetic French wordplay that it is: vol de mort, or death’s flight, or flighty death, or death flutter, or, if you’re in a Homeric mood, as I’m sure J.K. Rowling would have aspired to be, The Winged Mortician. Turns out Vol, who also unexpectedly shares the first syllable of his name with Voltaire’s, goes for nicknames, too, and not particularly fetching ones. The Dark Lord sounds chocolaty to me. And it dims whatever crepuscular corpuscles he creepycrawls out of every once in a while, like the tawdry mascara-heavy sex scenes in B-movies, to string us patiently along even though he or it and us know going in that there’s two more of these revolver-inspiring installments to go before the Final Goddamn Showdown. But it’s not just about the suspension of disbelief. It’s about the next level of suspension: losing consciousness is a good idea, if you can manage it.
The sum-total of my Harry Potter experiences to date, besides the inevitable hammering on the subject from every other molecule in the air whenever a movie or a book is released, add up to the first hundred pages or so of the first book, which my daughter and I picked up to read together, out loud as was our fashion back then, as we had a few piles of other books. We had quit reading a book or two along the way. “The Swiss Family Robinson” seemed too much like a How-To book about the wonderful tyranny of Man (and man) over nature, and “The Magic Mountain” had just been a joke (or was it “Joseph and His Brothers”?), to see how a six-year-old’s consciousness might fare against the lead-on-charcoal prose of Thomas Mann. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” is the first book that I quit reading for health reasons. Had I continued, I might have turned into something like Bigger Thomas in “Native Son” or Jack Torrance in “The Shining.” The writing was that bad.
The reference to Stephen King is intentional: I’d had the very same experience reading my one and only book of King’s a decade and a half ago (“Insomnia”? “Needful Things”?). Great stories. Stunningly bad, or let’s more kindly say disappointing, writing for such a hall of famer. My respect for King has grown since. A writer that inventive is redeemed even by the Lord of Bad Writers. Maybe one day I’ll feel the same about Rowling. The day is not upon us. I’m still trying to figure out what on earth’s hell that “Order of the Phoenix” was all about. For help, I looked at a couple of reviews. The Times was, as expected, all fawn for the movie, as it has been, I think, for everything Potter-potted: The Times has always been more Newspaper of Conventions than Newspaper of Record, and these days (on Monday, its printed breadth will literally lose an inch and a half as it adopts “the national newspaper 12-inch standard,” its Note to Readers said on Sunday) it is not only embracing convention. It’s pandering to them.
So apparently the movie is about power, corruption and deceit. Something about Voldemortician coming back, Potterhead’s posse not believing him as it once did (not about the death of a sniveling classmate in the previous episode, anyway, although that doubt vanishes at the speed of adolescent mood-swings), Potter’s school, the appropriately-named Hogwarts—in this episode at least, where every student is a walking pimple of brooding angst—being in the grips of a particularly Republican schemer who wears pink, speaks in a voice higher-pitched than Megan Mullaly on “Will and Grace” (but with more dissimulated, if equally blimpish, tits), and acts like what you’d expect George W. Bush to have acted like had he been born in drags and a toy spaniel with an accent). Why the scheming bitchy spaniel, nobody knows: she’s not in league with the Lord of Dullness, so maybe she’s under some particularly Hogwartish kind of extended menopausal spell. Somewhere in there there’s Pothead’s godfather, there’s that kiss with the utterly bland Asian-looking girl (a good lay is what every single one of these character needs, when you think about it), there’s the minister who doesn’t believe any of Pothead’s stories, there’s Pothead’s old mentor and great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather figure and on-again, off-again Hogwart principal, Albus Dumbledore, who starts and ends well but develops a pronouncedly large cork in his nethers, so far as Pothead is concerned, for the Middle Passage of this tiresomely midpoint of a movie. Like I said: whorls, not stories.
All this, by the way, veering toward “The Prophesy” that Harry Potbelly-to-come is after. And what do we wait two and a quarter hours to find out, other than the obvious cameo by the Lord of the Bores? That it’s either Harry or Voldemort. Earth isn’t big enough for the both of them. As if we didn’t—and here I must ask you to forgive me but it must be said, so cover your ears if you’re among Hollywood’s most sought-after audience, you who has reduced this nation’s entertainment to the infantile imagination of two tadpoles in a Florida scum-pond—fucking know.
I was a Daniel Radcliff virgin before this. I still am. The guy spends those two and a quarter hours pimping clichés and twitching and sweating and agonizing in his sleep, obviously because he insists on remaining King of His Domain instead of giving himself a good Seinfeldian once over before shut-eye. My god, the humorlessness of this guy and his little army of warts was like being stuck in a room-full of Talibans at Hogwart (remembering, of course, that Taliban is derived from taleb, the Arabic for student: as are those Potterpussies talebs, every single one of them. I kept hoping, in that magical atmosphere I forcibly created (since Rowling’s left so much to be desired), that out of Hogwart’s walls Clint Eastwood in his Dirty Harry years would materialize with his 44 on one side, Charles Bronson on the other, and Harrison Ford from above, for comic relief, and all three of them would mow down the damn place and teach those little pinheads a little respect for those who presume to take on the Dark Side.
No such luck. This is what fantasy has been reduced to: a mish-mash , formula-driven stringing of gauze-thin plots on a steamroller of special effects. It worked for the Lord of the Rings series. It appears to be working with the Potter series. With fantasy like that. There’s no escape from this more tragically fantastic world we’re living every day. Which is just why watching Harry Potter felt so much like being in a prisonhouse of fraud fantasies smacked up on Jane Austen English, if Jane was a crack addict.