Try writing “I will not tell lies” 500 times. No, wait — try writing it in your own blood.
If you ever hated detention or thought your teacher wasn’t bad but downright evil, you’ll sympathize with Harry Potter’s life at Hogwarts now. Just as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” proved that “high school is hell,” the magic isn’t just in the spells, it’s in the metaphors. Voldemort as Hitler, the Death Eaters as Nazis — that’s only one possible reading of the series so far. The latest installment of the seven-part saga, “The Order of the Phoenix,” which hits theaters Wednesday, takes us further into the real world of wizardry — into the inner workings of its government and press — and soon the parallels with our world are flying by faster than Harry on a hippogriff.
“This is quite a political story,” explained “Phoenix” director David Yates. “It’s far more political than all the other ‘Potter’ stories, with the notion that there’s this denial of truth outside in the wider world, there’s an administration or a government who out of fear are trying to suppress and control information, the whole way the Daily Prophet [the wizard world's newspaper] frames Harry’s story and presents him as a villain or a liar. J.K. Rowling’s created those parallels, and they echo things in our world, very clearly.”
“Everything’s automatically heightened, because everyone’s got magic,” said Daniel Radcliffe, who plays Harry (see “Daniel Radcliffe Dishes On Harry Potter’s First Kiss, ‘Deathly Hallows’ Theories” ).
Harry’s called a liar this time around because of what he witnessed at the end of “Goblet of Fire”: Voldemort’s rebirth and the murder of one of Harry’s schoolmates. The wizard government doesn’t want to accept this version of events, despite increasing evidence to support it, including a mass breakout of Voldemort’s Death Eaters from the wizard prison of Azkaban (see ” ‘Harry Potter’ Set Visit: Go Inside The Ministry Of Magic In This Peek Behind The Scenes” ).
So Harry becomes the villain of sorts and is punished for telling the truth by a poisonous new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher — installed by the Ministry of Magic — named Dolores Umbridge (played deliciously by Oscar-nominated actress Imelda Staunton). She’d rather the students keep quiet instead of learning any practical defenses against the real Dark Arts practitioners now at large, and soon she’s extending her power far beyond the classroom. When she becomes Hogwarts High Inquisitor, she starts to ban free speech and free assembly, judges and fires fellow teachers at will, and even ousts Dumbledore to become headmaster herself.
Yates’ assistant Jamie Wolpert, who also plays a Daily Prophet newsboy, summed up the new rules: ” ‘Boys and girls must not be within 8 inches of each other.’ ‘Anyone found in possession of the Daily Quibbler [the Prophet's rival magazine] is expelled.’ ‘All clubs and societies are disbanded.’ She’s basically making life impossible.”
“It’s oh-so-very Margaret Thatcher,” Staunton said. “All that seeming lightness and laughter and sweetness she exudes is sitting on a much darker base. She wants it all to be perfect — no mess, pure, pristine. Chaos can’t be tolerated, and she thinks she’s done it all for the good. She doesn’t think, ‘I better not do that, somebody might get hurt.’ It’s whatever it takes. That’s why it’s disturbing.”
Voldemort still represents ultimate evil, but the suppression of truth and knowledge can be extremely damaging, especially when government-enforced. “His fight is a more silent, underground fight this time,” Radcliffe said. “This film is about Harry being more aware that a war is about to happen and trying to prepare as many people as possible, like the French resistance or any revolutionary group of people in any war that are being oppressed. And Umbridge is oppressing them.”
Just as the adults fighting Voldemort have their own secret society (the titular Order of the Phoenix), the Hogwarts students form one called Dumbledore’s Army, and Harry begins to teach them what Umbridge will not: how to defend themselves (see ” ‘Phoenix’ Trailer Reveals A Harry Potter Who’s Ready To Fight — And Kiss” ). “It’s quite a dark film, this. I mean, we say that every time, but this one is much darker,” Radcliffe said. “But I think the Dumbledore’s Army sequences really lift the film in tone, as you see Harry go from this quite reluctant leader to this Henry V character who is stirring up the troops. That should be a joyous thing to watch.”
It certainly was a more joyous thing to shoot — at least according to the actors playing characters practicing their spellwork under Harry’s tutelage. “The choreographers taught us all these sorts of moves that we never had before,” said Rupert Grint, who plays Harry’s best friend, Ron Weasley. “It was quite complicated. And I got to do a stunt — Ron doesn’t usually get to do many things like that — where I got pulled back on a wire in a harness because he and Hermione have a duel.”
“Yeah, and who wins?” teased Emma Watson, who plays Hermione.
“I got a little bit of a wedgie,” Grint admitted. “But it was good fun.”
Except for the heat, that is. “The only problem with those scenes was the set we filmed them on had under-the-floor lighting and the whole place was mirrored, and in every shot, you would have fires reflected in all the mirrors,” Radcliffe said, “which meant the set seemed to be one degree hotter than the sun.”
While the film concentrates on Harry’s journey — how else do you condense an 870-page book into a film that’s under two and a half hours long? — the other students really get to shine this time (however briefly) because of the Dumbledore’s Army lessons and the impending battle it prepares them for. Some finally embrace their rebellious sides (“Hermione’s the one who comes up with the idea for the DA,” said Watson. “She’s the one who takes Umbridge into the forest so they can get away, she’s the one who says we’re all in this together”).
Other students turn what was once just prankish rebelliousness into more meaningful civil disobedience — like the irrepressible Weasley twins. “Fred and George really put it to Umbridge,” said Oliver Phelps, who plays George. “It’s a lot stronger than faces behind her back. They really demean her authority and do what every student has ever wanted to do to a teacher who ever made them feel about 1 inch tall.”
“They show Harry how to rebel,” said James Phelps, who plays Fred. “He probably would have gone about it his own way, do it all officially, go to Dumbledore. And it even rubs off on Hermione, how she gets involved. Going against teachers is totally against Hermione, but it’s second nature to Fred and George.”
Thanks to Fred and George’s antics, Umbridge’s reign of oppressive rules literally comes crashing down. Some of the help Harry gets is more subtle, like the quiet wisdom provided by a character otherwise considered to be as much of a nutter as he is — the newly arrived Luna Lovegood. “Luna just encourages him really gently,” said Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood. “She won’t say things like Hermione — ‘You should do this.’ She doesn’t do it directly, but she slips it in — ‘If it’s just you, you’re not as much of a threat’ — because she knows what Harry is meant to do.”
What Harry’s meant to do — according to a prophecy we discover in “Phoenix” — is only starting to come into focus. It’s not just Voldemort who’s been reborn. By the end of the movie, so is Harry — as a teacher, a leader and a fighter. The difference between them is, Harry has something to fight for.
“That’s what the films are about for me,” Radcliffe said. “It’s a loss of innocence, going from being a young kid in awe of the world around him to someone who is more battle-hardened by the end of it.”
Check out everything we’ve got on “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”
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