On Friday morning at midnight, The Boy and I headed over to our local indy theater to watch the last installment of Harry Potter. The experience was a bit more intense and overwhelming than I expected to be which is why I haven't commented on it yet.
I knew going in that I would be emotional at the end. After all, I have spent almost half of my life with these characters. The first books came out in '97, and I remember buying books for myself and my young nephew. I recall waiting eagerly for each book to be released (which always either coincided with my birthday in July or the winter holidays) and then subsequently devouring it within days. Once the movies began being released, seeing them on opening night (often times at midnight) was a tradition. I have invested a lot of time and energy with these characters, and, while they have always been younger than me, I have grown up with them in many ways. I think of them as my family. I recognize that each of them is flawed, but their flaws are overshadowed by their strengths and good hearts. Even the "bad" guys -- Snape, Bellatrix, Malfoy -- are a part of that family. It's a bit like that crazy cousin who is always getting into trouble, but they are still family. I love them just the same. I was sad when the books ended, and I was prepared to be sad when the movie ended. But I wasn't prepared for how much the movie affected me.
I was in tears within the first ten minutes of the movie. I appreciated how the movie began with no credits, but that also thrust me right back into the action with no preparation. When I watched the students and staff of Hogwarts preparing the castle for an attack, I felt like me heart was breaking just a little. It hurt to see such a safe space at risk of ruin. This was, after all, the only place where Harry has ever felt safe. This was the place which inspired such awe and wonder when I first encountered in it 14 years ago when I read Book 1. This is a place where amazing things happen. At risk of being cliched and obvious, it was magical. Seeing it go into "lock-down" was scary and jarring. While many of the other books have had moments which revealed a loss of innocence for some of the characters, seeing Hogwarts under attack was the defining moment for these characters; their innocence has been completely lost. Hogwarts, their safe haven, is being destroyed, and their lives will never be the same.
The tears rolled down my face regularly throughout the film. When Harry sees into Snape's memories and the audience sees first-hand the turmoil and heartbreak that Snape experiences, the tears returned. I've never been on the "Snape" bandwagon even though I know that deep down he is a "good" guy. But watching his sacrifice and his hidden protection and defense of Harry was an wonderfully emotional moment in the film.
While I understand that the film had to show the "19 years later" bit because the book has it, I think that the film would have been better without it. If the film had closed with Harry, Ron, and Hermione standing on the bridge, hand-in-hand, after the battle, it would have been more effective. The simplicity of this scene was perfect. The three youngsters had come full circle after having been to hell and back. Again, the tears rolled down my cheeks.
Even after the movie ended, my feelings were still raw. I woke up on Friday morning (a short 5 hours later) with eyes still puffy from crying. I felt silly for being so emotionally reactive to just a movie, but, in a reality, it wasn't "just a movie." It was an ending. There is no more to come. No more to look forward to. Of course I can always revisit the movies and books, but the first time, the magical wonder of the first viewing and reading, can never be replicated. It's over. These characters, these places, the spells and magic, will no longer be an active part of my life; they will be part of my memories. Wonderful memories, but memories nonetheless.
Of course, as a teacher, all this makes me think of my students and their reading experiences. I always want my students to love reading and to fully engage with books on a level which evokes an emotional and (sometimes) physical response. Literature is only successful when the readers feel connected with the characters and the settings and the plots. Without that connection, literature falls flat. I've rarely had such a strong emotional connection to a series, and, while Friday was emotionally draining for me, I'm glad I had the experience. It has been wonderful watching Harry and Ron and Hermione grow. Seeing Neville blossom into a strong, assertive young man was wonderful. Malfoy's straightforward "evil" slowly developed into a conflicted conscience which made him more real and believable. Even the maturation of the Weasley twins was a fantastic journey to watch. I can only hope that my students find such satisfaction and connection in their own reading.
But for now, thank you to Harry and Hermione and Ron and Neville and Ginny and Luna and everyone else for filling the last 14 years of my life with magic and wonder and adventure and joy.