Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Reviewed by Carla Freccero
The last Harry Potter troubled me with its covert racial references
and its genetic determinism, not to mention its blatant pro-aristocracy
anti-lower middle class smugness. This time, however, the movie
confronts race and class head-on. The question of mixed origins
becomes the motor that drives the plot, and it's a good one this
time, with enough depth to keep a grown-up interested in the story.
Watch out, though-its length is epic.
This installment of the series also finally achieves episodic
status, developing enough narrative intrigue to keep its audience
attentive and ready for Harry Potter's future (it even warns us
about impending adolescence). It's a delightful mix of genres,
with medieval romance occupying the foreground after the fashion
of the Star Wars series. But there's also race melodrama, with
Hermione (Emma Watson) playing the almost-role of the tragic mulatta;
and there's detective mystery, since our trio of youngsters follows
clues to unravel a secret plot. It's also a historical gothic
fiction, telling the story of the fantastic events that shape
the present institutional politics of Hogwarts school. All in
all, there's a lot to keep audiences occupied. And if you wanted
to psychoanalyze, its fairy tale-like allegory of the onset of
adolescence could also keep you amused (huge snakes in deep dank
tunnels underground and all that).
The special effects are as dazzling as ever, with enough of the
old tricks for continuity, and enough new ones to satisfy the
need for novelty: a magical car that flies; a ruby-red phoenix
who burns up and rises anew from the ashes; a blank diary that
writes itself in answer to penned queries; and, of course, all
the usual magical stuff.
Kenneth Branagh shows up in this one, as the famous wizard Gilderoy
Lockhart, heartthrob of the ladies and unregenerate narcissist.
He must be there for comic relief, because his presence-though
entertaining (Branagh is a splendid actor)-adds nothing to the
plot. Moaning Myrtle, on the other hand, played by Shirley Henderson,
is truly wonderful as a ghost who met her untimely end in the
girls' bathroom. Emma Watson, unfortunately, doesn't get to be
part of the action for a lot of the movie. Hermione's smarter
and more skilled than the boys (girls mature earlier), so she
needs to be taken out to let them shine.
Like Star Wars, and like most, if not all, medieval romance, the
true challenge and quest for our boy hero/protagonist is about
discovering his origins and coming to terms with his paternal
legacy. Remember Luke's confrontation with the troubling nature
of his past? Well, that's the question here too, a question that
is also at the heart of many race melodramas. Here, though, the
message turns out to be anti-determinist. We see a glimmer of
hope that people-or rather wizards-whatever their genealogical
origins, have some choice about who and what they will become.
Thank goodness Harry Potter is holding the line.
Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang,
this is Carla Freccero.