The final motion picture installment of the Harry Potter
franchise opened this weekend to the most stunning film totals ever, garnering over $300 million worldwide
in just the weekend (with it not even showing on Chinese screens yet!). Through midnight showings alone it flew past records and made $43.5 million. It is the best weekend ever for Hollywood, which is fitting for one of the most profitable film sagas in history. While the movie was not by any means a feat of greatness (I managed to go hide out in a theater for a few hours on Saturday), and certainly did not hold up to other saga endings (though Alan Rickman certainly merits some praise for his Severus Snape, and the special effects ought to get an Oscar nod), Harry Potter gave Hollywood a story that it loves and has figured out how to do well: the tale of a young and reluctant hero coming to age amidst tragedy and seemingly insurmountable odds. Like other sagas such as Star Wars
, The Matrix
, and The Lord of the Rings
, this is a story that Hollywood likes to tell and sells well.
And this is a good thing. Saying nothing about other messages hidden within these films or issues with their presentation, the fundamental issue of these films moves beyond just good versus evil, getting to the fundamental issue at hand: choice. A common argument I run into against people with good hearts but a certain near-sightedness is that some individuals cannot be held fully accountable for their actions because they were forced into them; a criminal steals because society has made him impoverished, or a person is violent because they were abused as a child. Monsters like Hitler and Stalin, though they should be held accountable, should at least be given some understanding for the hardships in their early lives that made them who they are.
But, at the end of the day, there is always a choice. Every man chooses whether to commit good or evil. For some, because of their circumstances, this choice can be harder-- there is no denying that. But it is still a choice. The heroes in these sagas that make Hollywood rich are often humble people who have dealt with terrible things in their youth and are asked to accomplish really hard things, whether it is overthrowing an evil Galactic Empire or resisting the temptation of the One Ring or finding out how to finish off Lord Voldemort once and for all. If anyone has any reason to be angry at the world or seek the easy way out, it is our heroes in these franchises. Their insistence on always trying to make the right choice vexes their enemies, frustration visible in the eyes of Agent Smith and Voldemort as they come up against this resistance. Evil is there, for all of them, tempting them with the ease that it brings; good is harder to maintain, comes with more pain and suffering, and is almost always on the brink of being extinguished. In the end, though, after great sacrifices, the odds are overcome and the good guys make the right choices and thus win-- Frodo finds his peace, Luke dances around with the Ewoks, Zion is saved, the Boy Who Lived can send his own little wizards to Hogwarts. They are good people, and can see evil for what it is. They make the right choice. The tale is simple, the principles rigid, but Hollywood likes it because people like it and will pay to see it. Good for us.