For a children’s fantasy movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is an incredibly dark picture. But the film surprisingly succeeds as a political allegory. For the first time in this particular movie series, Harry Potter has entered a very dangerous “grown-up” world, full of political deception.
Trouble starts for Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) before he even gets a chance to enter Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for his fifth year. Ever since his encounter with the evil wizard Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Harry has had a very difficult time not giving in to his own dark impulses, because Lord Voldemort has the power to subvert Harry’s mind.
However, Harry’s problems do not cease there. A new teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), arrives at Hogwarts and starts to turn the school into a fascist institution. Tired of the ridiculous stipulations that she has written, Harry and his friends start a rebellion against Umbridge’s reign. Basically, the film harkens back to the late 1970s in England, when young punk anarchists rebelled against Margaret Thatcher’s rule. Surprising, right?
The reason why there’s a strong sense of rebellion in the movie is because the actors inhabit their roles so well. It makes sense that Radcliffe (Harry) and co-stars Emma Watson (Hermione) and Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) are by now very adept at playing these roles; they have been playing these characters for roughly the last six years. Radcliffe has flash determinism and intensity; Watson conveys intelligence and calm; and Grint possesses wry humility.
An outstanding performance is given by rising talent Evanna Lynch, who plays the quirky Luna Lovegood. Her character is one of the students who helps in Harry’s rebellion, and her performance is so strangely calm that she becomes oddly reassuring. Lynch gives the best performance in the movie, although she’s not in it nearly enough.
The movie is beautifully made during the instances when Umbridge rules Hogwarts. An audience member is made aware during those moments that the film is a first-rate political allegory. Every audience member feels the terror behind Umbridge’s intentions and the way she disciplines the students.
The problem with the film is that it isn’t particularly startling. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak lights the movie in a dingy way, where the characters are continually bathed in darkness. Yet, it’s easily apparent that the film is not as grim as it’s made out to appear. For instance, the plot involving Harry’s connection to Voldemort is not very well developed. There is not really one particular dramatic scene that shows the inner conflict and turmoil that Harry is facing.
The audience also loses the sense that Harry is on the cusp of going from a teenager to an adult. Harry’s emergence as an individual is the reason for why he starts the rebellion in the first place. We as an audience get merely a taste of Harry’s leadership skills, and the rebellion’s results basically end in a whimper.
What’s missing from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a sense of fantasy. There’s too much reliance on politics and realism, which is why the last scene feels so limp. That last scene is the moment when the audience is waiting for some fantasy and brilliant imagery; that moment does not come.
What’s surprising about the film is the fact that it’s a children’s movie that is political. Even though screenwriter Michael Goldenberg has left out many parts of the roughly 870-page book, the film still retains the political message.