Girl geeks of the world, rejoice. One of our own–brainy activist witch Hermione Granger–has come into her own.
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I” burned up the box office its first weekend, riding to history on a wave of devotion from a worldwide fandom bewitched by the magical wizard and his world-in-peril. But Harry, our scarred and spectacled protagonist, made room for his best friends Hermione and Ron to shine in this film, as the three of them embarked on a fugitive life away from their quirky wizarding school and its legions of supporting characters.
And so this penultimate installment, in many ways, became Hermione’s movie. Her emotions and choices, classically heroic, anchored a piece of the epic story that would have felt muddled and rootless without her.
Director Chris Yates underscored his focus on her right from the get-go, by adding a devastating opening scene. Far away from the wizarding world, Hermione stands behind her non-magical parents in their “muggle” home and erases their memories of her–to protect them from those forces which seek to track her down and kill her. Slowly we see her smiling visage disappear from her family’s mantelpiece pictures and her parents eyes grow blanker. Actress Emma Watson’s face contorts as her character struggles to contain her emotions at this sight, thereby demonstrating that the actress has matured and grown along with her character–and Yates has taken full advantage of her talents to amp up Hermione’s arc. This is a surprise scene, one which was alluded to but not illustrated by JK Rowling in the book, and (in addition to moving stunned audience members close to tears) it has the effect of turning Hermione into what Harry has long been–an effective orphan. She’s become an orphan by choice, sacrificing her family for the safety of her friends and the world. And that’s the kind of thing that heroes have to do.
So as her ties with normal life are cut, it feels as though Hermione is officially inaugurated as a heroine. Later in the film, she has to perform the very same “obliviate” spell on a would-be assassin. Harry and Ron, clueless, wonder what she’s waiting for, while her tearful expression bears the scars of emotional trauma, recollecting what she’s done to her parents. But she casts the spell anyway.
As the film goes on, it becomes particularly obvious that Harry and Ron wouldn’t be in great shape without Hermione’s smarts, both intellectual and emotional. From the get-go, she anticipates everything the trio will need to do to survive, and packs it all into her magical purse–including a tent to shelter them while they’re on the run. While the film could have milked this “women store everything in their purse” trope for easy laughs, Yates instead shows Ron and Harry being amazed and grateful to their friend for saving their hides.
The schoolbook-nerdiness and un-childlike passion for social justice which made the young Hermione a genuine geek have blossomed into incisiveness, courage and leadership as she’s grown older. And her tireless devotion to the oppressed race of house-elves–which all of her classmates once mocked or ignored–proves founded, as all three of our heroes are rescued from certain doom by a house elf that they had previously freed from bondage.
From beginning to end, Hermione is at the ready. She casts complex spells to hide the trio from the outside world and she uses magic to transport them them from place to place when they’re in mortal danger. And even when they finally get caught by a thuggish group of grizzled, nasty “snatchers” she immediately casts another spell to disfigure Harry so he won’t be recognized.
In captivity, as the baddies try to figure out Potter’s identity, Hermione’s status as the group’s leader is cemented when she is singled out for torture by the deranged Bellatrix Lestrange. Her tears and shrieks are horrifying, but she doesn’t give in.
And then there’s the question of sex, which I wrote about when the last film came out. Hermione’s emerging sexuality came as a shock to her male friends (and viewers) as it often does for men who pigeonhole their female friends as brainy or one of the gang. But now it’s been nicely integrated into her strong, womanly character.
Ron is obviously besotted with Hermione, and she shares his feelings, but can’t fully give into them lest she be distracted from saving the world. And so when Ron briefly pitches a fit and leaves the others, she sticks with Harry and their mission, even though it’s all clearly killing her. And in another lovely added scene from Yates, when Harry, “The Chosen One,” dances with her to cheer her up and seems to want some sort of more-than-friendly comfort from her, she gently walks away. Again, Hermione is performing as a classic heroine. She has to clamp down on her feelings (of love for Ron and deep friendship for Harry) and focus on ensuring that evil doesn’t prevail. She spends a lot of time sitting and contemplating the scenery, trying to keep her heart in check, but her weary and determined expression render even these meditative sequences fascinating.
Chloe Angyal recently wrote a touching love letter to Harry Potter character (and Harry’s real love interest) Ginny Weasley–a spunky, owns her sexuality, confident type–who has been, it’s true, terribly ill-served by the films. But that omission has been counterbalanced by this film’s astonishingly touching, beautifully intensified focus on Hermione.
It’s a given that the second installment of this film will turn the lens back to Harry and the ultimate showdown he faces. But the boy wizard right now is literally lost in the woods, knowing he has to do something big to alter history but unable to do it. He’s lucky he has a woman beside him who never doubts for a minute what needs to be done, and is willing to sacrifice everything to see it, and him, through.