The Way to React to a Potter Pash
This article was first published by Fairfax in December 2011.
THERE is a scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 in which the teenage Ron Weasley (played by 21-year-old Rupert Grint) is rescuing Mary Cattermole from the Ministry of Magic. He can do this because he's taken on the shape of her husband, Reg Cattermole, a man in his 40s. Mary throws her arms around Ron/Reg's neck and begins to kiss him passionately, at the precise moment Ron returns to being the muscular, redhead, young bloke that he is. Mary is mortified.
In the book there's no pash, just an embrace, which suggests this a deliberate nod to the fact there are many older women -- I'm one of them -- who both have the hots for Rupert Grint and find that fact somewhat embarrassing. It's not that Grint is 21 that's odd for the affected, it's that we first got to know Grint as a boy of 12. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, the first in the franchise, was released in 2001. This means viewers have been watching the film's stars, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Grint for nigh on a decade.
The Guardian's David Cox argued that the power of the Harry Potter films lies in watching three sweet kids turn into good-looking adults. ''The real drama's been the miracle of their own metamorphosis.'' Cox is right, there is a genuine poetry in this -- but it's one we're not particularly comfortable talking about.
Often, as Cox points out, film and television does its best to cover up all signs of their stars -- both adult and child -- ageing: think of James Bond, or Michael J. Fox in Family Ties. Soap Operas are a notable exception, and
I think one of the reasons shows such as Neighbours are so loved is the sense of growing up with people, in real time, over many years.
In Mad Men, there is the growing up of young Sally Draper, in an exceptional performance given by 11-year-old Kiernan Shipka. What sets that character sketch apart is the show's tackling, head on, of child sexuality -- she kisses a boy, she masturbates -- and various adults' confused reaction to this. Mad Men manages to dramatise this in a way that is respectful, not prurient.
The Harry Potter films don't tackle sex in such a frank fashion, but the subject is certainly more explicit in the latest film in which the tensions implicit in the Ron, Harry, Hermione triangle come to the fore. Those tensions are sexual. It is no surprise the scene that critics have commented on most is the one in which Harry and Hermione dance together to Nick Cave's elegiac O Children. Salon's Andrew O'Heir goes on to argue that the ''barely acknowledged'' tensions between the two is the ''subterranean flame keeps the whole story going''.
I'm not sure that's true for kids watching the film, but it might well be true for the adults. It's certainly a crucial plot point: the film's climax is Ron overcoming the green-eyed demon known as jealousy -- complete with visions of Harry and Hermione making out -- and, consequently, being able to access the magical powers that allow him to destroy a horcrux (don't ask).
Harry and Hermione's dance is a pale imitation of the gloriousness of Samson's dance for Delilah in the recent Australian film Samson and Delilah. That is a moment of breathtaking, heartbreaking beauty: allowing us to watch the poise, the otherworldliness that adolescents embody. It's a moment many artists, including photographer Bill Henson, seek to capture but, as recent controversy around Henson's work shows, it is hard to get the tone right.
Certainly, there is an enormous difference between older people admiring youth from a distance as opposed to intruding on it and trying to own it. Which is to say that the kids' laughter during the screening I attended of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 at the sheer preposterousness, at the utter ridiculousness, of Mary Cattermole kissing Ron Weasley is something that should be duly noted. .