[Editorial note–We originally ran this post in the summer of 2009 when Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was in theaters. We run it again now to celebrate the premiere of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I (we also are running it again ’cause we’re lazy)].
First thing’s first: if you’re looking for Harry Potter slash fiction, you’ll have to check out our original Harry Potter Sex Romp post for links, you dirty dawg (you’re weird but you’re welcome). Just like that post a few years ago, this post’s title is really kinda sorta mostly irrelevant to what this post is about. What is it about? I want to take a look at some of the homoerotic tension in the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. If you want to find a proper review of the film, with plot summary and insight, shop around. That’s not gonna happen here.
Also, there will be SPOILERS, okay? Fair warning.
Okay. So, I saw the new film last night (henceforth HP6). And it was pretty good or whatever. But I noticed a subtext that cracked me up quite a bit, an underlying motif that might be lost on most summer blockbuster audiences. I’m talking about the implicit love between men and boys in this film.
At the beginning of the film, in an apparently insignificant scene, young Harry makes a date with an attractive young girl. However, old man Dumbledore shows up and dashes any hopes for a late sumer romance. Instead of meeting up with this lithe young thing, Harry has to grip hard to Dumbledore’s stiff arm to be apparated away to meet Horace Slughorn, an old potions master. Dumbledore uses Harry as fresh young bait for Slughorn, who has something the old wizard needs–a key memory about the development of Tom Riddle–Voldemort–a former protégé of Horace’s (lots of mentors and mentees here). Much of the narrative’s conflict revolves around the task Dumbledore has given Harry; it’s almost as if Dumbledore is pimping out the young wizard. These multiple man-boy relationships are doubled darkly in the failing bond between Snape and emo Draco.
In contrast, heterosexual relationships between the teens are treated with a lightness and even frivolity that codes such romances as ephemeral, or perhaps even inessential. Although the film solidifies the groundwork for the long-term relationships between the series’ principals (Harry-Ginny/Ron-Hermione), the real love story here is between older men and their young apprentices. HP6 depicts teen romance as silly without coloring any of its fragility with pathos. What the film really argues for is a sort of Greek or Platonic ideal of love; that love exists as a conduit for wisdom, passed from an older, experienced man to a younger boy in exchange for some of that youth’s beauty and vitality. Although moments of teenage adventure punctuate the film, the real scope of heroic encounters are shared between older men and their attendant lads (particularly Dumbledore and Harry, although even Snape, through the annotations of his old textbook, manages to plant part of himself into Harry).
The film reaches its climax with a lot of phallic wand waving and a bit of indecision over who gets to shoot off at whom. The climactic scene encodes the strange aggressions and series of shifting allegiances between the male wizards present. Dumbledore becomes the tragic figure; his death allows for Harry’s maturation, enacting a definitive arc in Harry’s Oedipal complex, where Dumbledore is both father figure and secret sex object. The weight of this tragedy initiates Harry into the adult world and adult responsibilities.
So why bother to write about this? No reason really, and I’m sure plenty of readers will find my analysis insupportable, silly, offensive, or just plain wrong. That’s fine. I guess I mostly find it remarkable that this motif should prevail so heavily in a summer blockbuster. There was also a whole drug motif going on–so many of the film’s plot development hinge on the ingestion of mind-altering substances–so maybe I just like the idea that the film is kinda sorta subversive.