There are enough reviews and articles about "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone," to make it unnecessary for this article to discuss the money the movie is taking in, the actors, or the storyline. That information will not be covered here. There is also an analysis on this website of the book this movie is based on. [See CANA article on first Harry Potter book].
This is not a movie review but rather an evaluation of the movie, especially for parents of younger children who are wondering if they should take their children to see it. This evaluation is made with children in mind, not with the adult viewer in mind. The books are marketed to ages 9-12; this movie is not a kiddie movie. However, many younger children are being taken to the movie. Keep in mind the movie is rated PG, not G, and for good reasons.
The movie has some good acting, especially on the part of the actor who plays Prof. Snape. This performance is probably something that an adult or teen viewer would appreciate more than a child, however. There are humorous moments, usually with Hagrid, which will make children laugh. There is also adventure and suspense that will appeal to children, as well as special effects. All of this is enjoyable and, if one could ignore the focus of the story, it would seem almost innocent. However, that brings us to the negative side of the movie.
First of all, there are several scary scenes – too scary for children under the age of 8 or even 9, and definitely too scary for 6 or under. In fact, I would strongly advise parents of children under 8 or 9 to see the movie first before deciding if their children should see it.
Scary or disturbing scenes for young children include: the death of Harry's mother shown as a flashback; a dark robed frightening figure drinking unicorn blood in the forest, witnessed by Harry; the troll chasing Hermione; the scene where the 3-headed dog wakes up and goes after Harry, Ron, and Hermione; the children ensnared and becoming strangled by devil's weed; the live chess scene; and the most disturbing scene of all and quite scary, when Voldemort is revealed at the end. As a mother, I would not have allowed my son to see the movie, due to these scenes alone, if he had been under the age of 9.
The focus of the movie is, after all, Harry learning the occult arts. There is no way around this fact. He is not in a fantasy world except in part; actual occult practices are implied or shown, even if incomplete, such as casting spells. Harry gazes into a mirror and sees his dead parents, who respond to him. In the mirror, Harry sees his dead mother putting her hand on his shoulder. Ghostly figures glide in and out of rooms. There is something disturbing about the fact that all these children are there to learn the occult, and perhaps because of this, an eerie atmosphere pervades the movie. Seeing children practice spells and being happy when they work may cause Christian parents concern. This will not bother those who practice the occult; in fact, they may be disappointed that the occultism isn't as realistic or hardcore as it should be. But this focus on spells and magick brings a darkness to the movie.
In one scene, Harry, Hermione, Neville, and Malfoy are sent to the Forbidden Forest with Hagrid as a punishment. It is one of the few times Harry gets punished. The Forbidden Forest is called "forbidden" for a reason; the children have been told clearly not to go there because it is dangerous, yet the authority figures send them there as a punishment! Even worse, Hagrid has Harry and Malfoy go off alone with Hagrid's dog, Fang, (in the book, it is Harry and Hermione who go with Hagrid while Malfoy and Neville go with Fang; later, Harry is with Malfoy and Fang without Hagrid) to search for a wounded unicorn, while Hagrid goes another way with Hermione and Neville. What kind of adults are these who are running the school?
Harry breaks rules in this movie, as he does in the book. Much is made by another writer that Harry breaks rules for a higher purpose, but I am unaware of this ethic in the Bible except to save lives. For example, the children are learning to fly their brooms and one of the students, Neville, is injured. The teacher tells the children that she will take Neville to the nurse and the children are told in no uncertain terms to stay on the ground or they will be punished by being expelled. She leaves and Malfoy Draco, Harry's nemesis, finds an object that belongs to Neville. After refusing to give it up to Harry, Malfoy gets on his broom and flies off with it. Harry pursues him, although Hermione tells him not to and reminds him of what the teacher has said. Harry retrieves Neville's object, and is welcomed back with cheers from the other students. However, there was no real reason to do this. Harry was not protecting or rescuing a person; he was recovering an object. This was a nice thing to do for Neville, but does it justify disobeying a strict rule given by the professor, a rule that was clearly given with safety in mind? To teach children that it is okay to break a rule that is given for safety's sake for something like this does not make sense. Let's put this ethic to work in a more familiar situation. Your child is on the playground at school and another child is hurt. The teacher must rush off to the nurse's office and tells the children to stay put (I realize there would probably be other teachers or aides around, but for the sake of illustration, let's say there aren't). A class bully picks up a toy belonging the absent injured child and rushes out into the street with it. Would you want your child to pursue the bully to get the toy back? Yet the same principle behind this action is what is illustrated in the book and in the movie, and we are told by those who defend Harry Potter that this is okay.
Is Harry punished? Not at all. In fact, when another professor sees Harry expertly retrieve the object on his broom, he is summoned and told that he will be the new Seeker for the Quidditch team. His disobedience, which was unnecessary (he was not saving a child from injury or death), ends up as a reward for him. Harry also uses the invisibility cloak to sneak into places where he is not supposed to go.
The children are often aided by Hagrid, a consistent rule-breaker. Hagrid is supposed to be loveable and funny, but I found this deceptive. If Hagrid really loved children, he would not put them at risk nor would he encourage them in deception, which he often does. I found a mixed message in Hagrid in both the books and the movie: he is portrayed as a friend who cares about the children but he does things that endanger them and he is a dishonest character. In fact, in an early scene, Hagrid punishes the Dursley's, Harry's aunt and uncle, by doing a spell that puts a pig's tail on their son, Dudley. This seems to be done for laughs, but it is a cruel action. It is true that Dudley is rude and spoiled and thoroughly unlikable, but is hurting someone you don't like a lesson to teach children? Hagrid is not supposed to do magic, of course, but he does anyway. Breaking rules is almost a virtue in the books and the movie.
Many people defend the HP books and the movie as being "just fantasy" or "just fiction." However, fantasy and fiction are often vehicles for ideas. Both books and movies can have strong imagery or messages that impress the mind. A movie especially can have powerful images that affect us on many levels. These effects are not always visible and are not always immediate. How can we know exactly how someone is being affected inwardly? We can't know that. That is why it is so important to be selective about what we put into our minds, whether it's words from books or visual graphics from movies (see Philippians 4:8).
In particular, some of the imagery in this movie is too dark and scary for young children. Just because a child sees a movie and seems okay does not mean it is not affecting them in some way. I remember seeing a movie at age 10 that vividly portrayed the story of a woman, a young mother, who was executed in California. The movie was about the efforts to stop the execution, but these efforts failed. At the last minute, her lawyer arrives with papers to stop the execution, but it is too late. The doomed feeling I got from this movie was very powerful, and for months I pondered the sad fate of this woman. To this day, I can remember the fear and sadness from that movie, fear and sadness that I was not old enough to handle. Outwardly, I said nothing, and I am sure my parents had no idea this movie affected me. In fact, when I was an adult, I told my mother about this, and she said that she did not realize the movie had bothered me.
Despite the fact that all reviews declare the movie to perfectly portray the book, there are at least two things left out of the movie that might mislead someone who thinks the movie is including everything from the book.
The first is when Harry meets the centaur in the forest. In the book, the centaur talks approvingly about astrology. This is completely left out in the movie. The second one is towards the end when Dumbledore tells Harry that Flamel will die. In the book, Harry is told, "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Harry repeats this statement a few pages later to Hermione and Ron, so it is a key passage. It is a key passage, as well, to the message of an occult worldview, as death is often considered an adventure or journey to a pagan afterlife like Summerland (a belief held by many Wiccans and Neopagans today), a place to be before re-entry via reincarnation, a place to become more spiritually wise, or some other realm. Why is this line in a children's book? What is the point of it? Though Christians look forward to being with Christ after death, Christians do not attempt to make death appealing, especially for nonChristians. The fact that this line is left out of the movie makes me wonder several things: Did the director think this line was too strong for children? If so, then why is it in the book? If they are trying to be true to the book, why is such an important line left out? Are they hiding it from parents who might see the movie but not read the book?
Many children will see this movie and enjoy it; many parents will see it and have no qualms about it. If this article is warning about the movie, how could this be? In our culture today, we have become desensitized to dark things, to the bizarre, to fudging the rules, and are resistant to the idea of absolute good and evil. In fact, most people do not believe in absolute good and evil. This is true even in the Christian community to a certain extent.
I believe strongly in Christians being able to reach the culture and being aware of what is around us. However, we need not expose our children to everything the culture has to offer. I am often told that Harry Potter is just a story, that it is fiction. Being a former Literature major, I am quite aware of what fiction is. In fact, I am so aware of what fiction is that I realize what a powerful vehicle it can be to convey ideas and messages, whether the intention is there to do it or not.
The impact of Harry Potter is not just on individuals, but on the culture as well. Because of its success, four major publishers are coming out with book series with witches as heroes. Three of these are aimed at teens, and one is aimed at pre-teens. Look for more books and movies like this in the future, except my guess is that they will get darker over time, just as the Harry Potter books are getting darker.
If you are a Harry Potter fan, please understand I am not attacking the books or the people who like them, nor do I advocate burning them. I do believe in giving a response to the books and movie, outlining the areas of concern. The Harry Potter books and movie are not innocent fun or harmless fantasy. If you want to debate this with me, please read both my Harry Potter articles first, and be aware that I have been challenged on this on live radio, at talks, and in person, and I have responded.