We may get the impression that the world around us is crumbling. There is an apocalyptic sense of shock and awe at the series of horrific events in the news. Organized religion likes this because in times of distress people turn to God. This is dangerous, however, as different groups turn to different Gods and find a kind of guidance that may lead to further war and xenophobia. The truth is the world has always been a brutal place: politicians have been corrupt, the economy has slumped, and even xenophobia, slavery, and genocide have occurred. If anything, things have been much worse in the past than they are now. We stand at the front-most brink of the entire history of everything that has ever existed: the present. As Gandalf would say, "all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."
Watching the last Harry Potter movie reminded me of the striking parallels between our world and the magical world of Hogwarts. The hero of the movie was Snape. The books in general and this last part in particular are so powerful because, while narrating an epic battle between good and evil, they constantly undermine this black-and-white construct of good vs. evil. The most loathsome character rises at the end to a position even more noble than Dumbledore! Others like Luna, Neville, Mrs. Weasley, even Mrs. Malfoy, and, of course, Harry all rise to break free of their already pretty thorough characterization. Ah! Beautiful. And it was so well-done. The first scene with Snape observing from the castle and the Gringotts roller-coaster scene were (dare I use the word!) beautiful.
Then there is the treatment of death, which a friend at OMA found ambiguous or not fully resolved: "Harry should have died." But Dumbledore himself speaks of the nebulous quality of death: "It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more." It was important for Harry to not die and fulfill the prophecy, because an important idea in the series is that we can change what is "written" in our fate by making different decisions when faced with choices in life. That is why Harry tells his son at the end that the Sorting Hat takes your preference into account. Harry, by using the strength of his will and integrity, resists the darkness that is in him and that makes him the last horcrux. And so he is able to defeat Voldemort, both the real Tom Riddle and the part of Voldemort that is within himself.
The last scenes were cheesy and I didn't like seeing older versions of the characters. Perhaps it should have ended at the bridge after Harry destroys the Elder Wand. The movie, however, had to follow the books closely, so I suppose they really needed all those scenes. If you think about the whole thing as a cultural/political project, the tying up of all the knots in the end is important. If Harry had died, the message would be that we can do nothing to alter our fate. Also, in refusing to "sacrifice" Harry for the cause, and in giving him a real, physical, and mortal "happily ever after", Rowling breaks precedent with other heroic figures (such as Jesus). Interestingly, all ideas of an eternal life, and of sacrifice, repentance, and expiation, are ascribed to Voldemort and his servants, the Death Eaters (for example, when Wormtail sacrifices his arm to resurrect Voldemort in Goblet of Fire).
I must confess that, as naturally distressed and horrified as I was with the recent deaths in Norway, there was a strange sense of relief when I found that the killer was not a terrorist trained in my country, Pakistan, as so often has been the case. I feel a strange anguish and pain every time there is a terrorist attack. It is partly because I have been conditioned to feel this way by the visual and information culture of the United States, where I attend school, even though I know I am not personally responsible for these attacks. It's like having the last horcrux within your very being. The reason that J.K.Rowling's story is so relevant, however, is that it correctly points out that in order to coexist and flourish, we have to value people for who they are and what they do instead of judging them for where they came from or what they look like. It is a hopeful story and it is a story about resilience.