Just as the Hogwarts Express is to leave for summer break, Hermione asks:
“Feels strange to be going home, doesn’t it?”
It’s the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Harry has come to a revelation.
“I’m not going home,” he says. “Not really.”
From then on, Hogwarts would represent home for the Boy Who Lived, but he’s not the only one. Over the course of eight movies, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry became the easily recognizable backdrop of the wizarding world, despite how ever evolving that world was with each film. It’s Hogwarts that was comfortable and familiar, our very own virtual home away from home, where ghosts roamed the hallways, the pictures moved, and food magically appeared on the table.
Rewatching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is like returning to a home we haven’t been to in 15 years. But 15 years ago, this was our introduction and it’s nearly perfect. Director Chris Columbus’ take on the film was simple — he incorporated wonder into every scene that brought out the true essence of experiencing magic for the very first time. Aided by an already fantastic source material from JK Rowling and a reliable script from Steve Kloves, Columbus knew discovery needed to be a part of this movie. Discovery is what drives the wonder. There’s the scene when Hagrid and Harry are walking through Diagon Alley, or when the bank vault opens to show Harry how rich he is. But the best example is the first time we see Hogwarts. Separated into boats, the first years enter Hogwarts by water. As they float in, we get our first view of the school. And is it magnificent. Silhouetted against the night sky, Hogwarts looms in a way that could be frightening, but there are lights on in the windows and the faces of the first years — Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Seamus, and Dean, to name a few — say it all. This is a safe and wondrous place.
The themes running through Sorcerer’s Stone carry a simple message, and are often stated in pretty blunt terms (this is considered a kids movie, after all), but its implications are much more significant. From a 2016 perspective, especially after this particular election cycle, I can’t help but think Sorcerer’s Stone‘s underlying “love conquers all” theme is important, integral even, to remember. For a good portion of the film, Harry is with the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia are cruel people, and their son Dudley is a byproduct of that cruelty, but the basis of their cruelty comes from a fear of the unknown and the different. To them, the existence of wizards interrupts their perfectly ordinary lifestyle, and so to make themselves feel better, they dehumanize Harry because he’s different from them. The Dursleys don’t change their ways by the end of the film, but it’s Harry’s quiet determination to not let them affect him that makes them lose in the end.
Harry doesn’t get that determination all by himself, though. The friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione is one of the best on screen friendships in the past decade, but it started rather ordinarily. Harry and Ron becomes fast friends because they end up in the same train car together and Harry buys all the candy off the trolley cart. Hermione is the know-it-all of the class, and gets made fun of for her knowledge, most notably by Ron. Typical grade school behavior. But then, the three fight a troll together in the girls bathroom and immediately become friends. Of course, I think if you and people you held a general dislike towards fought a 12 foot troll in a bathroom, you’d come out of it with a little less hostility towards those people. But in the trio’s case, it’s the manner in which they fought that stands out. They fight it with teamwork, which sounds cliche, but the coolest aspect is Hermione instructing Ron how to properly do the Wingardium Leviosa spell, and Ron listening to her. It’s the very spell the two were arguing about in a few scenes previous, but here, they set their differences aside in the face of a larger threat, and come out on the other end all the better for it.
Hermione sums it up perfectly at the end of the giant chess match, right before Harry faces Voldemort for the first time:
Hermione: You’ll be okay, Harry. You’re a great wizard. You really are.
Harry: Not as good as you.
Hermione: Me? Books and cleverness. There are more important things: friendship and bravery. And Harry, just be careful.
Again, these aren’t complicated notions, but Sorcerer’s Stone turns these important truths into something more profound by adding in the little moments. Neville standing up to Harry, Ron, and Hermione is a perfect example of a little, but significant moment. Moments that transcend the 15 year gap between the then of its release, to the now of 2016. A now that feels like it could use a little reminder.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is like going home, but to a place much better than you remember it being. The first film isn’t just an introduction. In a world that keeps growing darker, it’s a reminder of a time when friendship and loyalty got you through the obstacles, and that love can, and will, defeat evil.