Heresy of the Week – The Harry Potter films got Sirius’ death wrong


sirius black death

Heresy of the Week is a (mostly) weekly spot in which I entertain some of the unthinkable notions of geek-culture. The arguments I put forward are not always things I personally agree with, but often rhetorical devices designed to force myself (and maybe readers) out of the boxes which fan discussions can get caught in. But that aside, feel free to get yourselves worked up and your knickers in a twist if you really want to.

This week’s heresy:

“There are many criticisms levelled at the Harry Potter film franchise, some of them legitimate and some of them not. But seldom did the films miss the point of the books quite as badly as in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, with Sirius Black’s death scene.”

Okay, so Harry Potter isn’t something I would usually geek out over. It’s not that I’m not a fan — I read all of the books, and have seen all of the films — but more that it’s not usually my cup of tea. Which is a terrible turn of phrase anyway, as I don’t drink tea.

I was, ironically, probably a bit old for Harry Potter when it actually started to make a splash. (And when I say splash, I mean on the same sort of scale as dropping an asteroid into an ocean). Nothing against it, just that by that point I was a convert to Anne McCaffrey and — well, Hogwarts just doesn’t compare with Pern.

But I read, and I watched, and by and large I enjoyed. Except, for some reason, the errors were writ large to my eyes. I don’t mean the book error from The Goblet of Fire (whereby Harry’s parents appear in the wrong order), but rather the death of Harry’s godfather Sirius Black in The Order of the Phoenix.

You see, in the book Sirius and a bunch of other good guys come to Harry and his friends’ rescue at the climactic moment. They fight off Death Eaters including Sirius’ cousin Bellatrix Lestrange, around a strange dias with a ruined archway, a wispy veil and disconcerting whispers from the other side. Sirius gets cocky, and as the battle rages on Bellatrix nails him with some red sparks spell, and he is knocked through the veil. Which kills him. Because the veil is the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead.

It’s slightly different in the film, though. The same battle, the same participants, the same cocky Sirius. But this time, Bellatrix hits Sirius not with a generic offensive spell, but with Avada Kedavra, the killing curse. So in the film’s version, Sirius was already dead, because the killing curse…well, it kills.

It’s a small change, but one which completely changes the nature and point of his death. The tragedy of Sirius’ death in the film was that he was a little arrogant, and Bellatrix is evil. In the book, but for the fact that he was stood in front of the archway, Sirius would have lived. It adds a heavy sense of misfortune which exacerbates a particularly heartbreaking scene, and is excellent storytelling.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Harry Potter films, and I certainly don’t think they lived up to the books. But, in this blogger’s humble opinion, this is the gravest of the films’ sins. This change robbed a major character’s death of the lion’s share of its meaning. Frankly Bellatrix might as well have shot Sirius, for all the extra meaning that the method of death imparts.

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