published in the national daily newspaper Malaya, February 4, 2002
We were crazy to begin with, to think of watching the Harry Potter movie on its first day. But finding that it was showing in two theaters, with one having a line that would put the University of Pila registration to shame, my friend and I decided to try our luck with the other theater. It didn’t matter that we would enter in the middle of the movie – heck, we know the rest of Harry’s story beyond the sorcerer’s stone.
So there we were, pre-bought baon and SM drink (everything sold in the SM theaters are now branded Shoemart) in hand, confident that our plan to watch in medias res was just perfect for people like us who really only wanted to see J.R. Rowling’s world onscreen. Of course we failed to realize that while we may have been early for those who were just stepping out of their offices, school was out by that time. And that theater was way beyond SRO mode – there was even no place to stand.
We didn’t want to leave – we had gotten a glimpse of quidditch at that point. Not watching the Harry Potter movie within the day would just ruin the rest of our week. So we braved it and decided to take a chance with the balcony section which, while full, still had fewer people and even spaces on the steps to sit on.
Sooner than later, we wereable to get seats – not the most pleasant ones considering that with those crowds, the theater probably couldn’t be cleaned between screenings – but seats(!!!) on the first day of what promises to be the first Harry Potter movie. And I thought, how lucky can I get?
Apparently, a lot luckier. I could’ve gone to a theater with an audience that had the sense not to bring all their kids just because it’s cool that they see this much-talked-about movie. Never mind that kids who are too young to read the book would also be too young to watch the movie. One kid screams: Mommy, madiliiiiim!! The fact that the novel was dark and dreary, and that the movie would relive that, was apparently not expected by the dear parents. Daliiii ibaba mo na sa maliwanag! the father says in a loud whisper. And down ran the mother and child to the area where the light of the fire exit and the entrance shone a little. Ay mommy, si Santa Claus!! exclaims a girl of five upon seeing Prof. Dumbledore. Something the mother fails to respond to – busy as she is trying to watch the movie.
A young girl starts to cry in another row and the mother shushes her, saying Ay! Ay! Tingnan mo o… may asong tatlo ang ulo!! And the girl, shifting from bored to scared, screams even louder. Further down the row behind us, a little boy asks bakit lumilipad walis nila? to an elder who seems as awed at the thought as the young boy is, and fails to answer. Unlike a mother, who decided to give a speech about good and evil, when her young companion asked di’ba bad ‘yon? upon seeing the wand-waving and spell-chanting.
At this point, my mind starts to wander, and I remember J.R. Rowling saying in an interview that she in fact, kept her young daughter from reading the first Harry Potter book because she felt that it was too scary a book to be read by someone younger than seven years old. She should have thought the same thing for the movie, I thought, and required that the movie be given a PG7 rating.
Until beside me, an older girl in her school uniform fidgets in her seat and in loud whispers asks her friends Bakit ganon yung pictures? Sino yon? Anong nangyari? And, given the strangeness of the realm with which Rowling worked in the book, and with which the movie worked, Ano? Ano raw pangalan? Bakit ganon ang classes nila? Her questions weren’t innocent ones, they were confused ones. These are questions which, if one were ready for the kind of world the movie had to offer, wouldn’t be asked.
The thing is, Filipino kids are only used to two kinds of worlds in the movies – the cartoon world (which spans everything from Snow White to Buzz Lightyear) and the un-real world where stories of real-live Santa Clauses and impossible things happen through prayer, wishes, dreams (with happy endings and gods-in-baskets to boot). Rarely, if at all, are we treated to a movie that shows our children an alternate reality where other children like them exist. The wizard world to which Rowling introduces us is shown to be as real as our world, both in the book and the movie. This is of course, something that has been praised about Rowling’s writing. And yet,this is the same thing that keeps our young Pinoy audience from appreciating this movie for what it truly does.
The bigger girls besideme had trouble absorbing this world that seemed so much like ours, and yet, is just too different. It wasn’t all about the magic. It was about the technology (moving pictures), the processes of appellation (the names), their kinds of chocolate and sweets (frogs and any flavored beans), their system of education. Yes, Harry Potter is all about magic. But it is also all about another world, as real as ours, that probably exists in some form or manner, but which we’ve looked upon as baloney, unscientific, unreliable, unreal. At it’s core is this young boy who finds his personality, his life, in a world that is not of the muggles – that is not ours.
And here is the tragedy of this movie. That in good old Philippines, a majority of our kids will fail to absorb this movie and see its power. It is not just about children who live in “another” world. It’s about a world that uses everything we used to have, things we’ve been taught to only see as un-Godly and evil – worship, chanting, spells, home remedies and potions – and validate these as logical, real, and probable in a movie. That there’s a movie like this for kids is just amazing. That a majority of our Pinoy kids won’t get it is, at the very least, saddening. Because its a measure of how little they know of their pre-colonial past and, given the kinds of parents I encountered in this Harry Potter experience, it’s a measure of how little an effort our elders are making toward teaching our Pinoy kids otherwise.