Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone turns 20 today: because it is still a cult

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The idea of ​​Harry Potter was born during a train ride. A young woman peeks out the window and sees a cow, among the green pastures of the UK. From there starts a free rein fantasy about a child who survived the loss of his parents, as a newborn, and then destined to become one of the most famous wizards in the world: many publishers laughed at JK Rowling’s manuscript, which only in 1997 saw light in the library (in Italy thanks to Salani).

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone becomes such a global phenomenon – the saga has reached 500 million copies sold in 80 languages – and a few years later, just today, on November 16, he peeps out at the cinema. It was 2001 and the celebration of twenty years since that first film becomes a must starting from return to our rooms from 8 to 12 December. The celebrations of this now historic date seem worthy of a queen’s birthday, including new home video editions complete with a reproduction of the Hogwarts Express train to special installations in theme parks dedicated to the wizard.

Why, after two decades, is the first film still a cult? On the other hand, another seven followed, to which the creator added a franchise-prequel, Fantastic Beasts, with five chapters in the pipeline (the third, Dumbledore’s Secrets, in theaters in April 2022).

Directed by the director of Mom I missed the plane, Chris Columbus (who is now cherishing the dream of bringing the original cast back to the big screen), the film has given birth to an imaginary world in which it is comforting to take refuge.

The idea that an owl shows up at the door with a letter in its beak is already something electrifying in itself, and if it is about admission to a prestigious British academy then the euphoria grows. When Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry selects pupils they know are destined for great deeds, often equipped with a wand and cauldron for potions.

This education full of spells and runes, however, is not aimed at bending the laws of physics to one’s whims and desires, but has limitations and certainly does not defeat death or erase pain.

Discovering it, slowly, in the cinema allows that Bildungsroman to become alive, almost real and certainly tangible. The discovery is revealed slowly, right from the first images that show a cat transforming into a middle-aged lady or a lighter turning off the street lights. Meanwhile, a bungling and late half-giant arrives with a sidecar from the sky with a newborn: with an unkempt beard and a wrinkled coat, you would not give him two lire and instead a few words are enough to understand that one of the figures presented himself in front of the audience- keys of history.

Harry Potter, the name of that little bundle left in front of the door of a suburban house, is a baby with a distinctive sign, a scar on his forehead, and it is already clear that he is destined for great things. It is difficult to understand what exactly, given that he lives in a basement and wears his cousin’s disused clothes and visibly too large for his small frame. He has a kind of bowl hairstyle and funny round glasses, not really the most popular guy in the class.

But no: so far the public looks at it with Muggle eyes, that is, from the perspective of someone who has never had anything to do with magic. But when the proof comes that yes, there are flying brooms, house elves and even a magical currency, then everything changes.

One of the great merits of the film – traced more or less faithfully from the chapters of the book – remains that of having shown that not only (almost) everything is possible but that, regardless of the burden of the past, then what really matters is the future that build. The choice of scenes from the novel on which the film adaptation focuses clearly shows all the humanity of the fantasy metaphor.

The shy protagonist, played by Daniel Radcliffe, has a reputation he is unaware of: the love of his parents saved him from Lord Voldemort, a name that everyone is afraid to pronounce, everyone except him. He does not know, in his naivety as a child, that he is the most powerful dark wizard of all time and is thirsty for revenge against him, a helpless little creature capable of defeating him in spite of himself.

Harry just wants to be loved: he has never dreamed of a magical escape from the harassment of his uncles who were forced to host him when he became an orphan, nor has he tasted a thirst for revenge even if sometimes the idea will touch him.

The size of The philosopher’s Stone at the cinema it starts from the charm of the magical setting that comes to life for the first time, between Quidditch matches (the sport most loved by wizards, which is practiced in the air astride brooms) and ghosts who almost miss their heads. And then it continues showing imperfect characters with extraordinary tools in their hands, capable of overcoming fears to save loved ones.

Who wouldn’t want to find a place to call home – which is Hogwarts Castle here – where you really belong and feel welcomed by your fellowmen without having to disguise your nature? The world of JK Rowlings revisited by Chris Columbus is included, different and reassuring. Of course, it does not shield from dangers, on the contrary it often seems like a magnet for trouble, yet it has such realistic features that it no longer wants to abandon it.

In later films the school experience of young wizards and witches was normalized and for example Hermione, Harry’s best friend (played by Emma Watson), she often wears jeans. The pointed hats of students and teachers are gone and the appearance of the inhabitants of Hogwarts are more similar to those of the Muggle world, but by now the tone of the story is established and the students do not need flashy accessories to remind the public of their potential. .

Sure, anyone would like to have at least a pinch of magic to shape or change what they don’t like about the world, about others or about themselves but it’s not a formula that solves problems. On the contrary.

Indeed it is the wand that chooses the magician, as the wise Ollivander (the late John Hurt) explains to little Harry, and this instrument carries with it enormous responsibilities, not just great privileges.

The corruption of power is clearly seen in the film: not only is the division between wizards and Muggles evident, but also among the wizards themselves there are purer origins and mixed races. Discrimination, prejudice, the thirst for revenge are part of this world just like in the human one, showing that basically the things that make us similar are more than those that make us different.

The children here have a say and, in one way or another, they get the attention of adults and sometimes even save them from themselves. Without condescension, rhetoric or do-gooders: The philosopher’s stone is the object of desire par excellence, but it can only be possessed by those who do not want it.

A paradox, in short, one of the many in the universe of JK Rowling that fascinates, moves and amuses like few others. Under the guise of a childhood story, the Harry Potter saga tells complex truths in a simple way and therefore becomes universal, at any age, at any latitude.

After twenty years we still wonder what this film is so special that it brings everyone back to the cinema (China chose it when it reopened its cinemas after the pandemic). Did you astonish with special effects and a mind-boggling budget for the time? Sure, but most of all it got straight to the hearts of the public because to each spectator he told his personal story through the eyes of Harry Potter. And every fan, adult or child, has taken up their wand or put on their broom, to face their fears and give them a name, but from a safe place, between friends and mentors because yes, the emotional gaps left by the family can always be filled. .


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