The uncoolness of planning and Lucky Harry Potter

October 25, 2009 | By | 4 Replies More

Today I watched the third Harry Potter movie with my family. I’ve seen all six of the Harry Potter movies now. These Harry Potter movies offer outstanding entertainment. Their characters are endearing and the special effects are seamlessly woven into the enchanting stories.

As entertaining as these Harry Potter movies are, it has become abundantly clear to me that Harry is extremely lucky. Yes, Harry is also brave and smart and he has a pure heart, but there is no reason for expect that he should have survived most of the life-threatening challenges he faces. You see, dark powerful magic abounds, so much so that Harry should have died several times in each of his movies, but doesn’t die because he is extremely lucky.

Harry usually survives only because of something that has nothing to do with planning. Instead, a good powerful magic person shows up to save him (or a magic animal), or the evil attacker inexplicably allows him to survive, or a solution that involves a magic object becomes apparent at the last possible moment. This tendency violates one of the rules traditional screenplay writing: the solution to the major conflict should have been made available to the audience throughout the movie (in the form of clues sprinkled about). Magic animals are fun, of course, but plots shouldn’t depend so heavily on them.

Harry is only one in a long line of heroes who survives a long roller-coaster of adventures without ever sitting down to map out any sort of detailed plan of action. There might be a few times when our heroes pause to think of what to do next, but it’s only for a minute or two, and then someone yells “Let’s go,” and our heroes are off again.

I wrote about our dearth of “planning heroes” several years ago. In America, we love adventure without planning. We simply expect to survive without planning; we’ll figure out the details later, if ever. Now it’s time for action/movement/adventure. We don’t have time for planning; we scoff at planning. It’s undignified.

It’s interesting, though, that many of our movie villains often do lots of planning while laying their insidious traps. But our heroes never die, even when they brashly stumble into a long series of those traps. Our heroes escape . . . because they come armed with luck.

I’m sitting here tonight, wondering whether Hollywood’s conception of “hero” has been corrupting our ability to recognize our real life need to plan and practice. In the past, there were television shows where planning and practicing was front and center. Consider the television version of “Mission Impossible” or the movies “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Great Escape.”

I’m wondering whether so many of us are so unwilling to plan in modern times because planning is not something done by modern heroes. Planning is not heroic. We are proud Americans, and we get by with hubris and grit sprinkled with violence.

Therefore, we don’t plan well for much of anything (“swine flu” being a notable exception), whether it be New Orleans levees, the need to stop ubiquitous sub-prime fraud, the approaching energy crisis, or developing exit strategies for our ill-advised wars. We just carry on or we jump in without thinking things through. We depend on our favorite ally, “The Free Market,” to take care of everything. Or we rely on “God.” Or we rely on the “fact” that we Americans live “in the worlds greatest country.”

In modern times, we rely on things taking care of themselves. Why bother planning and practicing when we are such lucky people? That’s a powerful and dangerous lesson that Hollywood has been teaching us.


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Category: Films and Videos, Politics, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Jay Fraz says:

    Great article. This is something I have not thought much about. Will give considerable time and thought, great observation.

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    I think the "lack" of planning goes more to an outlook of "first do no harm." All in all most times natural systems re-regulate themselves when temporarily disrupted.

    Perhaps our fault lies in a too often misplaced belief that some others actually have a f-ng clue about what's going on and we misplace our trust in them.

    But, Harry does have a plan, Dumbledore's, and follows it to the end.

  3. Erika Price says:

    You've tapped into something that has always bothered me about the Harry Potter series: Harry is incidental. All the other protagonists possess drive, heart, or talent. In the first few books and movies, clever and motivated Hermoine does all of the problem solving. Ron's family provides all of the necessary emotional and logistical support. Harry is carried along by an endless stream of magical deus ex machina creatures, an expanding repertoire of unearned items and a cast of talented wizards who only love him because of a shared history with his parents.

    It really kills the character of Harry Potter for me, for he seems to just float through the events of his life on a current of luck and the rudder of others' plans. It would be far more interesting to follow the trevails of a wannabe wizard who lacks magical blood and connections- like Hermoine, or any of the other supporting characters. Fortunately there are enough of these compelling side characters to drag the books and films along and keep them quite entertaining. The resulting story sends a terrible message, however- talented and motivated others will do the work for you.

    Also notice how little Harry has to practice or study his magic. The other characters have to sweat over school, but not him.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Erika: Even in the 6th movie, Harry finds Snape's old notes and scores a good grade in potions class by cheating, not by working. You're right that he doesn't put in much time on the books. Hermoine makes a much more interesting hero. And I also agree about Ron's family supplying the emotions. Harry does have one thing going for him, though. He is not afraid of anything. And I do agree that 90% of success is being there.

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