Harry Potter: Dumbledore as Human

I saw Order of the Phoenix again last weekend and it led to an interesting discussion with my friend Ajay. He said that he was not sure of Michael Gambon’s performance as Dumbledore, because he seemed too “real”. Dumbledore, in Ajay’s mind, is supposed to be all powerful and somehow above everyone else.

I don’t quite agree. In fact, one might say that I entirely disagree and I like Gambon’s take on a character who, at least in the first three books (I didn’t get to re-read Goblet, Phoenix and Half-Blood before Deathly Hallows), had a fairly standard “walk on exposition” role.

Spoilers on the Inside – but really, if you care for Harry Potter and don’t know what happens yet … I posit that you don’t really care for Harry Potter.

I was never big on Richard Harris’ Dumbledore. He had no authority. His voice made him seem ethereal and airy, but it lent him no present in the real world. Can you imagine, had Harris lived to make The Order of the Phoenix movie? The highlight of that movie, for me, was the duel between Dumbledore and Voldemort. In the Harrisphere, I imagine that Voldemort would launch a flaming serpent, and Dumbledore would launch into “Macarthur Park” (“and I’ll never have that recipe again!”).

So Michael Gambon is a great Dumbledore. I don’t quite agree with his beard tie, but otherwise he has charisma and, most importantly, conviction. He can’t be all twinkly eyes. Is it wrong to make him tangible? I don’t think so. Perhaps it steals Dumbledore’s mystique, but making him “real” makes him vulnerable. He can’t float onto the screen or page and say: “Yes, Harry, here are some loose ends, tied up nice and neat just for you.”

The strength of Deathly Hallows for me, beyond the thrilling camping sequences and the more legitimately unrelentingly awesome last 200 pages, was the revelation of Dumbledore’s true character. Here at last, it seemed, was a character whose motivations were finally laid bare in death.
Perhaps to some it’s sad when a mighty wizard is proven ultimately human, but to me, Dumbledore left on a grand note: of course it is happening inside your head … but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

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