Lloyd Baugh’s book Imaging the Divine: Jesus and Christ-Figures in Film lays out an interesting set of qualifications for a character in a film to be considered a symbolic representation of Jesus, or Christ-figure. A surprising number of these qualifications can be found in Harry Potter, titular protagonist of the Harry Potter series of books and movies, and most especially in the second film in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban…
A brief outline of the characteristics he describes will suffice for now. Baugh suggests that a Christ-figure in film will generally display some or all of the following characteristics: They will have mysterious or muddy origins, analogous to Christ’s immaculate conception and unusual birth. They often gather about them a group of loyal followers who learn from the Christ-figure and carry on his mission, analogous to the Apostles. They will enter an environment where injustice predominates, particularly injustice against ordinary people, and will work against this system, driven by a strong internal commitment to an ideal of justice. The Christ-figure will tend to be in conflict with the authorities, even as Jesus was in conflict with religious authorities of the time. A subtle undercurrent of prayer and communion with the divine or spiritual is often present, whether in overt or symbolic form. Most importantly, there is frequently a theme of martyrdom, death and resurrection in the Christ-figure’s story, as they give their life to save or help others, and return from this seeming death redeemed. Not every Christ-figure possesses every single one of these qualities, and in many cases different qualities come to the fore, but these will do for a jumping-off point. Multiple characters in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban fulfill some aspects of being Christ-like, so we shouldn’t assume right off the bat that it’s the protagonist. Taking a moment to examine some of the other candidates will help us place the issue in context. Sirius Black has a number of Christ-like qualities, most especially in the key theme of a sinless man being tortured for the sake of others. Black suffers twelve years of torturous agony in Azkaban, the wizard prison, for a crime he did not commit. He emerges bearded and dressed in simple rags, making him the best candidate on visual grounds. He is pursued relentlessly by the authorities, one of Baugh’s listed qualifications, and he offers Harry a happy life as his adopted ward, if Harry is willing to accept this ragged stranger into his heart. The analogy to Christ’s offer of heaven need not be belabored. True, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus turn into a giant dog, but we need not be too literalist. The argument against Black, however, is that in the end he doesn’t really save anyone. His soul is almost stolen by the dementors, and he must be rescued by Harry. By two Harries, in fact, due to the time-travel shenanigans of the film’s last act. He also lacks the mysterious origins of a Christ-figure in Baugh’s definition, springing quite documentably from a well-known and notoriously evil family of wizards. An interesting Christ analogy lies in a character never seen on screen: Harry’s late father, James. He certainly clashed with authorities a great deal as a youth, as one of the original creators of the Marauder’s Map, and he also dedicated himself to opposing an unjust system, spending his adulthood fighting Lord Voldemort. Most importantly, James Potter had a terrible incident in his life that only comes to light in this movie: he was in hiding from his enemies and was betrayed to them by his best friend. Anyone not reminded of Judas’ ...
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