Potter franchise teaches nothing gold stays

By Matt Rooney

In late November, 2001 my fourth-grade teacher made an announcement. "Kids, the movie theater is giving us a free early showing of a movie," she said. After a slow, anticipatory silence, she calmly said, "Harry Potter."

As chaos ensued in that small military base theater, another chapter of my life opened. Nine-and-a-half years later, I sat in another small military base theater thousands of miles away, watching it all end with the final installment, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2."As I exited the theater and walked to my car, I released a humble sigh. But this didn't feel as if it were out of exhaustion after all the action I saw on screen.

This felt more…internal. It was a feeling I had never felt before, and I am still feeling its effects. This led me to do some deep thinking about why all of this was happening.

A childhood founded in film

I spent most of my early childhood sitting next to my brother watching a movie.

"Star Wars," "Indiana Jones," "Back to the Future" and many other Steven Spielberg films.

I was always entranced and perplexed by the events on screen aerial fights, Indy jumping onto a tank from a horse and Marty Mcfly gunning it to 88. I formed my life around these films.

I pretended baseball bats were light sabers, challenged my brother to race me down the hallway in our old plastic car trying to go back in time and even swung from the bath curtains imagining a gorge jump. (One time it broke while my bro was in the tub….I ran.)

These movies were, essentially, my life. I tried to live them the best I could, even if all I could do was surround myself with the action figures or coloring books.

Those movies were my '90s. Hell, I cannot even remember any of the friends I had back then. Nothing else other than those movies mattered.

That was until 2001, when those three franchises made two new buddies in the forms of "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter." What separated me from these and my childhood companions of the '90s was I could actually see these movies on a big screen, with a large audience.

My eyeballs were glued to the screen every time I sat there. (I saw "The Two Towers" five times in theaters.) The essence of children is found in their expression of imagination. Mine was expressed through the imagination of film.

I would spend hours in the woods near my house with friends pretending to kill orcs and other foul beings. All the cares of school, parents and vegetables were nonexistent.

We all have moments that define us as kids. Some were sports, camping or reading alone under the covers. Mine was playing in the woods like a geek shouting, "They're coming; attack!" I loved every minute.

All good things must come to an end

Finally, in 2003, a reality set in; all good things come to an end, and you must be ready. "Lord of the Rings" came to a sweeping finale. The characters I emulated and admired were going away, and I knew it. No more anticipation. No more waiting in line to see grand epics. A chapter of my life was closed.

But I felt happy, happy that it ended so well. In that serenity, I stopped playing in the woods and moved on from that part of my life. It was time to move on.

That feeling came yet again in 2005 when the "Star Wars" saga also brought forth its final act. I waited in line seven hours for that movie—and we were still in the back of the theater.

We trekked past all the nerds, dorks and virgins alike wearing costumes and watching the previous films on their laptops. I would like to say I felt sorry for them, wasting their lives on one series of movies, and I kinda did.

That was until the very end of the movie when Ewan McGregor handed over baby Luke Skywalker to his Uncle Owen, and like Lord of the Rings, it all ended where it began. People were crying and hugging one another.

In that moment, I no longer felt bad for their lives, but now related to them. Not only was it a tragic, yet beautiful ending to the saga, but it also symbolized yet another chapter of life closing for good.

No more anticipation. No more costumes. It was time to put all of it away and move on. Once again I felt it.

But there was still one more franchise that was just getting warmed up. "Harry Potter" was still in my life, and I embraced it. No, I did not dress up, nor did I start reading the books. But every year, a movie came out, and I could hardly contain the excitement.

I saw the midnight showing every time and embraced the crowds around me. My eye were glued to the screen, feeling like a kid the entire time. These movies were my last real connection in anticipating the feeling of being a kid again.

But all good things must end, again.

Eras in film mark chapters in life

On July 15, 2011, the final installment of the last great franchise ended in a stunning fashion. I sat in the same kind of theater I did 10 years earlier and watched as the whole theater packed into its seats. You could feel the restless atmosphere. All knew what they were about to watch and what it meant.

Then, two heart-pounding, emotion-driven hours later, the music used at the very end of the first film exploded from the speakers and gave nostalgia its own sound. People stood and cheered even before the credits rolled. This was the last time anyone would see this childhood friend on screen, and in knowing that, another chapter ended.

As I was reviewing all this and trying to apply it to how it was making me feel, I was still a little confused.

How could a movie arouse such a legitimate emotion? Then it hit me. I have grown up with all these movies, and throughout the years, as I have witnessed their individual end, a small piece of my life ended with them. And as the final chapter of the final movie in the last great franchise ended, the final chapter in my life leading up to this point closed with it.

Every bit of what I am today including the love I have for film can be traced to those first moments gazing at the TV screen, never wanting to leave.

We all have these kinds of loves in our lives. They may be our kids, parents, music or the family dog. It can be anything.

But we all must realize one day those fragile objects must be left behind, and it is tragic; sending your kids off to college, saying goodbye for last time to loved ones as you embrace them or leaving your parents behind to start your own life.

Despite all the heartache and surreal feelings, a certain serenity comes with it. What the movies I've grown up with have shown is the end of one journey in life is never the end, but a beginning.

When one door closes, another opens.

Can it really be over?

I have always felt it weird that I get this feeling from films, especially these particular ones. But it's almost a wonder in itself that something as simple and common as a movie can teach so much.

But as I always tell myself, the good part about going to see a movie is being able to escape to another world, and the best part is coming back with a little souvenir. The best souvenirs I've ever received are the little moments I've been able to have after watching movies—running around my house, screaming in the woods and escaping into my own reality. These are the moments that make us who we are as people.

As I sat in that theater, and the music that played at the end of the first Potter film blasted at the end of this last one, the feeling of nostalgia coursed my body. I realized all the hours I spent during the first part of my life, knowing full well they will end, were worth it just to be able to say goodbye.

The ending of all these movies has proven symbolic not only to characters but also to me and how far I've come. They are always and forever that little, white string that keeps me connected to my ended childhood and the world I live in now as an adult.

That is why life's passages like graduation and going to college never really mattered. Those moments don't define who I've become as a person.

I have grown up with these movies and am the definition of my childhood and my adulthood. When that door closed, a feeling of sorrow and peace washed over me as I left the screening of "Harry Potter."

I can continue my journey through life with these movies seared as memories and acknowledge that I love movies because of these memories. Movies have always been there for me, and nothing I ever experience will ever come close to the joy they have given to me. The feeling I have for these movies is exactly the ones the characters are feeling on screen, of having to say goodbye to that chapter in life and accepting it's now time to start a new chapter.

It's a universal idea we all must accept, but we must never lose ourselves, too.

The movies I grew up on and have been lucky to see end have set the standard for this little term that the "Harry Potter" films in particular have taken to heart: pure movie magic.

Childhood ends officially this Friday, Nov. 11, on Blu-Ray and DVD.