Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

Todd R. Ramlow

It is sad, though perhaps 'realistic,' that the lesson of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is that all institutions and authority, Good or Evil, are corrupt.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Director: Mike Newell
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Gary Oldman, Miranda Richardson
MPAA rating: PG-13
Studio: Warner Bros.
First date: 2005
US Release Date: 2005-11-18

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire opens with a vision of the notyet fully formed Lord Voldemort (later in the film played in "human" form by Ralph Fiennes) fomenting his dark designs. This opening, unlike the other Potter films, which dwelled at the start on Harry's (Daniel Radcliffe) suburban misery with the Dursleys, signals a shift for the series. From this point on, Harry's heroic trajectory begins in earnest, leading to his inevitable showdown with the Dark Lord.

Goblet is the most complicated of Rowling's books insofar as the narrative directly confronts the notion of Evil and the perils of growing up, taking responsibility, and acting ethically. Previously, Lord Voldemort was a sort of shadow threatening from the background; in Goblet he is physically manifested as the Big Bad Other, hastening Harry's maturation.

Also complicating Harry's tidy universe is sexuality. The very possibility of heterosexual romance throws the boys and girls at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry into a collective tizzy. This frisson is brought about by the introduction of competing schools arriving at Hogwarts to participate in the Triwizard Tournament. The schools -- Beauxbatons, led by the imposing Madame Olympe Maxime (Frances de la Tour), and Durmstrang, led by the hawkish Igor Kararkoff (Pedja Bjelac) -- are depicted in the most stereotypically gendered terms. The Beauxbaton students are all girls, sweeping into the Great Hall in identical, form-fitting pale blue silk dress-suits, sighing, and scattering magical butterflies among the students. The Durmstrang boys, athletic and manly in their army-like uniforms, wield phallic staves that shoot sparks when banged on the floor. The Howgarts students fall immediately in love with all of their "appropriate" (heterosexual) counterparts.

Goblet is my favorite of the Potter books for precisely these unsettling vectors, and fans will be pleased to know that the film maintains much of the complexity of Rowling's text. Even so, director Mike Newell and screenwriter Steven Kloves wisely follow Alfonso Cuarón's lead from The Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) and trim much of the fat from Rowling's original. Large subplots that admittedly enrich the text are left out; the result is a film that ironically seems truer to the story for realizing less of it.

The film's real pleasure is in the connections it makes (whether intentional or not) to current "real world" questions about the beneficence of institutional authority. What drew my own attention to how knowledge and its dissemination function within the Potterverse is the serendipitous (perhaps uncanny) physical similarity between Madame Maxime and New York Times turncoat and Bush administration conduit Judith Miller. The women are of a similar age, with similar vulpine features, and the same medium-brown bob-cut hair.

Rowling's text offers a trenchant critique of the non-independent media via the character Rita Skeeter (Miranda Richardson), a reporter for the Daily Prophet (the paper of record for the wizard world), who works in cahoots with the Minister of Magic (Robert Hardy) to discredit Professor Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) and Harry's assertions about the return of Voldemort. The Bush administration says "WMDs" and Miller repeats it ad nauseum. The Ministry of Magic says Voldemort is still dead and Rita Skeeter says Harry Potter is crazy and egomaniacal.

While Newell's Goblet cuts most of the Rita Skeeter storyline, the political management of leaky information adheres elsewhere throughout the film. This is most direct in the Triwizard Tournament, an international competition in which "Eternal Glory" is to be claimed by the victor. Clearly there are political stakes here beyond any individual student winner. Various authority figures accordingly act to make sure their competitors have the best information about what tasks they will face far in advance. Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane), Professor of Care of Magical Creatures and Dumbledore's right-hand man, tips Harry off that the first challenge will be dragons, allowing Harry ample time to devise a winning strategy. Professor "MadEye" Moody (Brendan Gleeson), a Ministry of Magic Auror (dark-wizard hunter), leads Harry to the solution to both this first and the second competition in the tourney. And Harry's not the only contender who is given information that allows him to cheat; all are so supplied.

Harry's very participation in the competition seems askew, as the cut-off age is supposed to be 17. After Harry's name appears out of the Goblet of Fire as one of the contestants (the goblet being a magical object that makes these decisions), it is clear that someone has monkeyed with the "objective" process for unknown reasons. Despite the facts that Harry is much too inexperienced to compete, and that this puts Harry in possibly mortal peril, Dumbledore decides to stay the course, out of his own desires to find out more about the Big Bad's plans.

It is sad, though perhaps "realistic," that the lesson of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is not about fidelity, friendship, or Harry's "great moral fiber," as Dumbledore terms it, but that all institutions and authority, Good or Evil, are corrupt. The film further demonstrates the Hegelian principle that evil lies as much in the eye that perceives it as in the subject/object so determined: Dumbledore demands that Harry must act ethically in all matters, and then allows Harry the opportunity to cheat at every turn. Knowledge is power, Goblet asserts, and then goes on to show just how both sides, Good and Evil, use that power by leaking or withholding information in the service of specific political interests. So much for the possibility of ethical action and "great moral fiber."






The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.


John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.


Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.


Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.


Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.


Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.


Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.