Upon initial viewing, The Half Blood Prince was my favourite out of the franchise, with the possible exception of The Deathly Hallows Part II, which is up for competition only because of the Prince’s Tale montage. Of course I still love the film and even the yellow tinge that David Yates lent to the film to give it a bit of a nostalgic effect. However, it is becoming increasingly to justify the screenplay that was adapted from the book. How they justify leaving out crucial bits of Tom Riddle’s past (who happens to be one of the most interesting characters in the franchise), is beyond me.
The film is largely about four characters. To be more specific, four Slytherin characters – Horace Slughorn, Tom Riddle, Draco Malfoy & Severus Snape, the half blood prince himself. At some point during the series, Dumbledore mentions how he thinks they sometimes sort too quickly and this film proves why.
Horace Slughorn is a former Hogwarts Potions professor, whom Dumbledore wants to recruit again. Horace is someone who likes feeling important and likes being linked to the company he keeps and the famous students he taught. The only thing alluring enough for him to come back to Hogwarts (or rather scream out to Voldemort that he is on Dumbledore’s side), is the opportunity to teach the famous Harry Potter, the boy who lived. Another famous boy to go on the table.
Tom Riddle, the boy who would grow up to become Lord Voldemort himself, is shown across different stages of his life prior to succumbing to his latter self. The first ever encounter that Dumbledore has with Riddle, is while Tom is still at the orphanage. Even though he was very young, Tom always had an innate confidence in himself and an unfaltering belief that he was special. When Dumbledore informs him that he is a wizard, Tom is not shocked, but instead looks like he is finally able to understand how special he is. At the orphanage, he was somewhat of a bully who used to hurt other kids and take their possessions as trophies. He had no emotional bond with anyone and did not feel any grief over hurting others. In the flashback scene, we see Tom’s room ornate with seven stones on the window and a picture of a cave hanging by his bed. Other than that, he is completely devoid of any indication of his likes and dislikes.
Draco Malfoy is recruited by the dark lord himself to murder the only wizard he ever feared, the Headmaster of Hogwarts – Albus Dumbledore. This is very typical behaviour since all this time since Voldemort has come back, he has constantly been hiding behind other people to get his tasks done; with the notable exception of attempting to kill Harry. Draco has to pay for his father’s mistakes in the earlier film as he was unsuccessful in safely retrieving the prophecy for Voldemort. We see two aspects of Draco in this film, a refreshing change from otherwise normal bully behaviour from him – torment and determination. Torment over fear of failing and being punished by his master and determination in terms of coming up with new and new schemes to achieve his goal. But most importantly, we learn that though he is a bully, he never would have truly been able to kill someone. Even if his own life depended on it.
Severus Snape, though most notable only towards the end of the film, is who the story’s title is based upon. His character is responsible for casting the killing curse that ultimately leads to the fan favourite Dumbledore’s demise and he shall forever be known for doing that dreadful deed, even if it was for Draco’s benefit; revealing himself to be a death eater and in a fleeting moment, also the Half Blood Prince; the potions genius that got Harry all his applaud from Slughorn; and the inventor of spells.
The film also focuses on the love triangle between Hermione, Ron & Lavender Brown as well as the budding relationship between Harry & Ginny. Even though the Ron & Hermione arc had been teased for a while, there was not much progress since neither one ever came out and confessed their feelings for the other. In fact, that is precisely how Lavender came into the equation in the first place. Only if Hermione had been more vocal about her feelings, there never would have been a Lavender Brown. Sometimes our biggest enemy is us only. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us from being happy, is ourselves.
We also learn more about Lilly Potter. In fact, her bravery and sacrifice urge Horace to surrender his memory with Tom Riddle about horcruxes to Harry. Even though he is ashamed of himself and wants to pretend like he never gave any such information to Tom Riddle, Horace is forced to face the truth and when he is given an opportunity to be brave, he takes it, albeit after a little persuasion and some liquid courage.
After building five films to show how all Slytherins are manipulative and inherently evil, this movie shows us how the truth can be very different from what is apparent. It shows us that a Slytherin (Slughorn) can be brave like a Gryffindor. It shows us that a Slytherin (Draco) can be scared and sensitive. It shows us a Slytherin (Snape) can be smart like a Ravenclaw. And it also shows us that a Slytherin can be evil not because of what Hogwarts house he belongs to, but because of tragic life circumstances from early on; because of never knowing love or friendship.