Why Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the most beautiful in the series

Harry Potter is my favourite film franchise. I would even argue that it is the best film franchise of all time. While Star Wars is always a classic, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is fun, we all got to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and I think that is something purely magical. The Prisoner of Azkaban, a turning point in not only the development of the characters, but the whole franchise, is also in my opinion one of the most beautiful movies ever made. And here’s why.

Stuff like this isn’t made today

Green screens, studio executives, cash-grabs and ‘soft-reboots’ all plague the modern cinema landscape – audiences are spoon-fed entertainment like they are Dudley Dursley scooping out chunks of Harry’s 11th birthday cake.

But not this film.

From start to finish, you can tell that the director Alfonso Cuarón has poured his heart and soul into the production of this film; carefully planning out every little detail so that it services the story and not the Hollywood hegemony.

Take the opening shot – a dim light flickering in the distance, revealed to be Harry learning how to cast the spell “Lumos Maxima”. For a film with deep psychological undertones, about Harry’s journey to finding his inner strength, finding the happiness, the love and the light that lays inside of him, so he can fight off the Dementors – a physical symbolism of depression – this opening shot reveals the entirety of Harry’s forthcoming arc.

Visual Storytelling

This dichotomy between light and dark permeates throughout the rest of the film’s narrative in a striking and dreamlike way. The thing I love about Cuarón’s direction is that he often foreshadows events and themes of the film through his visual storytelling. For example, take Dumbledore’s famous quote: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light.”

Notice how he gently waves his hand over the candle – a man with a tormented past, yet a man who whole-heartedly believes in the power of love, in his mind, the strongest magic of all.
Now look at Harry as he learns how to cast a Patronus, repeating the same shot as before. Similar to Dumbledore, his past is filled with pain and torment. Unlike Dumbledore, he still has to find his inner strength and embrace Dumbeldore’s quote in order to defeat the dementors.

And this isn’t the only instance.

Where is you know who?

What also sets this movie apart from the others, is that there is no real villain. While you could argue Worm-Tail, or the threat of Sirius Black could be villains, the real threat are the dementors – a pervasive, destructing force that continuously reminds Harry that the way to win this battle is through finding the light inside of him.

And this scares Harry.

For much of the film, he is often pictured isolated, in a black hoodie (not too dissimilar to the black hoodie dementors wear) and as alone and afraid.

This marks a turning point for Harry, and a change from the light-hearted fantasy adventure of the first two films, to something far more raw, dark and relatable. Where no longer is he fighting a reincarnation of Voldemort, but his own demons and trauma.

Lonely specs of starlight that glitter against the eternal black canvas of space.

I can’t help but think Rowling looked to the stars when writing this story. Having suffered from depression herself, the symbol of light at the end of the tunnel is a beautiful and heartfelt reminder that love always wins out.

Take the character Sirius Black. Sirius is also the name for the brightest star in the sky, and black, well that is pretty straight-forward. For a character, who has lost almost everything, to still hold on to the love he has for his friends, and the love he has for Harry is something truly profound.

During the climax of the film, where Harry sees Sirius’s literal soul being sucked away by the Dementors, he only has one choice, and that is to cast Expecto Patronum. This one scene in my opinion is the best in the entire franchise. It encapsulates Harry’s growth from boy to a man as he realises that nobody is there to save him, not his Dad, not Dumbeldore, but only his pure inner strength and his appreciation of the love his parents gave him.

John Williams’s score echoes throughout this scene like churchbells in The Vatican. The music builds together in a climax, with a pervasive ticking in the background, reminding the viewer that Harry is running out of time. Until finally, he advances his leitmotif of “A Window to the Past” as Harry fights off hundreds of cloaked incarnations of death in a bad-ass fashion. I also love the pulsating effect they gave to the Patronus charm in the movie – it reminds me of a warm heartbeat. I can’t help but get chills every time I watch this scene.

As humans, we have an innate negativity bias, and it is often a struggle to remember the good. The idea of losing yourself in a happy memory, finding your inner strength and believing in love is something that carries across from the screen and into our lives.

As Trent Dalton put it: “Love is a complete mystery. Love is our most important mystery. Love is the answer to every question.”