moviespolitics & government

Harry, Larry, and me…

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It seems to me, doesn’t it to you, that a lot of the public squabbles we incessantly hear of do not arise from mere differences of opinion but from a seemingly primal urge we humans have to tell other people what to do. It’s not enough to be secure in our own certainty. It’s not enough for us to tell other people how right we are and how wrong they are. It’s not even enough for us to simply tell others what to do. We have to tell them what to do and, if they don’t comply, try to force them to do what we say through state action or the courts. It’s a sickness, a human design flaw, I think. I’m not immune. Frankly, I’m writing this to tell people to stop telling other people what to do, which kind of defeats my purpose. But wouldn’t the world be a more peaceful place if we adopted a more ‘live and let live’ attitude; if we curtailed our pursuit of power over others through government fiat; if we were just more accepting of differences in lifestyles, values, and beliefs? 

I know I’m right because I have the currently most powerful cultural icon on my side, Harry Potter (yes, THAT Harry Potter). In his finale, Deathly Hallows, (spoiler alert!): Harry finally defeats his arch enemy, Voldemort, and, by virtue of his coming into possession of the Elder wand, becomes the most powerful wizard in the world. However, Harry, quite consciously and intentionally, rejects his newly acquired status by destroying the Elder wand, the source of his new found power over others. Wow! Who in Washington, D.C or your state capital would do that? Would you? I hope so.

As I watched Harry snap the Elder wand in half and throw it off a bridge, Lord Acton’s words about the corrupting influence of absolute power were ringing in my ears. Although I’m not a Harry Potter fan, per se (I’ve never read the books and have only seen two or three of the movies), I see my highest ideal of self in him at that moment, and my highest ideal of those who would seek power over others, too. Harry realizes, I think, that absolute power is an evil in itself, regardless of whatever good some might think could be done by possessing it. It’s better, Harry seems to be saying, that power be decentralized and diffuse, rather than centralized and abused. Harry rejects the notion of being in a position of telling, no, forcing, other people to bend to his will. In this sense, the world needs more Harry Potters.

If we want a more peaceful, less contentious, public square, again, it seems to me, focusing on what we do have power over, ourselves, instead of others, might yield better results.

Tom Hanks’ latest, a not very good film in fact, Larry Crowne, exemplifies my point. It’s about a middle-aged man, Larry Crowne, who, after a divorce, getting fired, and losing his home, goes to college for the very first time. In other words, he can’t control the actions, decisions, or choices of others. He only has power over his own actions, decisions, and choices. I can identify closely with Larry Crowne because the plot is eerily similar to my own life’s recent experience, given that ten years ago, this was my very situation. My business had failed, my marriage ended, and I had to move out of my house. Shortly thereafter, I, too, enrolled in college for the very first time.

The similarities don’t end there, however. Once in school, Larry meets an eclectic group of young people who befriend him; I, too, met an eclectic group of young people who befriended me; he mentors some of them while they help him make the transition from the life he thought he had to the one he was actually living. Me? Ditto. When the movie ends, he’s still in school, and so am I (although he’s in his second semester and I’m in my 10th year now working on a Ph.D).

As you might imagine, the fictional experience of Larry so closely mirrors my own real-life experience that it would have been difficult for me not to identify with him on an emotional level. In the film’s only poignant moment (and its poignancy would be lost on nearly all but those who experienced it—like I said, it’s not a very good movie) Larry has packed up his home and is moving out, literally leaving behind his house and many of his old friends and possessions but, more importantly, he is symbolically leaving behind his identity. It was a surprisingly potent reminder to me of a particularly painful time in my life. I could actually feel what Larry was going through, and that feeling is one of powerlessness.

Failure, you see, has a way of making one feel powerless over their own life. The only way for Larry to restore a sense of control, or power, over his life is to set some goals and achieve them. In the same way failure makes one feel powerless, success empowers. And the successes at first don’t have to be big. As in the movie, it might begin with simply taking the first step of enrolling in school, followed by passing a test, completing a course, finishing the semester, matriculating, and earning a degree. Each small success leading to a larger one and, before you know it, a sense of control over your own life is restored.

The two films couldn’t appear more different, yet approach the same topic from opposite ends of the power spectrum, one from the point of absolute power, the other from the point of powerlessness, but both reach the same conclusion: If you want to exercise power, seek to control yourself, not others…just like Harry, Larry, and me.


Mr. Baldwin is a doctoral candidate of comparative literature and cultural studies at the University of Arkansas. He is a self-described free-market anti-capitalist harboring anarchist utopian fantasies. The best that can be said of him is that, presumably, his mother loves him.

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One Response to “Harry, Larry, and me…”

  1. Beautifully written!!!! Insightful!!! Thoghtfully composed!!!!

    Loved how you found similarites in Harry Potter and todays political figures….and the human race!!

    Larry Crowne/Jay Baldwin………there is a saying i adapted to my life at a young age…..ofcourse i had to rise to the occasion and become somewhat wise beyond my years……….sometimes you have to give up the life you have planned to find the one that is waiting for you!!!

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