Every Finny’s gotta have his Gene. Do you remember A Separate Peace, the John Knowles high-school summer-reading staple about the antagonistic relationship between two best friends at a New England boarding school? The insecure, navel-gazing Gene and the supremely confident Finny climb one of the tallest trees on campus, intending to jump into the river below. Gene, in a display of callow jealousy, shakes the branch until Finny falls off, breaking Finny’s leg and ending the boy’s promising athletic career.
In the first part of David Yates’ adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final novel in J.K. Rowling’s series, Ron Weasley doesn’t quite manage to make Harry fall off the tree, but he certainly shakes the shit out of the branch. The film follows Harry (Daniel Radcliffe), Ron (Rupert Grint), and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) as they try to track down horcruxes, receptacles for scattered bits of Lord Voldemort’s soul. (For a detailed explanation, ask one of the millions of Harry Potter faithful. Chances are, there’s one in your house.)
There are plenty of reasons why Harry Potter is the biggest fantasy series of all time. The world is sumptuously, vividly drawn; the storytelling, if not the writing, is always excellent; and the characters are classic archetypes.
That last one’s not necessarily a selling point, though. Harry in particular comes across as something of a cipher. Think for a minute: what’s Harry really like? If you had to describe him with a handful of adjectives, what would you say? And no, you can’t use “noble” more than once.
Maybe it’s the films that have left this impression. The Harry of the books was scrappy, neurotic, often immature. Harry Potter as portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, though, is noble, noble, noble, and, except for a few flashes of mischievousness and adolescent pissiness, kinda dull.
Regardless of the medium, Harry’s companions are loads more interesting. Emma Watson’s Hermione, in her girlishness and all-encompassing brilliance, often outshines her literary counterpart. Rupert Grint’s Ron Weasley, however, is something else entirely. Ron was always a pain in the ass in the novels, but Grint’s performance, especially in this first Hallows, lends the character a physicality that, naturally, can’t come across in the books.
Grint, with his surprisingly buff physique and working-class accent, scowls and skulks like a wounded animal through most sequences. As Harry paces around the film’s locales looking solemn and Hermione does the thinking for the three of them, Ron looks on jealously, bitterly, and then just hatefully. He ends up abandoning Harry and Hermione, convinced that Harry is snogging his girlfriend—and worse, that Harry has no idea what he’s doing on their voyage. Maybe Ron’s right, or maybe he’s just a jealous prick.
Either way, Ron might be the most real young man in the series. Audiences probably wouldn’t be comfortable with a self-centered, paranoid Harry, but they’ve readily accepted that characterization for Ron, who has spent the better part of the series resenting Harry’s good fortune. (Some would argue that Harry, an orphan and the target of the most dangerous wizard on Earth, isn’t very lucky at all.)
Harry might provide a lesson for the exceptional among us who are forced to make apocalyptic, world-altering decisions: when looking over the crevasse, don’t fall in. In fact, jump over it, conjure a bridge, and then lead everyone to safety before you worry about yourself.
But Ron offers a much more practical course, one that most of us might actually get the chance to follow. Yes, Ron acts like a selfish, paranoid jerk for much of the series, but he comes through in the clutch. Ron’s story seems to suggest that when you’re in the presence of someone much smarter, much cooler, and much more fortunate than yourself, you shouldn’t let your jealousy consume you. You can’t live your entire life in comparison—you’ll always pale. It’s important to remember, too, that those with everything are never as perfect as they seem. (Maybe a dark wizard killed their parents.)
And if you happen to be around one of those people when they need to make a really tough decision, when they’re looking over that crevasse? Don’t push them in. Or, at the very least, don’t shake the branch too hard.