***SPOILER ALERT – this post contains specific spoilers concerning the plot of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you have not seen the movie or read the book and would like these important plot points to remain a surprise (unlike my experience with The Sixth Sense) then PLEASE STOP READING NOW!!***
Alan Rickman is brilliant. I honestly believe the performance he gave as Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is Oscar-worthy. We’ve seen his acting chops many times over the years. Of course, his career breakout role as the deliciously evil Hans Gruber in Die Hard is a resounding favorite. I’m rather fond of his over-the-top Sherriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood:Prince of Thieves and his prickly Elliott Marston in Quigley Down Under. I thought he was excellent as Dr. Blalock in Something the Lord Made, was perfectly cast as Metatron in Dogma, and was hysterical as Alexander Dane in Galaxy Quest.
But in this film, he is a revelation. It is Snape’s story that ultimately ties all the strands together, and Rickman pulls it off flawlessly. He commands the screen every time you see him. He begins the film as the headmaster of what has become more “Workcamp” Hogwarts than the Hogwarts we know and love. Rickman shows off Snape’s icy, precise personality. But it is all deception. When Voldemort summons Snape concerning the Elder wand, you see his facade rustle, but never crumble. It is only when he knows it is the end that we see the real Snape. And Rickman shows why he is one of the most amazing actors working today.
We discover his love for Lily Potter, Harry’s mother. The film, unfortunately, rushes through this revelation at a breakneck pace, but thanks to Rickman’s mastery, the tragedy comes through clearly. We see the pain in his face and hear it in his voice when he confesses Voldemort’s original plan to kill the infant Harry, and becomes a spy and confidant for Dumbledore. You can feel his desperation to protect Lily. And you understand the conflict of being tasked to protect the son of the man who married the only love of Snape’s life, because Rickman SHOWS it – he is at turns concerned and defiant. The scene where he finally shows his patronus and reveals that his love for Lily Potter has not faded is beautiful and even touching.
But the scene that reduced me to tears was when Snape arrives at the Potter’s after they have been killed. With every step you see the dread rising in Snape’s features. When he discovers Lily lying dead, the wrenching pain on his face is heartbreaking beyond belief. I wanted to wail along with him. In the hands of a lesser talent, it would have come off as melodramatic or cartoonish. But Rickman has deftly crafted a deeply complex character whose reactions are organic and believable.
Rickman has developed and maintained one of the most interesting and complex characters in movie history over the course of eight films. And he has done it with relatively limited screen time. When I was reading the books, I always knew there was more to Snape then met the eye. I was richly rewarded by J.K. Rowling’s masterful plot twist. And Rickman works the same magic in this film. He turns your expectations on their head so suddenly and convincingly that it makes perfect sense – because he has set you up to believe in this man. Yes, this is ultimately the story of Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, but this movie owes it soul to Severus Snape.