In 1965, Mel Brooks’ hilarious send-up of the spy genre, Get Smart, debuted. The show centered on not-so-secret secret agent Maxwell Smart, played by funny man Don Adams, and his partner Agent 99, equal parts beautiful and clever, played by the über-cool Barbara Feldon. Agent 99 was the new modern image of women: she had the looks and the style, but more importantly, she was a woman who was successful in her career and yet, amidst all the butt-kicking and karate-chops-in-the-back, could still be completely and openly in love with Max. She had it all. Yet, no matter how eternal Feldon’s cool may be, the gender equality on Get Smart was never perfect. One scene that sticks out in my mind is when Max and 99 break free from captivity and Max tells her to go, unarmed, and knock the guard out and take his gun, while he himself unties their dog Fang. 99 replies with a shocked, “Max!” to which Max says, “Well, it’s only I’m so good at knots.” He then leaves 99 to the easier task. Now, it’s true 99 had disarmed her share of bad guys, and more often than not, with little help from Max, but perhaps that’s why this exchange bothers me so. Usually, it’s a split-second decision about who’ll do what, no time to figure in gender. But with this moment taken to assess the situation, the reasons for the choice are put into rather sharp relief.
And so it comes as no surprise that when it came time to pen the script for the 2008 big screen adaptation of the show, filmmakers decidedly leaned towards a fresher take on 99. While 99 remained sexy and an excellent spy, unlike in the show, Anne Hathaway’s 99 wants to have complete control over the mission. In the movie, their mission is Max’s first, but 99 has little patience for Max’s inexperience and time-consuming antics – on the surface. While Feldon’s 99, wore her heart on her sleeve and spent years trying to get some sort of confession out of Max about how he felt, the tables are turned in the film initially, as 99, emotionally scarred from a previous relationship with another agent that left her so unfocused she botched a mission, fights her feelings for Max, hiding them under layers of mean. This is something Don Adams’ Max used to do repeatedly on the show, often flirting with women in front of a visibly upset 99. In the movie, it is Steve Carell’s Max who delivers a line worthy of the original 99, when, at the end of the film, he asks her to admit that she feels something for him too. In many ways, the movie is just as much a modernization of 99 as it is Max. After all, the modern man in cinema is far more in touch with his feelings than ever before. Just ask Judd Apatow.
So what does all this have to do with Harry Potter? Well, I was thinking the other day about how I can’t see Hermione’s character ever having to be modernized. Obviously, that’s something that’s hard to determine as it’s happening, but on the other hand, it’s not like we’re talking about Susan from Chronicles of Narnia. Hermione’s place in the books is unquestionable. You take away one thing she did in the fight against Voldemort, and the whole mess falls apart. This isn’t to say Hermione’s perfect. JKR imbues her with as many faults and as much realness as any other character. It’s true, Hermione can be cruel when she wants to. Her dig at Ron’s intelligence after his return in Deathly Hallows is probably her most unkind moment of the series, although it should be noted that much like in the infamous Oppugno scene, Hermione only really reaches that level of harshness when her feelings are hurt by Ron and, given the way she feels about him, it’s easy to forgive. Hermione can also often be blinded by her tunnel-vision mentality, though this quality has both hindered and helped her over the years.
Emma Watson, despite the fact that Steve Kloves obviously thinks Hermione’s a superhero, has played the character as a very real girl. Her most successful beats have involved the deepest of Hermione’s insecurities and she has never been afraid to show us vulnerability and fear. She has also held up her end of the bargain in regards to Ron. In PoA, she expertly lays the groundwork by showing how, while she likes him, Hermione often misses some of Ron’s better qualities, most notably his intelligence, never giving him any credit for being the only one to sense all the time travelling she was doing. In Order of the Phoenix, the script only allows for one tiny moment of realization that maybe there’s more to Ron than meets the eye, but Watson makes it one of my favorites (I am speaking, of course, of the “That was clever, Ron” line). I have full confidence that she will be able to bring Hermione around to what ends up being an almost 99-esque state of being: a woman capable of having the most romantic interaction of her young life and moments later being able to completely hone in on the task at hand and fight for her life. This is the moment, just pages after “the kiss,” when Voldemort’s voice rings through the walls of Hogwarts, ordering Harry to come to the Shrieking Shack and give himself up. When Hermione offers to go, Ron expressly forbids it, and she immediately comes right back at him, deeply offended at the sexism of his statement. It remains to be seen whether these lines will make their way into DH: Part II, but one thing is already for sure: no one would ever think it out of place for her to say them. ●
Stayed tuned this month: I will be posting my reactions to Half-Blood Prince next week (!) and, at the end of the month, I will be visiting the exhibit in