Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: An Analysis

You’ll note the title does NOT say REVIEW. I’ll begin with something along those lines, but then I’ll be breaking out the spoilers, though hopefully I’ll have gotten to the big bold letters that say “spoiler warning” before then.

First, the film was good. Very good. It adds many fascinating elements into the world of Harry Potter, and also manages to be very much its own. Perhaps it helps that it’s set in America.

It also helps that it stays out of the prequel/remake trap of trying to force in any and every reference it can to the original work. Only one or two of those exist here, one a very, very brief mention of Dumbledore (which is done without making too big a deal about it), the other, of course, Grindelwald. But Grindelwald was great, particularly since he was such a minor character in the last Harry Potter book and last two HP films.

I came in expecting the film to attempt to incurr a sense of wonder around all the magical creatures featured, and I was not disappointed on this. The film really sells a sense of joy and a sense of wonder and a general love of life.

Finally, if you like Doctor Who, you’ll love this. Newt Scamander is basically Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor as a wizard. They even have the same hair. Like, seriously, was Rowling just watching a lot of Doctor Who when she wrote the script? This is basically a Doctor Who story, but with wizards instead of aliens and time travel.

***SPOILER WARNING***

An now on to the analysis.

Grindelwald

Omigosh I loved Grindelwald in this. I only have two complaints about this, in that I wasn’t sure how I felt about Johnny Depp playing his true self, but also there wasn’t enough of Grindelwald being Grindelwald.

Depp certainly got the creepy factor down, but, I don’t know, on the one hand he seemed a little too round faced (though that might have been due to other factors) for my taste; in retrospect I think I also liked the sort of fascist charisma of Colin Farrell, in that it seemed more true to the character.

That being said, I loved all the fighting that Grindelwald was involved in, particularly at the end when he engaged like twenty aurors at once and was winning. I was hoping for a moment when Grindelwald either lost his wand or encountered a threat that he wasn’t entirely prepared for, only for him to pull out the Elder Wand and then commence the curbstomb, but alas. It probably would have had to have gotten really really bad for him to pull out a wand that would identify him so quickly — after all, not only is this the Elder Wand we’re talking about here, but wands work effectively as driver’s liscences or passports or ID for wizards — so using his own wand would have been an easy way to blow his cover.

As a last note on Grindelwald, I kept waiting and waiting for his accent to drop and him to revert to a more Slavic/Germanic accent — say, in a moment of frustration — but that didn’t even seem to happen even when he was captured that much. (At least he didn’t say enough to really show any kind of accent.)

America

First thing I’d like to note is that I loved the aesthetic in this film, at least of the wizards in trenchcoats and fedoras. Like, that would be my outfit as a wizard.

The way the wizarding community was far more integrated with other species was also an interesting contrast with Britain (even a Britain fifty plus years in the future relative to this film). Here we have goblins and elves and… giants I think? living more or less in harmony with each other. Perhaps that’s an effect of the strict segregation of wizard and muggle in America, so that those few cling more tightly together? Or perhaps it’s because America?

Regardless, I did enjoy seeing, if nothing else, a black female president of the American wizarding community.

But also the execution room and the pool of memories. When I first saw it I thought it was a giant pensieve, although I’m still not sure that’s what it’s supposed to be. But that’s my headcanon now, because a pensieve of all the wizards of America would be so cool.

The Obscurus/Obscurial

This is probably the most interesting new piece to fit into the canon. My immediate thoughts went to other characters that have suffered trauma in regards to their magical abilities: namely, Harry Potter and Ariana Dumbledore. So why does the Obscurus manifest for Credence, but not for either of these?

I think the main issue is that the negative emotions and the trauma must be self-inflicted; that is, that the wizard must come to hate and despise themselves and their own magic. This, I think, is the major difference between Harry and Credence: Harry, despite everything he puts up with from the Dursleys, never comes to really hate himself, nor, for that matter, despite their threats to try to “stamp the magic out of him,” do they ever go nearly as far as Mary Lou Barebone, the leader of the Second Salemers, and inflict any corporal punishment; furthermore, all while Harry is sort of punished for whenever he accidentally did magic, this was more or less inconsistent and about the equivalent of being grounded.

This isn’t to say Harry didn’t have a rough childhood; but it seems that an obscurus only manifests in the most extreme circumstances. Also, very likely, the magical community had gotten better at preventing obscuri manifestations between Scamander’s adventures and Harry’s.

The question of if Ariana Dumbledore ever manifested an obscurus is a much more interesting question to me, though. If how Scamander and the others try to deal with Credence is any sign, it seems perhaps the process has some hope of being reversed or controlled. Which I guess is to say that, I’m willing to bet that Ariana did indeed manifest an obscurus. And when Aberforth mentions her having “episodes” and the time Ariana killed their mother, it was because of the obscurus. Ariana may indeed have had intense self-hatred issues regarding her magic, which she could blame for all the bullying she received, her father being imprisoned, and her brother being held back from his dreams (not that she really was to blame, but perhaps that’s what her mind thought).

Which brings up an interesting question: Grindelwald is interested in finding the obscurus in New York in order to force wizards to reveal themselves: perhaps he was interested in the Dumbledores for similar reasons?

Newt Scamander

Am I the only one who read Scamander as having Asbergers? Because between the poor social skills, movement quirks, and seeming obsession with magical creatures, he definitely seemed to fit the bill.

Which is, granted, fantastic (if I might use the word here). I couldn’t help but think of The Imitation Game in conjunction with this — though Cumberbatch’s character in that was I think more obviously Asbergers — and I have to say I think I like the representation of at least implicit neurodivergeant protagonists.

Also, again, I think Matt Smith was secretly impersonating Eddie Redmayne through the entire production, because Matt Smith was all I could think of in his performance: the hair, the bow tie, the clothes, the quirky tics, the love of life but wariness of human selfishness, the bigger-on-the-inside object, and especially the way he’d hold conversations with each and every one of his…pets? fantastic creatures? particularly the bowtruckle.

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