Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the reboot of the Harry Potter series, takes viewers even further afield into the wizarding world–to the streets of Jazz Age New York.
Based on a thin novelty book Rowling published in 2001, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander was supposed to be Harry Potter’s first textbook for Care of Magical Creatures class.
For a summary review of the film, read here. The following are some thoughts on my viewing of the film.
- Newt Scamander grew on me as the film went on. He started out almost as a Charlie Chaplin tramp character, an innocent abroad in Jazz Age New York. Eddie Redmayne’s trademark pucker and ginger bangs at first seemed unbearably twee. But this is perhaps Newt’s greatest weapon—his looks tend to cause people underestimate him. His love for the specimens in his magical suitcase is endearing. And no character in the Potter world since Neville Longbottom has been so heroically dedicated to the natural sciences.
- The Obscurus is of course the Jungian shadow—the repressed part of the human spirit that must be embraced in order for the person to become an integrated whole. The thing that you fear the most about yourself is the thing that must be embraced.
- Creedence Barebone reminds me of Sissy Spacek in Carrie. His adolescence and destructive powers develop simultaneously under the lash of a fundamentalist mother.
- Is it possible Muggles…er…No-Maj people and wizards evolved differently? Newt Scamander suggests as much when he gives Kowalski a potion after the Murtlap bite. When the two have to capture the love-lorn Erumpent in Central Park, Newt Scamander gives Kowalski a protective vest and helmet. Scamander explains this is because Kowalski’s skull could be easily fractured. But Scamander takes no precautions himself. Does this suggest wizards have stronger bone structure than Muggles? It would explain a lot. After all, wizards’ magical powers often leave them at the mercy of self-inflicted explosions, rough portkey landings, and high falls from Quidditch brooms.
- The New Salem Philanthropic Society is the perfect organization for Trump’s America. Built on incoherent fear of the other, it symbolizes the intolerance of America’s fundamentalist Christians toward whatever they deem perverse. The group’s street preaching about a vast underground culture out to destroy America echoes the anti-immigrant movements of both the 1920’s and today.
- The nasty, destructive Obscurus that Creedence Barebone unleashes on New York then becomes an object lesson. It represents the buried psyche, which can be dangerous when surpressed or unexamined—whether by a narcissistic president or a closeted adolescent. And it reflects the tendency of those who are marginalized in a society to take on the monstrous qualities ascribed to them and lash out violently.
Fantastic Beasts continues in the established tradition of the Harry Potter series of celebrating the weird, the quirky, and the eccentric as people and qualities to be understood rather than rejected. Or, as JK Rowling has put it herself: “If there’s one thing Harry Potter teaches us it’s that no one should have to live in a closet.”