Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them might have been billed as a movie in which Newt Scamander hurriedly tries to recapture the magical creatures that have escaped his enchanted suitcase, but the movie actually has a much darker and far more intriguing subplot, which sets up the franchise for its five-movie arc. The dark wizard Grindelwald is already rising to power across Europe, and is considered to be a global threat. Taking on the form of Percival Graves, head of Magical Law Enforcement at MACUSA, Grindelwald tries to harness the power of an obscurial to further his work, only he makes the mistake of assuming that Credence Barebone cannot be the one who has the dark power wrestling inside of him.
When Credence unleashes that power, massive destruction is caused across New York city – in full view of the No-Maj community, who are already seeking death to all witches and wizards because of their magical ways. Of course, as the movie draws to a close and Grindelwald is taken into custody, Newt Scamander uses his Thunderbird to obliviate the memories of all New York No-Maj’s, but Fantastic Beasts still throws up some very interesting discussion points about security, freedom, and the themes of prejudice, war, and power that we are dealing with across the globe today.
When Rowling was busy writing the script for Fantastic Beasts, there was no way she could have foreseen the current climate we are all living in, but nevertheless, the movie seems especially poignant right now. Fear of persecution is rife across the world and, in America especially, this is pitted against people’s fear of the unknown. The parallels are almost too easy to draw. In Fantastic Beasts, the magical community are living in constant fear of being discovered. They have no real freedom or sense of security, because the No-Maj community are trying to seek them out in order that they might be destroyed.
The No-Maj’s, of course, are afraid. Magic scares them, and much like the Salem Witch Trials the first time around, they just want rid of the problem in order that they might feel secure. The fear of the unknown leads them to act in truly abhorrent ways, like Mary Lou Barebone who takes children from their magical parents and then abuses them while they are in her care. It’s no wonder Credence cannot control his magic; he’s torn between the desperate need to keep it hidden in order to save his own life, and a desire to learn more about his abilities.
Crowds assemble in New York to listen to Mary Lou’s rhetoric because she’s tapping into their fear, building on it, and using it for her unpleasant cause. Her claims – that the magical community are trying to wage war against No-Maj’s – create bad feeling and paranoia on both sides. As with any war, be it political or otherwise, the voice of the few does not always echo the sentiments of the many – as is evidenced by Jacob and Queenie’s fascination with, and attraction to one another. Relations between No-Maj’s and wizards (even friendship) are strictly forbidden, and a romantic relationship between the two would be viewed as a catastrophic breech of security… on both sides.
Newt calls this a “backward law,” which suggests that British laws about Muggle relations are not so strict, but that’s not to say that the Wizarding community in the U.K. can live openly. They too have chosen to go underground thanks to years of persecution, though witches and wizards often end up in relationships with Muggles. In fact, Voldemort himself was the product of one such pairing.
Though not every person holds the same zeal as Mary Lou Barebone, there is no doubting that Gellert Grindelwald echoes her sentiment on the other side. Mary Lou is seeking to slay the Wizarding community by starting a war, and Grindelwald is looking to do the same in reverse – only he also wants to use the war to build on his own domination. Having terrorized much of Europe already, Grindelwald has not only set his sights on taking over the American Wizarding community, but also on having the No-Maj’s submit to him. Newt Scamander describes it as “mass slaughter for the greater good;” the more No-Maj that are killed, the faster Grindelwald can rise to power.
In part, this is why Grindelwald (as Graves) is so intent on finding an obscurus. An obscurus that is allowed free reign could, in effect, be a weapon of mass destruction; just look at the damage Credence does in his short lived rampage across New York. Grindelwald is disappointed to learn that the obscurus Newt has in his possession is, in effect, useless because the vessel (a small Sudanese child), has died.
MACUSA might be the governing force in the American Wizarding world, but their actions don’t stand up to much scrutiny. Newt and Tina (who represent the common man in this parable) are determined to save Credence from death, but MACUSA are quick to kill, citing national security as the reason why he cannot be helped instead of destroyed. The same goes for President Picquery’s insistence that Jacob must be obliviated; the government’s fear of persecution means that they assume each and every No-Maj is a threat to their security – no exceptions.
This hidden aspect of the magical world can draw many parallels; from the fear some people feel over expressing their orientation, or religion, to an entire pocket of society being scared of standing up for their rights. The obscurus lurking within Credence comes from a continued repression, which in turn makes him behave irrationally. Fear is a beast all of its own, and it can become hard to police one’s own behavior when faced with truly reprehensible actions on the other side. In Fantastic Beasts, people just want to feel safe – no matter the cost.
Rowling wrote Fantastic Beasts before the political landscape changed across the globe, but the author herself admits that the subtext in Fantastic Beasts was based upon a rise of populism around the world. The fear of the other is rampant throughout the movie, on both sides. In today’s society this is reflected in many of the fear, anger and division we see in the news each and every day.
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