Gellert Grindelwald’s apocalyptic vision of World War II in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald has proven to be the film’s most contentious scene. After opening to middling reviews, it’s safe to say that the latest Fantastic Beasts movie has not been received in the way that Warner Bros. envisioned it would be.
Indeed, the second installment in five-movie series has also courted controversy since it was first announced. Director David Yates and writer J.K. Rowling were criticized for defending the casting of Johnny Depp as Grindelwald, despite the fact that the actor has been dogged by allegations of domestic abuse. The two filmmakers were further lambasted for not including any meaningful reference to Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law) and Grindelwald's relationship. Fans were also displeased by the movie’s many revelations, such as the Credence/Aurelius twist and Professor McGonagall’s sudden appearance, even though she had not been born at this point in the timeline.
Hordes of moviegoers complained Fantastic Beasts had broken Harry Potter canon, which meant that cast members had to implore fans to trust in Rowling's vision for the franchise’s future. But these debates also centered upon Grindelwald’s pivotal rally in Paris, which has huge ramifications for Fantastic Beasts 3 and onward. Indeed, its callback to specific points of real-world history have been criticized for their questionable implications, and that's what leads Grindelwald's vision in The Crimes of Grindelwald’s to be so controversial.
- This Page: Grindelwald's Vision Explained & Why WWII Remains A Sensitive Subject
- Next Page: Grindelwald's Vision Changes Fantastic Beasts & How Fantastic Beasts 3 Can Give It Context
Grindelwald’s World War II Vision Explained
In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and its sequel, audiences are familiarized with the state of the wizarding world in the 1920s, which is just as fractured as the society of Harry Potter’s time-frame some 70 years in the future. Heavy-handed ministries eagerly crush dissension within their populaces. This, in turn, erupts due to the intensely enforced segregation that exists between muggles and different magical peoples. At the end of The Crimes of Grindelwald, the titular charismatic villain pledges to do something about this deplorable situation.
At his rally in the Lestrange family tomb at Père Lachaise cemetery, Grindelwald positions himself not as a lawbreaker and malicious muggle-killer, but as a romantic revolutionary who fights for the greater good of all. Moreover, Grindelwald seemingly confirms the legitimacy of his cause by conjuring a terrifying premonition for the crowd to witness. Illusions of fractured and ruined cities emerge inside the amphitheater, which swarm with dog-fighting spitfires, roaring tanks, and soldiers. These melt always into bleak vistas, where freight trains are being filled with shadowy figures, before the entire view is eviscerated by an unfolding mushroom cloud.
Though he does not refer to them by name, Grindelwald asserts that these visions of the Blitz, the Holocaust, and the bombing of Hiroshima will occur if wizards do not come out of hiding and assume their “rightful” place as the leaders of muggle world. Having lured more followers to his movement and divided Newt Scamander’s (Eddie Redmayne) group, Grindelwald stands victorious at the end of the film, thanks to his canny manipulations.
The significance of Grindelwald’s World War II vision is apparent to long-time Harry Potter fans. Rowling has openly stated that Grindelwald, like Lord Voldemort, is wizard Nazi. Plus, the final year of the Second World War is when Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore battle for the last time. Moreover, it’s a showdown that is set to be the climax of the new series as well, with Fantastic Beasts ending in 1945. As such, these glimpses of real-world horrors in The Crimes of Grindelwald serve to underline the series’ parallels and its overall direction. But instead of exciting moviegoers, many were troubled by the inclusion of Grindelwald’s vision.
World War II Remains A Very Sensitive Subject
The ending twists of The Crimes of Grindelwald – and the way that they have been received – are remarkable for various reasons. The heavy presence of Grindelwald has not sat well with viewers who are uncomfortable with facets of Depp’s personal life. But this displeasure occurs because Grindelwald’s vision is a tonal departure from the wider Harry Potter world. Prior to Fantastic Beasts, Rowling had previously constructed the wizarding world as a loose – yet detailed and immersive – reflection of our own. Conversely, Rowling only refers to the minutiae of our reality in general terms. This is evident in its treatment of World War II, where village memorials – along with The Goblet of Fire’s cantankerous veteran, Frank Bryce – speak of an unspecified war. But in a jarring move, Grindelwald’s vision confirms that all these distinct horrors of World War II are a huge part of the Wizarding World’s history.
This sequence is unlike any other within the Harry Potter books and movies, and it’s certainly an interesting step for the franchise. Though it is still some 10 years away in the Fantastic Beasts timeline, the burgeoning Second World War will provide thrilling new set-pieces and compelling drama for Newt and his friends to negotiate. But various critics have warned that Fantastic Beasts could be straying into problematic territory, especially if Rowling downplays the Nazi regime in order to prop up Grindelwald's own plan.
This isn’t to say that Nazis and World War II can’t appear in fiction. Indeed, readers will be familiar with many popular movies and TV series that depict the Nazis, their crimes against humanity, and World War II at large. Yet there’s one key factor that links all these stories; these movies and shows may deeply explore the motivations and many dimensions of Nazism, but they always point out the evil of these ideals, as well as their cost upon the world.
For example, Captain America: The First Avenger may include fictional elements like super soldier serums and corrupting mystical artifacts, yet the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and his soldiers still cause atrocities in the name of an ideology which is never explained away. Conversely, if Fantastic Beasts posits that Grindelwald is a potential savior – or cause – of World War II, then it’s not just a case of historical accuracy. In short, Fantastic Beasts could unwittingly blur the lines between fantasy and reality, and trivialize the suffering and countless ramifications of the conflict, which are still felt by thousands of descendants and survivors to this day.