This week on Advanced Muggle Studies, we discuss: fashy haircuts and stylish Nazis, American religious fundamentalism, eminently believable witches, nominative determinism, the best way to ruin My Fair Lady forever, sexy alternate universes, homoerotic manipulation, magical threat levels, how to ACTUALLY get expelled from Hogwarts, and why a magical espionage is a great career path for an aspiring novelist.
S: Welcome back to Advanced Muggle Studies, where finally, after much delay and scheduling issues, we are going to talk about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which by now I have seen 3 times.
C: And I have seen once.
S: So I have lots to say, but that’s the good thing about this movie – there’s so much to talk about!
Let me explain first and then we’ll dive in, like we usually do. Like many people, when I heard about FBAWTFT coming out, I was not at all on board. I was so not down for this. I’ve been burned before with taking great series and trying to make expansions off of them, and it’s never quite the same – and then Cursed Child was complete shit, so I was just like, “Oh god, oh god, oh god, this is going to be awful.”
Then I found out, as we all did, that the 5-movie arc was going to focus heavily on the one plotline I’ve been dying to see since I read the original books: Dumbledore and Grindelwald. So once I found that out, I was like, “Oh, I don’t care if it’s bad, I want to see it all!”
My on-boardness wavered slightly when I found out who they had cast as Grindelwald…. We’ll get there… But that’s okay. I went to see the movie, and the first time, I thought, that was good, I liked it. And then the longer I went after the first viewing, the more I thought about it, and I went to see it the second time, and said, “OMG, that was amazing.” So I had to see it a third time. My appreciation grew. What did you think of it?
C: I liked it.
S: I seem to recall you telling me it was your favorite of any Harry Potter movie.
C: Yes, and we have to just point out that I have never seen the very last movie, the second half of Deathly Hallows. Never seen that, period, full stop. I have more recently seen Chamber of Secrets and Sorcerer’s Stone, which are terrible. But the rest I haven’t seen in more than maybe a decade, so when I saw this is my favorite Harry Potter movie, take it understanding all of those facts. But I would say to this point, from what I can recall of what I have seen, I think it’s my favorite so far.
S: I’m going to be willing to gamble that even after we get through all the original movies, knowing you as I do, I think this is still going to be your favorite for various reasons. One of the more interesting things is that it centers around adults as opposed to kids – big departure there. And the story is commensurately more adult and complicated, with more undertones going on – that’s always true of her work – but there’s so much here. So let’s just go. You ready to do this?
C: Lead on.
Johnny Depp’s head is no excuse for Nazism
S: Okay, so sitting in the theater – did everybody else freak out when Hedwig’s theme came on in the beginning? There’s a moment where I was all OH MY GODDDD, and then awwwwww because it faded into the Fantastic Beasts title. But I loved the music for this movie. I’ve been listening to it almost nonstop since I saw it the 2nd time, and that alone is fantastic.
So we open on the back of Johnny Depp’s head.
Which, if you’re a Johnny Depp fan, like I used to be obsessively, you recognize immediately that that is the back of Johnny Depp’s head, which is a sad commentary on my life. But we see some kind of mass killing, and you’ve got a blond head with a very nice haircut that we discussed –
C: Is that what we’re going with to describe it? “Very nice?”
S: No, we’re going to go with ‘fashy!’ So let me explain that, if you’re not familiar with that term. You said, Professor Creed, when we talked at length about this over text, you had a strong opinion about that haircut.
C: It’s so fugly! I mean, and you have known me for years. I am not a fashionista in the least. Blue jeans, t-shirts, ponytails – that’s me – but good god, come on. Who thinks that’s attractive?
S: Yes, and it’s not an attractive haircut. But when I saw it I was floored because of some of the things I’ve seen in the media recently, particularly surrounding people like Richard Spencer. And if you don’t know who Richard Spencer is, well, take a moment to appreciate how good your life was before you knew who he was. And if you do know who Richard Spencer is, I’m very, very sorry.
Richard Spencer is a young man, went to school in Dallas, Texas, and is one of the leading figureheads and symbols of the “alt-right” movement, which we know is –
C: Also known as Neo-Nazis.
S: Yes, because they are racist Nazis, and alt-right is just a label they put on themselves to be more socially palatable and be seen as alternative, edgy and cool.
C: But they’re gigantic fucking racist Nazis.
S: Precisely. What struck me is, sadly and disappointingly to me and a lot of people, there were some publications – one was The Atlantic, and the other was—
C: I think the L.A. Times did something.
S: Yeah, I think the L.A. Times. And they did these big –
C: “Look how sharply they dress!” Well, fuck you, too!
S: Yeah, this big spread on the new ‘fashionable, well dressed, well tailored face of the alt-right,’ and Richard Spencer in particular. And talking about how nicely dressed – I’m sure there were lots of articles about how well dressed the Nazis were too, so fine. But a lot of people were unhappy about this because it felt like a PR piece, your publicist got in touch with our publication and we did a nice puff piece on how well dressed and cute you are, and anyone that well-dressed can’t be that bad. And unfortunately in America we are that shallow, we’d fall for it.
But the haircut – that style Richard Spencer specifically talked about. They called it ‘fashy,’ which is short for fascistic or related to fascism. It’s a type of haircut associated very strongly with that time period in which fascism was in the ascendancy in Europe. And that haircut has come back in style – that kind of shaved in the back and sides, and long on top, slicked back. So when I saw it on Grindelwald, for one – good job on the character design, sending a very clear message if you recognize it, but also – wowwww.
In a world where racists don’t seem to realize that Star Wars is literally about defeating them, and they try to boycott Rogue One because they don’t realize that it’s about defeating a fascist regime staffed with literal Storm Troopers, these things are useful to send a message. Guess what? In this world, who are the bad guys? They’re the people who believe the shit you do!! Point taken? Probably not. But I thought it was an interesting choice on their part as far as costuming goes.
It’s still ugly.
C: I just really love that there are people out there who deliberately give themselves bad haircuts, and people who go to the trouble of having their custom tailored double-breasted suits and being in photo spreads for large newspapers – and yet, that’s the haircut they go with.
S: Well, to be fair- Hitler had a really bad mustache, and then he single-handedly killed that fad, and so they can’t use that and have to go with something else. A really bad haircut is the next obvious option.
C: I will say that I appreciate it because it makes it so much easier to spot people like that in the wild and then give them a wide berth.
S: That is very true. That’s useful.
So we go from the back of Johnny Depp’s head to a whole bunch of wizarding papers from all over the world – French, German, Daily Prophet, New York City Ghost – and the message is pretty much the same: Where is Grindelwald? We’re seeing a slow ramping up of destabilization and fear, but they haven’t caught him yet.
I also noticed – and I caught this the first time, which makes me think they lingered on it just long enough on purpose in the hopes that you might catch it, and I’ll talk about why later – I saw in an American paper a notice about the breeding ban of magical creatures in America. I think that plays a role later.
Then we cut to NYC, to an invisible thing tearing up the streets, and we see Colin Farrell, who is hands down the most well-dressed person in this movie, just kind of casually looking at a scene of destruction – building destroyed, bricks everywhere – whatever it is, he seems interested in it and seems to have found what he’s looking for.
Seriously, that costuming tho. The scarf and the coat – very sharp.
C: He was very natty.
Wizards are, in fact, the most plausible solution
S: Yes! And then we meet Newt, our hapless Hufflepuff hero coming into New York and trying to smuggle his case of beasts through customs.
He comes out on the streets, and this is our first encounter with this group called the Second Salemers, who are handing out leaflets, talking about witches and magic in New York. Did it strike you as odd that no one was laughing at this notion? This is 1930s New York –
C: I would question it, but look who we just elected. So – no.
S: That’s true. At a certain point I was surprised at how people took this notion and were like, “Makes sense,” when – it’s very different from what we expect from the Muggle world in Britain. I think of Book 6, when Cornelius Fudge meets the Muggle Prime Minister to tell him that magic and wizards exist, and I’ll be popping in every now and then, and the PM is like, “Why didn’t my predecessor tell me?” And Fudge says, “My dear Prime Minister, are you ever going to tell anyone?” He realizes, no, if I ever told anyone they’d think I was insane. That’s the British take we’ve seen on it.
Meanwhile in America: “There are all sorts of unexplained things happening. Witches: sounds legit.”
C: I will say our country is both deeply superstitious and deeply ignorant in a way that European countries are no longer, so it’s not that surprising.
S: If you’ve had a chance to get on Pottermore and read what J.K. Rowling wrote about the wizarding world in America, she’s created a real precedent for this. I hadn’t read it before the movie, but now that I have it makes a lot of sense. She makes it very clear that American attitudes are very different from British – they’re very ready to accept that magic is real, that witches exist and that they need to be taken out. Understanding this whole history she’s created helped me understand why it felt so odd.
The Second Salem lady asks Newt, “Are you a seeker of truth?” Newt: “I’m more of a Chaser, really.” Nice Quidditch reference, and also to Newt’s character. Harry is a Seeker, of destiny, of truth. And Newt’s not like that – he’s a Chaser, chasing after his beasts, literally this entire movie.
And now, dammit, niffler! Can we talk about the niffler? I love the niffler!
C: It’s so cute!
S: You can’t be human and not love the niffler. And I love that they started with the niffler, because if your’e starting with magical creatures, let’s assume that most of your audience didn’t read the little textbook released in tandem with the books – so you go with a creature that your audience members who only read the original series will still immediately recognize. I did, I’m sure everyone else who read the books did. And you don’t have to explain what it does – it is very clear! It goes after everything shiny! Gets itself in a bank, on a bank cart, stealing coins, stealing ornaments off dog collars, everything!
C: I don’t know where nifflers are from originally, but considering its obsession with wealth and stealing it it’s the perfect American animal.
S: I would think it would be great to have in a mine – let your niffler loose, they’ll find the gold and diamonds! They may not give it back, but…. Anyway, the niffler is amazing, and it’s a great dose of initial comedy, giving you this strong sense of the personalities these beasts have and their relationship to Newt.
In the bank, we meet Jacob, who is our adventurous – I keep wanting to call them Muggles, even though I know I have to start calling them No-Majs –
C: No, we’re just going to call them Muggles, because No-Maj is dumb.
S: No-Maj is kind of ehhhhhh. We’ll stick with Jacob the adventurous Muggle, who Newt sits next to while trying to think how to get his niffler. Newt then carelessly leaves an egg sitting on the bench by Jacob, as one does, and the egg starts hatching.
I love the way Newt is so British, and used to magic interacting with the Muggle world not being as big of a deal as it clearly is in America. His reaction is – oh, that man has my egg. Whip out the wand, Summon him, we’ll Disapparate and then I’ll deal with it. No problem, right?
C: Maybe a little problem.
S: We see another character, Tina, who was hovering around the Second Salemers. She’s clearly ID’ed Newt as a wizard, and she’s following him to see what his deal is. She sees him Summon Jacob and they Apparate to the bank vault, where the niffler has gotten into everything in the vault – another door that is opened with Alohomora! I grant you, it’s a Muggle bank, they don’t know any better. But still!
C: I loved that to get rid of some of the stuff out of the niffler, he tickled it. So cute.
S: So Newt gets his niffler, they drop the gold, the police are coming, the alarm is going off, Jacob doesn’t know what is going on except that it isn’t good, they Disapparate out of the building. Newt: “I really need to modify your memory.” Jacob: “HAHAHAHAHAH FUCK THAT.” Grabs the suitcase, whacks Newt upside the head, which he apologizes for, and runs off.
C: That would probably be my reaction, to be honest.
S: So we’ve met Jacob Kowalski in the bank, trying to get a loan to start his bakery. I enjoyed the use of dialogue in this movie in the sense that every character has a line that more or less describes who they are, and I liked Jacob’s here. He’s showing off his suitcase full of pastries. Banker: “There are factories now that can make hundreds of these a day.” Jacob: “I know, but they’re nothing like what I can do.” And as you go along with Jacob you see that there are thousands of Muggles out there, but not many people can react to what Jacob sees and experiences the way Jacob does. Do you agree with that?
C: Yeah, he’s a pretty cool customer, considering.
S: He really is unique.
C: I would think that I had had a stroke and was hallucinating.
S: He starts trying to figure it out, and his response is to get the hell out of there. Then he goes back to his apartment, seems bummed out, but doesn’t seem that fussed about what he’s seen.
I love that he apologizes for hitting him though. So Jacob gets away, and Newt is being detained by Tina. What’s your opinion on her?
C: She grew on me over the course of the movie. She’s obviously a good guy, but when she butted in with Newt in that first meeting and the MACUSA President was like, “Bitch, you better have a good reason for being here” – stand the fuck up straight, look her in the eye, and say, “Check out what this asshole just did!” TELL them. Use your words. Don’t slink away. We learn later on why she’s done that, what she did to be stripped of being an Auror, but woman, you were like a CIA agent in the Wizarding world. Where are your balls? Pull them out of your purse.
S: Tina is interesting. You see her in a lot of ways similar to Newt in that she’s kind of awkward, not great with people, clearly having a hard time standing up for herself.
C: It’s hard to talk about her and why she is the way she is without talking about her sister, because I think that has a lot to do with it, too.
Hufflepuffs: Either very good, or very bad, liars
S: Yeah, we’ll hold off talking about her until we meet Queenie. But Tina takes Newt to MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the United States. We see the inside, a little like the Ministry but a little American, a little different. Ad this is the first place we get Newt’s cover story. Tina asks why he’s in New York. “To buy a birthday present.” Tina: “You couldn’t do that in England?” Newt says no, the only breeder of Appaloosa Puffskeins is in New York. First of all, I think it’s adorable that there are Appaloosa Puffskeins. I’m picturing a little ball of fluff with spots rolling around.
The other thing – and a lot of these lines take place while the camera is doing other things and is not showing us the characters saying these lines. The camera pans to scenery, the inside of MACUSA. You’re distracted by the visuals. Tina tells him, first of all, breeding magical creatures is illegal in the United States – which we saw in that newspaper, which is why I mentioned it. Either you caught it or you didn’t.
C: And I’m sure he would know that.
S: Yeah, he would. Then she says she knows the guy he’s talking about, and that they shut him down a year ago. So they fly by this exchange because I don’t think the filmmakers want us to dwell on it too much just yet, but I think that is an extremely crucial exchange. Newt’s story for why he is in New York is clearly bogus. Whatever his real reason is has nothing to do with Appaloosa Puffskeins.
Tina takes Newt down to a meeting of what looks like the heads of the Auror department, and the president of MACUSA, Seraphina Picquery, and she’s accompanied by Graves (Colin Farrell). They’re talking about the damage they’ve seen. Picquery asks if it could be related to Grindelwald’s attacks in Europe. Graves: “No, I was there. This is different. This is a beast.”
Tina bursts in with Newt, trying to share what she’s found, but they immediately shut her down. Clearly she doesn’t have the job she is acting as though she still has – no longer an Auror, she’s told to go.
S: And what cracked me up? They literally busted her down to traffic. It’s such a cliché, when the detective screws up in cop movies, and they kick them to traffic control – she’s working in the Wand Licensing Department. She’s working in the DMV.
C: It’s mind-numbing.
S: It is, you feel so bad for her in this little corner. She takes Newt down there. Newt: “You know, I do have things to do.” Graves appears, seems at least nominally interested in Newt, curious what Tina had to say. She explains about the niffler that got loose, and Graves says, okay, let’s open the case. And that’s when we find out…. They have the wrong case.
C: Full of delicious pastries!
S: So when Jacob politely grabbed a case to whack Newt in the face before making his escape, he grabbed the wrong case as they look alike. So Newt has the pastries; Jacob has the monsters. It’s a good day.
Scissors are magic, that’s why
S: We cut back to the Second Salemers. You’ve got the ‘mother,’ who we find out picks up homeless kids, street kids, orphans, she looks very tightly wound and awful.
C: She’s awful.
You’ve got Modesty, very blonde, no eyebrows, very frightening, with her terrifying ‘let’s kill witches’ hopscotch chant. There’s the older girl, who seems to be on a pretty tight leash. They operate by giving street kids food after they take leaflets to hand out on the street. The older girl is all happy and smiley: “Tell me if you see anything suspicious!” Okay, you’re terrifying.
C: It’s all in the name of patriotism!
S: There was something interesting – a homeless boy who comes in has a mole on his face. They ask her if it’s a witch’s mark. She stops to examine him, then says he’s okay. And I couldn’t decide – is that actually the kind of thing that they believe? Are we mixing in these older superstitions from the Puritan era into what they actually believe witches and wizards are? That’s a very old superstition, but in the magical world Rowling has constructed there’s nothing to that. So does their understanding of what a witch is combine what actually is with a bunch of older notions?
C: I just assumed it was superstition. We find out later that because of something Tina did they did see some kind of magic and had to be mind wiped, but they don’t remember having seen that. So as far as we know they’ve never seen an actual real witch or wizard do any real magic. So anything they believe or think they know is made up bullshit.
S: Yeah, that’s what I was wondering – how that works. We’re going back to that soon though. Then we get our glimpse of Credence, who will be very important. We have the three main kids.
C: Who also has a terrible haircut.
S: What is it with the bad haircuts? The mom’s is awful, Credence’s is awful, Modesty’s braids look like they pull her scalp back.
We go back to Newt, trying to track down his case, and he sees his billywhig flying around and knows his case must be close. As we have seen quickly, Jacob returned to his apartment, bummed about his loan, and then his case started making weird noises and then opened. So now who knows what’s loose.
So a whole wall of Jacob’s building has been blown out. Newt slips through the crowd, doing a quick mind modification to make people think it was a gas explosion – but then he goes up to Jacob’s apartment and Reparo’s the entire side of that building!
C: I had a question about that. Did people notice?
S: The first time I saw it I thought the wall was the one facing the crowd. It’s not; it’s facing the space between the two buildings where there aren’t many people, so maybe we can plausibly argue that no one saw – but still, Newt!
C: The thing about it is that it happens later in the movie, when the Thunderbird is set loose and it’s raining forgetfulness potion on everybody, and all the MACUSA people are going out and repairing all this damage that’s been done – does anybody notice that?
S: I guess we’re meant to assume that the Swooping Evil venom will obliviate that too. I think that’s taking a lot for granted, but…
He fixes the building, Tina comes running up. And there’s a murtlap loose! A big wriggly pink thing with tentacles and sharp teeth.
C: I thought that was the thing that kind of looked like an albino porcupine.
S: It did! With back tentacles. We’ve seen murtlap before because that’s what Harry used to soothe the pain of the cuts on his hand that Dolores Umbridge forced him to do. So at least we get to see one – it’s a terrifying angry porcupine – which promptly bites Jacob on the neck. Newt goes to Obliviate him. Tina: “We can’t Obliviate him now, he’s a witness!” Newt: “I’m sorry, you’ve just yelled at me the length of New York for not doing it in the first place.” Newt offers to keep him until he’s better, and Tina seems so flummoxed that Newt just doesn’t understand how things are done here. The fact of her having to interact with a Muggle at all just seems like a disaster to her.
C: Which again, I have to point out, is spot-on Extraordinary American. How dare you not understand our culture and how we do things, you need to change to fit us.
S: In the Rowling writings, the separation between No-Maj and wizards is way starker than anywhere else. They really are completely separated, there are serious penalites for fraternization, and if you don’t have to talk to one you’re not supposed to.
Meanwhile, Jacob’s over here having the goofiest reaction, and gets to do some great physical comedy. So they take him to Tina’s apartment, I guess waiting for the effects of the bite to wear off, find out where the creatures went, and then Obliviate him?
C: Because reasons.
Nominative determinism run amok
S: Then we see the Second Salemers being escorted into a newsroom by an EXTREMELY enthusiastic young man.
C: And jackassy!
S: Entire family is douchey. These are the three Shaws: Daddy Shaw runs the newspaper, big brother Shaw (Robert?) who is a Senator considering running for president, and Langdon Shaw, the reporter, who is the embarrassment.
C: He’s the spare.
S: Aww! He’s super intent on impressing his dad and feels he has found the story that is going to do that – witches in New York.
C: OH BOY.
S: I feel like that was a weird choice on his part, but sure! We get their names now: Mary Lou Barebone is her name, with Credence and Modesty – and that is a HUGE deal.
C: Talk about your nominative determinism.
S: Aside from your nominative determinism, there is a huge deal about the Barebones in A History of Magic in North America, and it explains so much of who this woman is and what her deal is.
C: I think we can safely say that her deal is crazy.
S: So the Barebone family play a major role in the institution of what is called Rappaport’s Law – the law that designates total segregation of the wizarding and non-magic communities. It came about because of a “serious breach of the International Statute of Secrecy” which led to a “humiliating censure of MACUSA by the International Confederation of Wizards.” You have this guy named Aristotle Twelvetrees who is basically the magic Secretary of the Treasury and his daughter Dorcas, who is apparently a very pretty idiot.
C: Oh! Poor Dorcas.
S: Seriously! She’s described as “as dim as she was pretty.” Bad student – after she got out of Ilvermorny she was living at home, “hardly ever performing magic but concentrating mainly on her clothes, the arrangement of her hair and her parties.” One day at a local picnic she meets and falls for a very handsome No-Maj named Bartholomew Barebone. He is a descendant of a group Rowling has invented called the Scourers. Basically these people are like bounty hunters. She describes them as “an unscrupulous band of wizarding mercenaries of many foreign nationalities who formed a much-feared and brutal task force committed to hunting down, not only known criminals, but anyone who might be worth some gold.” And apparently they were pretty corrupt. They’d turn in No-Majs and pretend they were wizards just to get a good payday.
Rowling alleges in her History that there were some Scourers involved in the Salem Witch Trials, stirring up hysteria, and that several Scourers weren’t brought to justice and vanished into the community. But it says: “The vengeful Scourers cast out from their own people passed on to their own descendants and absolute conviction that magic was real and the belief that witches and wizards ought to be exterminated wherever they were found.” So all of that is important because Bartholomew Barebone is a descendant of the Scourers: “Nobody in his family was magic, but his belief in magic was profound and unshakeable, as was his conviction that all witches and wizards were evil.”
So he basically lures Dorcas, pretends to be interested in the cool things she can do, and gets her to tell him where MACUSA and Ilvermorny are located, a lot of info about the International Confederation, and how the wizarding community hides from the non-magic community.
So Bartholomew Barebone gets as much info as he can, shows it to the press, gets an armed mob together, and they go out to kill as many wizards as they can. He printed a bunch of leaflets, sent them to prominent figures in the non-magic community – trying to spread the word far and wide. And the only reason he fails is because he screws up – he gets a gun, parks outside of MACUSA, and shoots a bunch of people he thinks are wizards, but it turns out to be just some No-Maj in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s arrested and imprisoned, and the Scourer movement dies down a bit, but there’s enough of those leaflets he handed out and the few newspapers that had taken the bait to expose the magical community. That’s when they pass Rappaport’s Law. They try to Obliviate as many people as they can but there’s only so much they can do. So this law is what enforces strict segregation.
So this woman, Mary Lou Barebone, has got to be a descendant of this man. That would explain why she is so firmly convinced that magic is real, and that wizards need to be stamped out.
C: So basically, she’s a crazy demagogue from a long line of crazy demagogues.
S: Pretty much. And she’s trying to raise her own little army of crazy demagogues using homeless children who have nowhere else to go, which is, on the scale of evil, pretty low. So Langdon Shaw has brought the Barebones to meet with his father, the editor, and his brother because he wants to do a major story saying all these occurrences are happening because of witches and people need to know.
Also fun fact, we know that J.K. Rowling loves names, as we just discussed with the whole Barebones thing. The politician/publisher being named Shaw I found incredibly interesting, because Daddy Shaw is a William Randolph Hearst kind of character, but an interesting person at this same time period is George Bernard Shaw, a famous author, playwright – he wrote Pygmalion, which is the thing most people know him for.
But George Bernard Shaw was also a huge proponent of eugenics, was a big fan of fascism, was a big fan of Mussolini and a lot of the developments in Europe at the time, and he was the author of this book called “Man and Superman.” He was the man who introduced Nietzche’s concept of the Superman into American consciousness at a time when Hitler was using that same idea to rise to power.
C: He sounds like a charming man.
S: I could see why Rowling would use Shaw for the name of these people, who admittedly have a pretty small role in this movie, but I feel like that was a lot of scene-setting. What did you think about the Shaws?
C: They just seemed like your regular old Gilded Age uber-wealthy magnates. I didn’t make any connection with the Shaw name, but it doesn’t surprise me.
S: I had to dig that up. But I feel like you don’t introduce these characters, and cast Jon Voight to play one of them, if you’re not going to use them again, so I’m pretty sure the Shaws are going to play a big role going forward. I’m not sure exactly what that’s going to be, but I’m pretty sure we’re going to see them again in a big way.
C: I’m going to guess they’re not going to be good guys.
S: I’m not sure where I get that idea from, it’s very subtle.
Langdon tries to introduce the Barebones to his dad, who is the one person who has the reaction I would expect in this world: “Uh, this is stupid. You’re literally telling me you want a story about witches in New York? This is stupid. You’re stupid. Get out of my office.” Langdon’s brother’s even nicer – he calls them freaks. On his way out Credence drops one of his fliers, and Robert picks it up and tells him to put it in the trash “where you all belong.”
So there’s some great misdirection happening at this point. They spend a lot of time zooming in on Modesty’s angry face to give you the idea that maybe what is coming comes from Modesty being angry about how Shaw speaks to them.
C: Which worked on me.
S: It kind of did on me too, and it worked on my husband really well to the point that we had an argument after we saw the movie together, because he was convinced, “No, it was both of them!” And I was all, “No it wasn’t!”
Fantastic Beast: The AU
Now we get to go to the apartment and meet Queenie! Tell me your thoughts on Tina and Queenie. I feel you have an interesting perspective.
C: I knew going in that they were sisters, so that’s not the issue, but they come in the front doors in the little living room, and you see underwear draped around, and you see her standing in her little negligee, and she speaks in this breathy, ditzy way and says “honey” all the time, and Tina is like, “Oh my god, get dressed.” And of course, instead of getting dressed quickly or in a normal fashion, as I think most of us would if strangers came into our house and found us in our underwear, she just kind of languidly puts her gown on, and the other three are just standing there staring slack-jawed. My thought was, “Oh, I could totally see Tina being the hard working breadwinner, and Queenie is her girlfriend, the little woman she comes home to at night who is super feminine and takes care of the house.” And I know that that is full of stereotypes, I know, I get it – but I could totally go down an Alternate Universe that direction and it would be fine with me.
S: Well, these stereotypes are there for a reason, and I think we’re meant to react to them. I think we’re meant at least at the beginning to look at Queenie and think, “Really? You’re her sister?” Tina’s all no-ornament, no-nonsense, menswear clothes, simple hair, no makeup, and you’ve got Queenie all curls and eyeshadow and pink silk negligees and “Oh, honey!” There’s a little Clara Bow – Marilyn Monroe thing going on, and I think we’re supposed to think, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”
C: I’m telling you, they would make an excellent semi-femme-butch couple!
S: But I think we’re supposed to underestimate Queenie, so that later when she comes through in various ways we like her more for it, and she surprises us.
I thought it was interesting that she’s a Legilimens, which means that Legilimency can be an inborn trait, not just a skill that you could learn. Had it ever occurred to you that that could be a thing?
C: I never thought about it that in depth. Now that you bring it up I vaguely remember that Harry was supposed to learn it from Snape, but I never connected that with this character. I just assumed that’s how she was born.
S: Yeah, that seems like that’s the case. She’s born that way and that’s her thing.
C: Maybe it’s Maybelline.
S: Queenie’s a little much at times, but she also seems oddly sincere for someone who seems superficial. Jacob is immediately struck by her. Of course he’s still stoned out of his mind from that murtlap bite, but he’s cognizant enough to know “I’m in an apartment with a beautiful woman making me magical pastry. I’M GOOD.” Meanwhile, Newt is trying to sneak out the door right before dinner, which is amazing – but then sits down to an awkward dinner where Queenie carries on a one-sided conversation with Jacob, just reading his mind and answering, and he seems to be loving it. Tina and Newt are giving each other awkward glances every now and then.
It’s cute, and I liked that moment where he asked her to stop reading his mind, but just because he wanted to actually talk to her. It’s cute.
Tina tells them, “You guys can bunk here,” which clearly was not Newt’s intention. He’s already up pulling Jacob away from the table when Tina offers. And you realize at a certain point after they get them put in the room, and bring them cocoa, that Newt just wants everyone to GO AWAY so he can get to his creatures. He’s desperate to do that more than anything. So the minute Tina leaves, he opens the case, goes down in it and beckons Jacob, who does the most amazingly relatable thing we all would do in a situation like that – gives out this ridiculous laugh.
That was beautiful and I loved it. Now we have the amazing scenes of inside Newt’s case – the incredible things that are in there. This case makes Hermione’s Undetectable Extension Charm on her beaded bag look like child’s play.
There are whole worlds in here, enclosures with their own climates. What did you think about all that? Was anything your favorite thing?
C: I felt like just the fact that he presumably put that together himself – he should get his GED from Hogwarts just based on that.
S: Right? This is Marauder’s Map level of accomplishment.
C: It was impressive.
S: Incredibly! I thought, did someone teach him how to do this? Did someone help him? Or did he figure out how to do this himself? If he did, he’s incredible. This guy is a genius, on top of which he’s coming up with ways to mix plants with some of these venoms to make remedies. And this is where you really get to see Newt really being himself – he’s comfortable, at ease, his wand in his little tool-belt holster, running around feeding his various creatures, having arguments with his bowtruckles…
C: I like the bowtruckles.
S: Pickett! Who has attachment issues and doesn’t want to leave him – “This is why they accuse me of playing favorites” – and we get to see the Thunderbird, occamies, the mooncalves… he has a freaking floating suspended tank of water full of grindylows off in the corner somewhere. This is one of my favorite bits, and the music in this bit is fantastic.
And now this is where we meet the Obscurus.
C: Which is weird as hell.
S: Yeah. A big floating globe of blackness.
C: I don’t really quite understand what it is. I get that it’s a thing that manifests from people who try to hide their Wizard-y-ness, but how it manages to survive outside of the person that it came from, a person who is now dead – does it have a consciousness? What IS it?
S: I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone does. The fact that Newt has one that he managed to separate somehow from its host before she died – a little girl he met in Africa, 8 years old, imprisoned for her magic – they explain an Obscurus as a parasitical magical force that develops when wizards are forced to suppress their magic, especially children. There’s no documented case of anyone as an Obscurus living past the age of 10, because the Obscurial loses control and, I guess, implodes in mass, unparalleled destruction. And somehow he separated this Obscurus from the little girl who died, which is a remarkable feat itself and probably something no one has ever done. So I think at this point it’s unique, because no one ever thought of one being separated from an Obscurial.
C: It’s very sad.
S: It is! There’s a lot of commentary on America and Puritanism, repression, what being that repressive to that extreme can do to people – it was incredible.
So Newt is happiest showing off his creatures, like his Swooping Evil yo-yo. And he tells Jacob that the actual reason he’s here is to return Frank the Thunderbird to Arizona. Which might be true….
We meet more of this creatures, the graphorns, and then he tells Jacob – he’s trying to figure out who’s missing. An occamy is missing, and he asks Jacob where one creature might go if seeking a particular environment. Jacob: “Central Park?” I like this exchange. Jacob seems surprised Newt doesn’t know where Central Park is, and Newt gets this very wary look on his face, preparing to be made fun of. Jacob doesn’t do that, but I think that speaks to Newt’s history with people.
Newt then tells him, “If we go, we’re double crossing the girls.” Newt: “You realize they’re going to Obliviate you the second you’re better?” Jacob looks around: “I won’t remember any of this?” Thinks about it for a second, and then says okay, I’ll help you.
It’s brilliant, because Jacob is a proxy for us the audience in a lot of ways. The notion of having this incredible world opened up to you, and the prospect of having that taken away-
C: It’s a bummer.
S: I felt like that was a test from Newt for Jacob in a way, too, because it seems like he was so happy to get to show Jacob his creatures, and seeing Jacob appreciate them. Telling him that he’d lose that memory, and Jacob immediately says okay, I don’t want to lose that, really cements his opinion of Jacob. Because Jacob clearly appreciates the things he cares about.
C: He doesn’t know enough as a Muggle to be as afraid as he should be, or as afraid as Newt expects him to be, like most wizards would be.
S: And that’s where we come back to Jacob being a little different. He doesn’t panic! We don’t have the moment you always have in stories where someone is introduced to a world where they’re way over their head and they say okay, I want to go home, I’ve had enough – Jacob never has that moment. He just soaks it all up like a big sponge.
C: He’s cooler than I would be, that’s for sure.
S: Yeah, there’s lots of people who could be in this situation, but not all of them could handle it the way he does. Which makes him a very impressive character.
C: I like him.
Homoerotic manipulation is the best manipulation
S: I do too. So let’s talk Credence’s meeting with Graves, where Credence is leafletting and we see Graves staring at him from across the street. Then the next moment they are meeting in a very dark alley, standing close together, whispering. Graves tells Credence he had a vision of a child, no more than 10 years old, with great power, who was causing all of this, and he needs Credence to find this child. He tells him he saw a vision of Credence standing beside him in New York. “You want to enter the Wizarding World. I can help you do that.” So Graves is looking for the Obscurus, and he thinks Credence might know who it is and he wants Credence to help him. So your thoughts on this? I know you have them.
C: Homoerotic. Every time they met in one of those alleys, I was just squicked out by it. You have this kid who is close to being and adult but is definitely a good deal younger and not in a position of power. He’s being psychologically and physically abused at home, and then he’s being psychologically browbeaten by Graves in these alleys, and it’s deeply uncomfortable.
S: It’s like watching Graves with a dog that has been kicked and starved. Credence is so starved for any affection and friendship, even if Graves touches his hand or his face, you see Credence just drinking it up.
I know this dynamic is supposed to make us very uncomfortable. Graves is pushing this kid’s buttons for a reason, and he is not over pushing boundaries of friendship or homoeroticism if that’s what he needs to get what he wants. Which, given what we find out later, makes this whole story a WHOLE lot more interesting. OMG.
I feel like that’s kind of a good sign though – we talked before about whether this series would be up front about dealing with homosexual topics, like Dumbledore being gay in the future, so I feel like at least we’re seeing they’re not shying away from that sort of dynamic – although in this case it’s not so much of a homosexual dynamic as an abusive dynamic. What do you think?
C: I agree. I still don’t know how much they’ll go into Dumbledore and Grindelwald, since, as I understand at this point, Dumbledore and Grindelwald are no longer BFFs. Dumbledore has come to his senses and rejected the dark side of the Force. So presumably we won’t see him mooning over Grindelwald.
S: Yeah, they’re already Splitsville.
C: I think the inevitable confrontation will be interesting considering that at least from this first movie Newt is our hero and protagonist, not Dumbledore. But we know that later Dumbledore is the one who has the big showdown with Grindelwald and gets the Elder Wand and all that stuff. How are they going to approach Dumbledore needing to do what he does but not undercut Newt and Tina and Queenie and Jacob and their story? I don’t know how much narrative time they can spare to anything particularly personal between Dumbledore and Grindelwald.
S: I have an idea of how they might pull that off, but I can’t talk about it yet because we’re not there yet. It will be tricky either way, though, with two major story lines, not to short shrift one or the other.
So now that Credence and Graves are done having their creepy little conversation in the alley, we see Credence go home to a warm, loving environment where his creepy adoptive mom sits ramrod straight on the stairs, waiting for him to get home – he’s late, apparently he has a curfew. And the appropriate response to that is to beat him, with his own belt. Was anyone else just deeply disturbed by this scene?
C: It seems very mid-century American to me.
S: She’s hitting hard on the insane Puritan fundamentalist repressed crazy – did I mention crazy – religious mania sort of thing.
C: I mean, when you’ve got to teach someone a lesson, what better way to teach them a lesson than to physically assault them?
S: Yes, they’ll always learn from that. To me what was worse was that he already knows the drill, and starts taking his belt off. It’s not like she goes to get something to beat him with – No, you now what’s expected of you, you’re going to hand me the thing I’m going to beat you with. At least we get an idea of where Credence is coming from, and why he’s so intense.
Real war heroes fight dragons
Fortunately we get to cut away from that and go to Newt and Jacob on their way to Central Park, and having this very charming conversation where Newt’s asking Jacob: “People like you, don’t they?” Newt says he annoys people, while Jacob makes friends easily. They also talk about the war. Jacob fought, part of the Expeditionary Forces.
C: The Expeditionary Force, whatever that is.
S: Actually, I looked it up because I was curious. When he mentioned it the first time he mimed shoveling, like digging trenches. The Expeditionary Forces were sent under the command of General Pershing in 1917 to help. A lot of them fought in France, some with Italian forces against Austria-Hungary. It’s funny that Jacob is a baker, because this is where we get that term for American soldiers “doughboys.”
We know that he stayed in the army until like 1924, he was in for a while. I was more surprised that Newt fought in the war, on the Eastern front working with Ukrainian Ironbellly dragons. So apparently wizards fought in the War – what was happening on the Eastern front? What were the wizards doing in this war, exactly?
C: I would be interested to know.
S: Me too.
C: Didn’t it say at some point that Newt’s brother was the “real” war hero?
S: Yeah, I’m so fascinated by that. You don’t throw that in for no reason – you know we’re going to find out more about why Newt’s brother is apparently famous for being a war hero. You have to wonder what that’s all about.
C: He’s probably not really a hero. He probably took credit for something.
C: Well, it would be one of those things where Newt is the one who really does all these great things with all the animals, he’s a good guy but nobody appreciates him. Meanwhile his older brother is the one everyone fawns over but he’s really just this puffed up asshole – you know.
S: Way to have a negative take on it! But you’re probably right, knowing Rowling. She’s probably going to spring something on us. I think Newt, being a Hufflepuff, is that guy that does a lot but doesn’t get credit for them all.
And we finally get around to Accio-ing that bloody Niffler! Because the Niffler is back, and thinks if he just freezes in the process of stealing diamond necklaces from a shop window that Newt won’t see him…
C: That was really funny.
S: And you can see it on Jacob’s face: “Dammit, this is the second robbery I’ve been on the scene of in the past 24 hours.” He’s just waiting for the police to show up while Newt’s in there crashing and breaking things. And this is one of the Internet’s favorite moments – when Newt finally Accios the niffler, and the niffler flies to him in slow motion, all his jewelry slipping away. Absolutely fabulous.
C: I liked when the glass got sticky and it was just kind of stuck there. So cute.
S: Police show up, they’re covered in jewels. Jacob: “They went that way.” Newt meanwhile only gets excited about New York when a lion shows up. “New York is considerably more interesting than I anticipated!”
LET ME LOVE YOU
So they Disapparate again, from the scene of a crime, again, because of the niffler – again. And head to Central Park, as Newt knows one of his creatures is there. He arms Jacob with a helmet and breastplate and tells him not to worry. And now we get to meet the Erumpent, a gigantic hippo…
C: A gigantic hippo that wants to hump.
S: Horniest animal I’ve ever seen. I like this – not because of Newt’s terribly awkward mating dance thing he does to get the Erumpent into the case, although that was amusing – I like actually getting to see the Erumpent that Hermione went on about in Deathly Hallows. When Xenophilius Lovegood has a horn that he thinks is from a Crumple-Horned Snorkack, and she tells him no, it’s a Class C tradeable substance, that’s an Erumpent horn, is incredibly dangerous and will explode – apparently that is the case! We get to see how it works – the Erumpent jams its horn into the tree, charges it with energy, and the whole thing explodes.
C: I have to really commend Eddie Redmayne for his just going for it in that sex dance he did. He really committed, and I appreciate that.
S: Not only does that speak well of Eddie Redmayne, it works for the character of Newt who does these awkward things that most people would be too embarrassed to do, but what does he care? He cares about his creatures. We have that line from Newt when they were in the case about how he needed to save his creatures because they were out there, alone, surrounded by the most vicious creatures on the planet – humans.
After much ado, and trading sticks with a monkey, and chasing an Erumpent up a tree, we get the stupid thing in the case. Jacob and Newt go back in the case, but Tina has found them, no doubt through the vast amount of noise and destruction they’re making. And while they’re in the case, she closes it, sits on it, and then takes it.
Next we go to the Shaw’s fundraising dinner, for big brother Shaw and his cheekbones, who is standing in front of a not-at-all intimidating poster of his face, about to give a speech, and right about that moment what we can assume is the Obscurus – the invisible force – tears through the room, tears down his poster, and sucks his face. Bottom line is he’s dead, we kill Big Brother Shaw, and we’re left with Shaw the Disappointment and Daddy Shaw.
This will be an interesting motivation for Daddy Shaw in upcoming films. His son being killed this way will be a big deal.
C: What a shame. Not just his son, but his Golden Ticket Golden Boy son.
S: Yeah, the nice looking son, not the disappointing one, who is now even more convinced that it’s all about the witches, people. I guess there’s that.
Threat levels are more useful than we are, actually
Now we cut over to MACUSA to an emergency meeting, which looks like it includes representatives from the International Confederation. We’ve got Germany—
C: I thought that too. Because it looked like they went out of their way to show people in traditional dress.
S: Yeah, someone from Germany, the English Prime Minister, and an actress I know to be Asian and I couldn’t tell by her costume if they were dressing her to be Asian or Native American. But they’ve got reps from various places, and they’re all heckling the president of MACUSA for not doing anything about this.
There’s this weird thing floating above them. Is it just an image of the senator’s body?
C: I thought it must have been some kind of projection somebody put up.
S: Maybe so. It’s useful for replaying the scene of the crime, in that Newt can in a moment look at it and identify what killed him, but….
C: Can I point out one thing that I liked? This might have come from earlier when we first go to MACUSA – they have this gigantic clock that’s kind of like the Weasley clock, that tells you how scary everything is. But I didn’t think of the Weasley clock, I thought of that stupid threat level warning system the United States used to have right after 9/11 that went from pale yellow to flame red – attacks imminent. “Okay, we’re at threat level orange today….What the fuck does that mean?”
S: I think the filmmakers must have thought the same thing, because the clock goes to different colors depending on the threat level! Clearly we’re not the only ones who remember living through the 9/11 era.
C: I feel like this entire film is taking the piss of American culture, and I love it.
S: You get a nice perspective on how Britain views us: so, so backward. So Tina bursts in – again – and now on this entire massive group of wizards, and is all, “Oh shit!”
She puts the case down, knocks on the lid, and out comes Newt and Jacob, which is even better. There is this fantastic moment where the Prime Minister recognizes Newt and they ask, “Is that Mr. Scamander the war hero?” “No, it’s his little brother.” Prime Minister asks Newt, “What are you doing here?” Newt says, “I came to buy an Appaloosa Puffskein.” Prime Minister smiles. “Right. What are you really doing here?” I love it because I feel that it bolsters my theory that Newt is there for a reason he hasn’t admitted, and even the Prime Minister is not stupid enough to think that he’s there for no reason.
Newt is however clever enough to look at the image/projection/whatever of Robert Shaw and know immediately that it was an Obscurus. People: “Whatever, it isn’t an Obscurus, they don’t even exist, how do you know, hang him. Boooo.” The answer to that is just to arrest them, I guess.
At this point, I wonder, has no one noticed or is no one concerned by the fact that Graves does magic without his wand constantly?
C: I didn’t notice that.
S: Every time he’s done anything magic in this world so far, he’s not used a wand. He just waves his hand and it goes to him. That speaks to someone extremely powerful, which, you know, hint hint – BIG REVEAL. Maybe this Graves guy is supposed to be someone awesome, but…
I noticed it more the second viewing. The only time he pulls out his wand is the end of the movie. The rest of the time he just waves his hand. In the interrogation scene coming up he Summons the Obscurus just with his hand. Here he summons Newt’s case just with his hand, and then waves again to tie them up.
Just sayin. Hint hint.
So we throw them in jail.
C: Why the hell does Tina need to go to jail? She tried to tell them earlier and nobody listened to her.
S: Right, and of course she gets blamed, and doesn’t think to say, “I tried to tell you earlier but no one listened to me?” No, we’re just going to arrest them all on suspicion of SOMETHING!
C: Stand up for yourself, woman! Come on!
S: They’re in a cell, we get background on where and how Newt got the Obscurus and the incredibly sad story of what they are and how he got it. Then they are taken away for interrogation, and Jacob is left behind in the cell. And there’s a little misdirection here – when Newt says there’s no documented case of an Obscurial living past age 10, they immediately cut to Modesty doing her little hopscotch-witch-chant, and then taking her fliers and dumping them out on the street, because I guess she’s feeling rebellious?
C: It was a very bold move.
S: They’re definitely trying to hint hint, HINT HINT that Modesty is the Obscurial. Now to the interrogation scene, which is absolutely mine and probably a lot of people’s favorite scene.
I got expelled from Hogwarts, so I became a secret agent
We’ve got Graves interrogating Newt. Tina tries to speak, and Graves is all, “SHUT IT,” in a very classy way, but he’s definitely all, “Woman, no.” He is not at all interested in her. Graves is only interested – extremely interested – in Newt. He goes through Newt’s bio, which includes being expelled from Hogwarts. Apparently there IS a way to get expelled from Hogwarts! Aren’t you happy to know that?
C: Yeah, who knew?
S: And you don’t have to be a giant to do it! If Newt didn’t go back in time, reset the wizarding world and lead to the resurrection of the Moste Evile Wizarde, I’m disappointed. Because whatever he did better have been pretty damn bad.
C: It’s probably going to be something that wil turn out to have been his brother’s fault or his brother did.
S: Either his or Leda Lestrange’s.
C: Oh, yeah.
S: Graves: “One of your teachers spoke strongly in your defense. What makes Albus Dumbledore so fond of you?” First time we’ve heard Dumbledore mentioned in this movie. Newt’s response is extremely noncommittal: “I really couldn’t say.” Not “I don’t know,” it’s more a quiet refusal to give anything up at this point.
Graves then starts suggesting what Newt might be up to – accusing him of wanting to expose wizardkind and start a war. Newt: “Mass slaughter for the greater good, you mean?” Graves: “Yes, exactly.” Newt: “I’m not one of Grindelwald’s fanatics.” First time he looks at Graves, when he says this. The language Graves is using is clearly ringing a bell with Newt, putting him on his guard. Did you get the sense that Graves was feeling Newt out to see if he could use him somehow?
C: I don’t think so. I’ve only seen it the one time. My first impression is pretty much the only impression I have of it. I just thought that he was just dumb and mean and railroading them. I didn’t see any real ulterior stuff there. I knew, obviously, that he’s got whatever weird-ass shit going on with Credence, so of course I knew he was not a great guy and not on the up and up, but I didn’t think, “Oh, Graves is Grindelwald!” I just thought that it was some kind of stupid petty personal thing that he was afraid of something, or wanted something, or whatever and was letting that get in the way of doing the right thing, which would be, you know, not having them executed.
S: You know what that means? That means you’re not going to argue with my awesome conspiracy theory. The first time I saw it I thought the same thing. The second time, I was thinking about a notion I should explain now. My theory is that Newt is actually in New York because of Dumbledore – that he’s there to either try to gather information or just chase rumors, or possibly as my husband suggested, maybe Dumbledore knew what Grindelwald might be after and thought it might be worthwhile to send Newt. And Newt’s an ideal person for this sort of thing. Expelled from Hogwarts, so doesn’t have a lot of credibility, has been traveling the world on his own for his book. He’s an ideal person if you need someone in the right place at the right time. At this point this is well after Dumbledore and Grindelwald fall out. Dumbledore tells Harry in Deathly Hallows that he put off having to face Grindelwald as long as possible. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that he wasn’t keeping tabs on what he was up to.
So my theory is that Newt is there, not as a secret agent exactly, but at least to keep his eyes and ears open and report back. I think GrindelGraves’ interest in Newt speaks for itself, particularly regarding Dumbledore. I also think Graves spouting Grindelwald’s rhetoric was to see how Newt would react. Newt’s clearly smart, interesting person, and I wonder if he thought he’d see if Newt responded to the party line – he might be useful. But of course Newt doesn’t, so he goes to what he REALLY wants to know. We finally get to GrindelGraves’ main point: he Summons the Obscurus from the case. “I wonder what you can tell me about this.”
He wants information about what an Obscurus really is and how it is that Newt has one. Newt tries to explain, and then GrindelGraves slips up and says what he’s been trying to find out: “So it’s useless without the host.”
Newt is not looking at him at this point, but just stops. He turns and looks at Graves, like he’s seeing him for the first time. “Useless? That is a parasitical magical force that destroyed a child. What on earth would you use it for?”
Pretty clear at this point that GrindelGraves realizes, “Dammit, should not have said that out loud.” He just betrayed the fact that he’s interested in using an Obscurus, and Newt knows more than anyone else that any use of an Obscurus will be terrible. So realizing his mistake, GrindelGraves does what any person would do – and has them sentenced to death.
So can we talk about this death sentence thing please?
C: There’s so much to unpack here.
S: Oh, the last thing I’m going to observe about GrindelGraves: he says Newt is sentenced to death and Tina gets the same sentence, he asks the people holding them to “Do it immediately, please,” and he gestures them out – and his hands are shaking. Clearly he’s either upset by the knowledge that he was this close, has an Obscurus in his possession but it’s useless, or he’s angry at himself for coming so close and slipping up, and now needs to have them killed to get them out of the way.