Fantastic "beasts," and how to react when they're not properly locked in, in "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them"
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Eddie Redmayne's Newt presents himself as respectful and sometimes even demure, but though there are honest aspects to both of these qualities what he mostly is matches best with the "troublemaker" moniker that was attached to him during his time at Hogwarts. He sees the world as requiring vast improvement -- foremost, a need to encourage tolerance of strange animals amongst his fellow wizards, but since we also see him advocate against anti-miscegenation laws, really for the whole wallop of progressive causes -- and sees himself as a potential chief agent for change. In New York, he finds himself intertwined with someone who is not exactly his equal. This is Jacob, who unlike Newt never went to any kind of special school, is not pursuing advanced studies in the scientific art of magic creature naturalism, and is, rather, mislaid into a terribly depressing, isolated life working in a canning factory -- a job, as the movie tells us, so foul it'll cut short his life by decades. He wants terribly to have a chance at opening his own bakery, but he has no collateral, so it's a pipe dream. Nevertheless, through being allowed to tag along with the irrepressible Newt -- Newt wants upon his first mishap acquaintance with Jacob to "obliterate" all knowledge of magic and the existence of witches Jacob has acquired, but Jacob's required as a witness for a case against Newt's perpetrations in New York so this proved impossible -- he goes on a grand adventure and discovers true love. Though he actually got to live this dream fate, it's not something he still gets to keep... it's not something that can never be taken from him, and his friends do end up obliterating his knowledge of both them and his accrued adventures with them. He accepts his fate without protest, with absolute acquiescence, basically advocating the persecutor's case against him for them, and we see him next moping back to the factory where he'll be subsumed amongst all the other despondent souls, surrounded, and dwarfed, by any number of relentlessly fashioned stacks of tin cans.
Colin Farrell's Graves is one of the principle leaders in America's society of wizards, but though he presents himself simply as an honest if tough enforcer of the status quo, what he actually is is someone who is very dissatisfied with how wizards have allowed themselves to be humbled by "no-majs" -- i.e., pedestrian no-magic people like us -- so to find themselves invisible amongst them, playing coy, rather than asserting themselves visibly, and is working for change. He has consistent interactions with one ostensible "no-maj" in the city, a teenage boy named Credence Barebone, who has been promised that he might be granted the huge trespass of becoming a wizard himself if he can help Graves find a ten-year-old orphan in the city who possesses great powers. Credence is a fatherless orphan, lorded over by the most terribly scary of guardian mothers. Though clearly not entirely, he is still mostly cowed to her intimidating will, almost completely -- any twitter away from full subservient devotion means a wicked, scar-leaving beating with a belt, and he well knows it. Graves uses Credence to ostensibly find the empowered orphan he's looking for and then immediately abandons him, telling him, though he actually does come from a wizard stock he remains luckless in still being the sort of rare runt denied all wizard powers. Credence, however, doesn't sit quietly with this turnabout, and in fact unleashes hell.
After the American election where the press devoted equal time to Hillary's actually minor trespasses as they did Trump's "epochal," massive ones, we're supposed to be aware of drawing false equivalences, but I'm depressing the fact of Newt's goodness and Graves' evilness in favour of seeing them as two individuals instructively worthy of compare because I think we are watching them in some sense similarly -- it registers to us that they are both strong advocates for their causes, not just that we like one and hate the other -- and that we actually have more unconscious respect for how Graves is interacting with Credence, what he's thereby risking in doing so. We suck up more sustenance from his visitations with him than we do with Newt's various interactions with Jacob, because in a sense what he does with Credence is more real to us. Here's where it's on the line, because it actually bears resemblance to encounters between bullies and brave "rescuers" in our own lives.
With Jacob somehow it's just fluff, disconnected from us. "Jacob" is about exactly the kind of creation you'd put forward to a cautious mob, fearful of change, to advocate for the inclusion of a previously invisible out-group. He's a version, in his absolute harmlessness, of the happy gay couple that gay marriage advocates put forward onto shows like Oprah to loosen the masses' resistance. They're absolutely harmless and lovable -- how can you object to the inclusion of people like that? What he is not, however, is someone they would want those they are advocating for to actually be like in real life, nor ever to represent their cause once the cause has gotten past the gate to become part of the norm, because he's an insult to their actual true interestingness, their true humanness, their true ability to protest and their true potency of will. "Jacob" probably registers to us like that as we watch the film. Since part of the subject of the film -- it's point, somehow -- is how one might acquire entrance into the world of wizards if one is stuck being a muggle, and none of us watching the film bear any evident wizard marks, some part of us might find ourselves feeling uplifted and happy if the film confirmed that even though entrance into this world is absolutely forbidden... that there is no precedence for it, somehow through the most fortuitous of circumstances, through the most clever of confabulations, some muggle is made through his harmlessness, his innocuousness, his really just being after all a hapless bystander, to have nevertheless spent too much time aware of wizards for his connection to the wizard world to ever really be depleted from him. He may not have wizard powers, but he's breached one great barrier -- and who's to say that the next one, the even better one, just as rigidly held, isn't actually amenable to a great stealth advocate "lock-picker's" art as well?
So while Jacob is some kind of untrue facsimile of ourselves, lofted "into the sky" and involved in a relationship with our betters that we have no interest in other than that it succeeds, Credence is the grounded, vastly more true version of ourselves. He is a depiction of the sort of human being Harry Potter would really have been if he grew up in the kind of household that would so despise and hate him he'd be perpetually quarantined to a closet. So he is not full of spirit and mischief and overt resistance. He mostly quails to life, as so much that could have enabled active participation has been sucked from him before it had its chance to gestate. He can be drawn to some actually considerable resistance... to think mostly of his own self interest rather than his dangerous mother's, but it takes the constant stealth intervention of father-figure Graves, imploring him to take the risk required, for him to do so.
Graves betrays Credence, but maybe we "take it" a bit differently. He tells Credence what he thinks is flatly the truth -- you are no wizard, and you never can be one -- but when Credence reveals that he is actually the person Graves has been looking for, the person of vast powers that aren't wizard powers but easily as formidable, and that are a threat to the whole rigidly enforced homeostasis of the current stultified wizard realm, and starts pushing back at Graves and busting the world about him up, his reaction is admiration, delight and astonishment. Shit kid, you do not go down quietly!... Quite genuinely now, fuck everything I've just said! Join me and we will both celebrate our doings in this world! For fucking real this time!... you're bloody magnificent! Credence is Jacob when he is about to have his brain emptied by a wand jolt shot to the head, saying, oh, by the way, by being those who'd find every way to sneak in magical creatures into America and advance causes you actually really believe in even if it risked dire punishment, but being so ready to be those requited to the stance of having no other choice but play it by the book with me, fuck you! fuck you! and fuck you!
And Newt would not be Graves delighted to see what had been such an agreeably pliant ally become all of a sudden more a powerful and unaccountable eruptive force -- that is, more akin to all the great magical creatures he adores, who are so admirably irrepressible and assertive when let loose on the world. He'd be more, shit man, this is not how this is supposed to go... What is supposed to happen here is that you play along and continue to be hapless and then we eventually decide to grant you some remission from your pain. You'll still be sort of pathetic and register mostly as a person all our make -- your advancement from making only your grandmother's recipes will involve your only make exact replicas of creatures you saw only because we let you tag -- and that's all you really did, tag -- along, but you'll get your bakery, you'll get an assistant, and you'll possess some barest trace of your memories with us, which might be recovered at a later date into something better than that.
You weren't supposed to stage some kind of slave revolt where you demand everything you want right now as if it were always rightly yours! You were supposed to wait until we were ready... and we're only ready now for small disbursements of allowance. We still require you yet as our sap and our sop.