Fantastic Movies and Where to Find Them? A Review of the Harry Potter Spinoff.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them marks J. K. Rowling’s screenwriting debut. The British author found inspiration in her eponymous spin-off of the Harry Potter series. The movie is directed by the filmmaker who successfully brought to the screen the last four Potter movies: David Yates. His latest magical engagement, amuses, surprises, enthralls and moves, through the tantalizing performances of Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, Carmen Ejogo and Johnny Depp.
Academy Award winner Eddie Redmayne plays Newton Artemis Fido “Newt” Scamander, a young magizoologist who is interested in fabulous beasts. This character does not appear in the seven Harry Potter books, but is mentioned in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. He is the author of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which Rowling has written as a history of Magizoology, describing eighty-five magical species found around the world. The film adaptation of the zoology textbook creates an actual narrative around the character of Scamander. In Yates’ movie, the young Newt arrives from England to New York’s secret community of witches and wizards seventy years before Harry Potter reads his book in school.
The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. He arrives in the Big Apple (that looks like a bleak version of Gotham City), for a brief stopover. Newt might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler), who opens the magical suitcase and sets free some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, that escape all over the city.
The situation is heightened by the fractious relations between the wizarding and No-Maj communities, which are already tense due to the presence of a fanatical extremist group: the New Salem Philanthropic Society advocating for a “Second Salem” and the eradication of wizardkind.
Newt and his No-Maj friend Jacob, will save the day with the help of a former Auror who used to work at the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA), Porpentina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston), and her telepathic “Legilimens” sister, Queenie (Alison Sudol).
The story brings audiences to ponder upon current affairs: how the comeback of white supremacy movements and racist groups are establishing a new witch hunt in contemporary history. Since the savior in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them comes from the other side of the pond, one might wonder if also in our Muggle-No-Maj realm the solution to the moral crisis of the Western world may come from the Old Continent.
The social critique to the decadence of values of our current era is a revisitation of Pandora’s box, with a more refined analysis on the issue of intersubjectivity. A suitcase, representing the inner world of an individual, is opened releasing his past experiences, his present hazardous passions (the fantastic beasts), and his future pursuits. In the outer world (represented both by a No-Maj & Magical New York population) his inner world is misplaced by the prejudice of others.
This fantabulous journey is a cinematic expedition to re-humanize mankind. When French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said “Hell is other people,” what he meant is that their concern for the world goes only as far as the extent to which the world services their needs. When it doesn’t adequately cater to their desires, they blame the world and the people in it pointing fingers in the wrong direction. Thus, we construct a hell for ourselves, when we refuse to take responsibility for our own actions, leaving us at the mercy of the opinions of others.
The quartet of heroes reverse this tendency: they clumsily cause pandemonium but also learn to take responsibility and help one another, to save the world they share. Consequently, the story set at the beginning of the previous century, is a window to hope for the times we are living in. A promise to the calm after a storm intertwines with the concept that the universe and all existence is recurring: the “Eternal return,” that is central to the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche.
The history of man is conditioned by the recurrence of wars and persecutions towards minorities. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them poignantly portrays this state of affairs, as it simultaneously reminds us that chaos is the necessary premise for harmony; and just as Newt and his friends don’t give up during times of civic hardship, neither should we.