Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (barely a spoiler in sight)

JK is on a mission to save the world…….from Brexit; from The Donald; from right-wing intolerance; from mounting Fascism.  Are the HP books, the stage play, the old, and now new, film series powerful enough multi-media weapons to combat the building of Trump’s Mexican wall?   Probably not.

Since 1997 when JK waved her literary wand and the first Harry Potter book magically appeared, Rowling’s themes have been the rise of  fascism, segregation and repression, in her alternate wizardly world; sending out the message to a generation of kiddiwinks (and kid-like adults) to love thy neighbour, whatever their race, creed or colour; and yet half the voting public of America and Britain recently chose to ignore Rowling’s 10 year HP saga (which was dripping with the ideology that Love conquers all) in favour of unenlightened and hate filled political rhetoric, regarding those not born in the USA (and UK.)  It seems JK’s words flew over the heads of an entire reading generation.

So she’s decided to have another stab at getting the message across; one that very clearly states that suppression, repression and hate can have only one hideously dark outcome.

The latest Rowling movie (we now know there will be four more after Beasts) is a very different kettle of fantastical fish to the ones made at Hogwarts.  I don’t know what I expected when we trogged off to the cinema Sunday night.  Maybe I was expecting child wizards floating about in a magical U S of A high school (and thank Dumbledore I was wrong.)   The surprising reappearance (I had no idea these Newt Scamander movies were on the cards) of Rowling’s parallel magical universe is most definitely for the adults.

It’s an adult world lived out in New York in 1926.  My father in-law was 2 years old in 1926 – he was actually alive when New York was filled with Ford Model T’s, men in long overcoats and wide brimmed hats and young women calling themselves flappers.  I still can’t get my head around the fact that the father-in-law was here on planet earth during a time that’s so long ago it had to be recreated by the Masters of the CGI.

Oh, and the CGI is wondrous, possibly more magical than the magic it was bringing to life on screen.  Because us lesser mortals have no idea about CGI have we?  We spend our lives on computers and mobile phones without the teensiest, faintest idea how any of it works.  Pixelated pictures and mailbox messages from across the world appear as instantaneously as Eddie Redmayne, apparating himself in and out of New York buildings.  Technology is a sort of prosaic magic.

We watched the film in 3D, which is like Alice paying a visit to Wonderland.  All manner of fantastic beasts flew or waddled out of the screen, just inches away from your nose; one blue, winged little critter got so close I nearly batted him away with my hand, forgetting that he wasn’t actually real.

There are plenty of kid friendly bits in this film.  Lots of humorous moments. Lots of Eddie Redmayne being so painfully shy that he can barely make eye contact or speak, but he’s also engagingly British (in an elite Etonian kind of way) amongst the American natives.  There are good guys and villains but I found it strangely difficult to fully engage with the characters, at least to begin with.  Where are Harry, Ron and Hermione, I kept thinking.  I actually missed Daniel Radcliffe.  Maybe that’s because this time around JK isn’t writing books but screenplays which will be kept under wraps until the films appear, meaning we have no clue who her characters are until we step inside the cinema.  And two hours isn’t enough time to get fully acquainted, or to fall in love, with characters you’ve just met.

While I struggled to adapt to this new incarnation of the Potter universe, the husband was having the time of his life.  ‘Brilliant film,’ was his judgement when we got back in the car.  ‘I really enjoyed it.’  This was stunningly unexpected, considering the husband hasn’t read a single Harry Potter book and recently berated his wife for watching the Harry Potter movies on a Sky loop during October.  I have a feeling his enthusiasm may have had something to do with the fact that many New York skyscrapers are spectacularly demolished in this movie and that there’s a (supposedly) very funny, near mating scene between a gigantic rhinoceros-type magical creature and our new no-maj (American for Muggle) hero.  The husband also made an astute observation that Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander is just another reincarnation of Dr Who, which I’d entirely missed.  I’m not sure he’s right, but can see where he’s coming from.  And JK is of our middle aged generation.  It’s not surprising that ideas from so many of the books I devoured during the 60’s and 70’s (Enid Blyton, Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Alice, The Once and Future King) made their way into the Potter books – so why wouldn’t Dr Who?

But what J K Rowling is really interested in, in this movie, is the effects of suppression on abused individuals and how that can sometimes turn into killer rage.  Not that I believe that people suppress anything these days, going by the state of my Facebook account.  I have only 22 friends on there but, via one friend’s fairly constant predilection for liking and sharing anything and everything, by just about anybody, I get to see posts from people I don’t know from Adam.   I now know that one young chap out there is proud to be bisexual and that his mother is proud he’s proud, and that her friend is proud that she’s proud that he’s proud……… get the drift.  And that we must all share this ‘proud to be Bi’ post to show solidarity (there seems to be some kind of Bisexual bandwagon at the moment, onto which the ‘young people’ are eager to board.)  What happened to being proud of such a revelation in private?  In fact what happened to privacy full stop?

Social media is absolutely chockablock with people busy not suppressing anything.  They’re not suppressing their anger, their political allegiance, their opinions, their sexuality, their religion, the state of their mental health.  ‘Oh, do give it a rest,’ I can be found thinking, on days when I don’t much care for the human race.  All this overt expression of our true selves has given us a digital community filled with a kind of whinging white noise.

And the other night, at the flicks, I fervently wished that an individual sitting right next to son No 3 had suppressed the urge to go to the movies whilst suffering the effects of a major cold.  He coughed his guts up, roughly every 10 minutes; blew his nose in a revolting manner and regularly checked his mobile phone – despite being told to switch it off by the Voice of the Cinema.  That’s the one downside of watching movies at the Cinema (which is where they should be watched) – you’ve got to sit about an inch away from fellow members of the human race.

JK loves the human race, with a particular fondness for the downtrodden, the ‘different’, those who have to carry the secret of who they really are.  Suppression is bad and yet, ironically, suppression of feeling is what usually creates great works of art. Maybe Rowling’s suppressed hatred of her own father (and now completely acknowledged estrangement from) exploded out in the form of Voldemort; just as one of the new characters in this film literally explodes with hate and vengeance, becoming our first introduction to Rowling’s new form of dark magic – the Obscurial.

Rowling’s film may be set in a bygone era of suppression but she’s clearly relating it all to the here and now – and we can be sure that old Gellert Grindelwald (when he appears in movie number 2) is probably going to go all Donald Trump on us – Johnny Depp (minor spoiler) was even sporting a very blonde hairstyle in his split second surprise appearance.

At times I found Fantastic Beasts heavy going but that’s to be expected when you’re building a whole brave new Harry Potter world, and it hasn’t put me off wanting to find out what happens next.  Whatever J K Rowling’s political agenda, she’s still the most imaginative story teller on the planet.


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