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Cinema in Focus: ‘Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’

3 Stars — Thought-provoking

The threat of authoritarian leaders in both the human and wizarding worlds is the theme of J.K. Rowling’s film Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Set in 1927 during the threatening days of the rising Third Reich and the silver-tongued Adolf Hitler, Rowling creates an equally threatening demagogue within the wizard world whose silver tongue is as powerful as his magic. But what he offers the other wizards is a world in which they are in charge and the prospect of a human world war with atomic dimensions can be avoided. This analogic premise sets us on a path that is only begun in this second film of the Fantastic Beasts series, all set within the larger wizarding world of Rowling’s creation.

The brilliance of Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) is obvious. From the opening scenes as we experience his daring escape from the American Ministry of Magic during a prisoner transport, to the final scenes in which he has used his skillful communicating ability to enlist a young, lost and powerful wizard, we realize that authoritarian leaders are neither dumb nor innocent. Like a spider that spins its web, each thread of Grindelwald is exquisitely placed to both distract and attract his victims.

Like the Harry Potter character of the original series by Rowling, Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller) knows neither his importance nor his power. The reason for this is central to the tale, so we won’t spoil it. But also as in the original series, there are wizards who are trying to protect the young man. Central to this task is the master of the fantastic beasts, Newt Scamader (Eddie Redmayne), who demonstrated in the first film the power of his unique knowledge and skill.

Continuing in this ongoing tale is Newt’s beautiful love interest, auror Leta Lestrange (Zoe Kravitz). The tension created between these two is easily identifiable as it comes from both their desires and their inability to adequately express these.

Also present is Newt’s brother, Theseus Scamander (Callum Turner), who as an officer within the Ministry of Magic recognizes both Newt’s value as well as his aversion to “taking sides.” It is this relationship and that conviction that come under scrutiny.

The use of the fantastic creatures of the wizarding world are once more in play but in a more subtle and sophisticated manner than in the original film. Using knowledge and courage, Newt is able to use their unique abilities and needs to accomplish his larger goals and purposes. It is this unusual ingredient central to this fantasy tale that provides a fresh look at the source and expectations of power. This is seen when a small platypus-like creature is able to secure a much-needed item during the climactic moment because Grindelwald considered him unimportant.

It is that hope that a small platypus can stop a monster, or a hobbit can destroy the enslaving ring of power, or a young boy can destroy the diabolical horcruxes that reflect the true hope we as Christians have that a small child born in a stable can save humanity. It is often unrecognized, but our artists help us understand.

Discussion

» In the wizarding world of Rowling, we see reflected both the dangers and hopes of human beings. Do you find such fantasy literature enlightening, and if so, how?

» The humble strength of a Frodo, a Harry Potter or a Newt Scamander expresses a truth that resounds within us. Why do you think that is?

» It is difficult to imagine a solution to the inhumanity of war being that of another authoritarian silver-tongued leader. Why do you think human beings are susceptible to such rhetoric?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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