December 10th, 2016Fantastic Beasts and Fucked-Up Messages
SPOILER WARNING: This is my rant about why I hated the ending to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and I intend to spoil all of it.
So I went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them last night, and I had a great time. It’s well cast, well shot, and above all genuinely sweet, funny, and indeed quite tense when it needs to be. I was at the edge of my seat one moment and dying from laughter the next.
I had such a good time, in fact, that I am now downright furious that they fuck it up so astonishingly, horribly, completely in the climax. I wanted to love this fucking movie, and they’ve taken that away from me. So goes my unreasonably-angry reasoning.
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Now, what exactly about the climax has got my panties in a bunch? Let’s recap:
Newt follows Credence, the unstable, physically and mentally abused boy whose powers erupt in form of an Obscurus, into the subway where he continues to wreak havoc. Unlike Grindelwald, who just betrayed and ridiculed him before realizing what he was, Newt seems to get through to him. He promises to help him and tells him of the other Obscurial he’s met, whose Obscurus he keeps among his beasts. Credence regains human shape, cowering next to the train tracks, and Newt asks his permission to come over and sit with him.
As they’re about to share a moment, Grindelwald bursts in and starts attacking Newt, who tries to ward him off and protect Credence. I’m slightly fuzzy on the exact sequence of events here, but I think the two men fight while Credence walks further down the tunnel, a train approaches and Grindelwald magically pushes Credence out of the way, and finally Credence loses it again and his Obscurus is released, attacking Grindelwald.
But this time Tina intervenes and starts to talk him down. She’s helped him before, when she witnessed him being abused by his foster mother and attacked her in his defense, for which she lost her job as an Auror. Credence recognizes her – whether consciously or as a faint memory after having been obliviated, I don’t know – and calms down. She tries to convince him they can help him, and it seems that Grindelwald’s attempts to manipulate him fall flat.
But of course that second attempt at soothing him is once again foiled when the president of MACUSA arrives at the scene with a pack of goons who, despite Tina’s pleas not to disturb Credence further and Grindelwald’s threat that anyone harming him would answer to him, open fire. The fight is brief. Credence cries in pain inside the black, oily mess that is his Obscurus and dissolves into thin air.
Grindelwald is devastated. He claims that a great wrong has been committed here and that history will remember it. He doesn’t want to hear about the laws that protect their secrecy. It’s not a law that serves their people. “Who does it protect, us or them?” he asks, before shooting down the president’s agents as he menacingly approches her.
Newt, however, catches him with whatever-the-fuck, and he is brought to his knees and revealed in his true form. There’s some banter and a line I didn’t catch as he’s taken away, and then they basically just deal with all the muggles who’ve witnessed these events by letting Newt’s thunderbird spread its memory-wiping poison through the rain. It’s all very nice and well and also a little sad when their muggle friend Jacob has to be obliviated too.
We Need to Talk About Kevin
So what’s missing here?
Well, maybe the part where anyone other than Wizard Hitler is sad or even the slightest bit concerned that an innocent child was murdered? A child that was subjected to so much abuse that his pain materialized in the form of an oily, blotchy nightmare? When the people who could reign him in, calm him down, help him, perhaps even separate him from his Obscurus, were right fucking there trying to do just that?
Nobody gives a fuck about that. Worst of all, not even Newt and Tina give a fuck about that. They spend the entire movie caring deeply as all hell about any and every living thing. They want to save him, they expressly tell each other so, but the second he’s killed they’ve already forgotten him and are right back to helping the president subdue Grindelwald and fixing the breach of secrecy for them. Not a single moment is given to questioning what just happened here, not a tear shed for the kid that just died.
And Credence was not a bad kid. He didn’t choose to kill. The Obscurus took over when he was in too much pain to retain control. The most he ever does is claim he doesn’t want to control it after Grindelwald betrays him. But he clearly wants to be helped. He doesn’t attack Newt but rather calms himself when he is approached by him. The same with Tina: he recognizes a person who cared about him, and it soothes him like nothing else. He wants their help. He wanted Grindelwald’s help. He’s desperate for it. But what does he get instead? He gets murdered*.
That in and of itself is not even the problem. It’s a moment ripe with beautifully tragic irony when this nightmarish form, created through cruelty and hostility, is destroyed by more of the same because no one but the heroes ever thought for a second to treat it with kindness. Or it might be if the film thought to handle it as such. But it doesn’t. It really doesn’t. It skips right past any of that to attend to the apparently more important task of cramming Johnny Depp’s stupid face in there.
I’m honestly still flabberghasted at the choices in that scene. Why don’t the protagonists care? Why are they immediately focused on stopping the only guy who, even if for the wrong reasons, cares that this person, who they themselves tried to save a minute ago, has been murdered? Where is the impassioned speech that they didn’t have to kill him, that they could’ve helped him, that he wasn’t dangerous if treated right? Newt manages to give that speech about all the other creatures he’s caught, even about the Obscurus he separated, why doesn’t he do it for the one that still had a child attached? Why are they so eager and happy to help a person who just displayed an utter disregard for life?
The Fundamentals of Caring
It’s baffling. And it would’ve been so easy to fix. If they desperately wanted to go for the tragedy, just a few words would’ve sufficed, just a little bit of “He needed our help and we could’ve saved him!” Anything, really. Any acknowledgement at all of the wrong that’s just been committed. Or if you needed Grindelwald to be the one to have his moment then and there, let him cut loose, let him kill half the people there in retaliation as a further instance of how violence begets violence, before having the main characters step in and break the cycle (a few words would’ve still been nice to really drive that point home).
Alternatively, instead of killing Credence, offer him a chance to get better. Newt and Tina are the first to show him genuine kindness, and it obviously worked, so why not let them finish what they started? Credence was stronger than any other Obscurial, who usually don’t get older than 10, so he might’ve survived separation. And Grindelwald, as one of the biggest, baddest guys in town, should’ve easily been able to protect him when the shooting started. This honestly would’ve made the most sense. Why would he let them destroy the weapon he intended to use? And just a few moments later, he does deflect the onslaught of spells thrown at him. Why didn’t he do it earlier? That’s just as stupid as James Bond not knocking out all the bad guys before the girl gets shot by Anton Chigurh in Skyfall. If he can do it then, he could’ve done it earlier too.
But as it stands, that film is firmly siding with the idea that murdering an abused, confused child is the right call, no questions asked. The only one to ever call that move into question is its villain, who despite his serious Magneto-vibe probably still cares mostly about the power than the kid and planned to do horrible things with it. Yet he’s the only one showing a modicum of humanity in that scene, which could’ve served as a way to make him a more nuanced character of complicated morality, if the people we look to as our moral compass through this story acknowledged this at all. But they don’t care. Neither Newt nor Tina acknowledge even in the slightest that there might be some truth to what Grindelwald is saying, even if his reasons are wrong. There’s no moral gray area at all, the film treats it as black-and-white as it gets, and I just don’t get it.
And I really don’t get it. There is a theme running through this that the government is not the greatest. The marriage laws that Newt condemns; the way the president dismisses Tina when she first tries to approach her about Newt and later has her imprisoned for not alerting her earlier; even when they’re told they have to obliviate Jacob there’s more dissent from them than when they watched them execute the boy they tried to save. If they wanted to make a point of how politicians are rigid, self-serving, ignorant tools, maybe voice at least a little concern when they do something truly despicable?
Anyway, I still enjoyed most of it immensely, even if it wasn’t too big on story and I’m still not quite sure why Credence didn’t tell Grindelwald that he was the Obscurial in the first place, but I’m sure I’ll watch it again. I’ll probably even enjoy it. It’s just such a shame and truly disappointing when the same film that made me care deeply about a clingy twig suddenly advocates the resolution of a complicated and delicate conflict by way of violence and murder while compassion gets a luke-warm “eh, whatevs.” It’s a choice so bad, it’s not even funny. That’s just fucked up.