Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Conjuring

“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”

The keenly anticipated prequel to J.K. Rowling’s hefty private school saga begins with shrieking newspaper headlines, indicating shock and distress on the part of the wizarding world’s media intelligentsia. If there were a more fitting outset to a blockbuster opening worldwide in November 2016, I can’t think what it could be. In a society whose politics and culture coil closer together and intrude more abruptly on one another each passing day, it’s impossible for the mainstream media not to reflect itself and its hysterias more frequently, however unconsciously this is done. The effect is heightened by the fact that the script for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, unlike each of its Harry Potter predecessors, was written by Mme. Rowling herself, a prominent personality both in popular culture and, increasingly, in political discourse. One highly doubts she’d ever pass up the opportunity to weave her own hot take on current events into a major Hollywood feature.

And one would be proven right when one sees the film. Rowling is a first-time movie writer, and the film language she employs is not so much richly symbolic or ironic, as it would be in a high allegory, as it is plainly metaphoric. One sees what she means and respects her right to say it, sensing that one is hearing blunt parables and moralistic fables during a bourgeois dinner party discussion rather than watching the creations of a potent imagination, committed to celluloid and projected in a dark theatre for expectant thrill-seekers.

The studies on racial discrimination and class struggles in the wizarding world, and how it parallels our own, became tedious somewhere in the middle of the Harry Potter film series, and reached a grand summit of banality with the fascist iconography and rhetoric in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part I. Not quite satisfied that the full potential of the subject was fulfilled, Rowling has elected to focus the central struggle of her new series on the same issue. In this film and the four that shall follow it, the main villain is a nasty wizard named Grindelwald (you’ll have heard of him briefly in the two Deathly Hallow films), once again bent on exalting the pureblood wizarding race over all non-magical people, and bringing the wizarding world out of hiding, if only so that it can entrench and lord over a muggle underclass. How is he different from Lord Voldemort, then, you may ask. For one thing, he’s a properly formed human being, with suitably Aryan platinum-blond hair, instead of a contoured, serpentine English Patient; for another, speculation and rumours abound that Grindelwald is the feverish former lover of Professor Albus Dumbledore. Merlin’s beard! One awaits with a new avidity Dumbledore’s familiar injunction: “Wands out!”