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Spoiler Warning: This article spoils the ending of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. For those looking to remain unspoiled, look elsewhere before it’s too late.
Despite the many intentionally weird (and wonderful) things created for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the strangest thing about the movie ultimately may be the way in which the climax, intended as a beautiful, miraculous and unexpected win pulled out of the depths of defeat, actually reveals that you might have been rooting for the bad guys all along.
There are other problems with the scene in which Frank takes to the skies to seed the clouds with a spell to make all the No Majs forget everything they’ve just seen, of course. Logically, it’s a deeply flawed solution, because if it’s the rain that makes the humans forget everything, then what happens to those who aren’t caught in the rain? The glimpses of a family eating in the kitchen or a couple in the bathroom suggest that they too are affected — somehow …? — but that can’t be the case, because Jacob, safe in the subway, keeps his memory for that moment.
Jacob’s plight, and the reactions of Newt, Tina and Queenie to the announcement that he, too, has to have his memory wiped clean of what happened, is the closest Fantastic Beasts comes to admitting that there’s something very wrong with the status quo of 1920s Magical America. It’s played as a sad moment in the movie, the tragic note after the victory — albeit one leavened by subsequent events — and yet, neither the movie nor its leading characters can quite bring themselves to condemn what actually is being done to him.
This shouldn’t be that surprising, of course; the morality of wiping memories is something that’s consistently ignored in science fiction — see Men in Black‘s turning the idea into comedy, for example — but it’s oddly sobering to see Fantastic Beasts go all the way to the edge of to addressing the subject when faced with the reality of wiping the memory of their friend and sidekick, and then acquiesce to the status quo without exploration.
The problem goes deeper than that, however. The stated reason that magical society is A-OK with playing with the minds of countless unsuspecting victims is because it needs to stay hidden from the rest of the world. This follows the larger mythology of the Harry Potter world, where the magical society of turn-of-the-century Britain remains a secret to the wider nation, but Fantastic Beasts ramps up the paranoia to new levels: relationships — including friendships — with “No-Majs” are outlawed, so fearful are the magicians of being discovered, and any interactions between the two races are closely monitored for fear of exposure.
Although it’s never explicitly addressed in Fantastic Beasts, the climax of the movie makes it clear that magical society is so isolationist that it has no qualms over essentially brainwashing an entire city to ensure that it remains separate and apart from the rest of the world — or, at least, when some do feel concern, they’ll still go along with it. A society that demands that its members hide who they are, or face punishment, and dictates who they’re allowed to interact with and befriend; one that rewards one of the four people responsible for saving the day by ensuring that he’ll never know what he’s done … this is what the movie wanted to maintain?
Admittedly, the antagonist, such as there is one, in the movie is worse: He wants to incite a race war that would likely eradicate humanity — a move that seems reminiscent of Magneto from the X-Men movies. But there’s no Professor Xavier in this movie preaching coexistence, tolerance and understanding. Instead, the choice is between racial hatred or racial fear, making Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them feel like a curiously timely, if uncomfortable, movie to debut in late 2016. But shouldn’t we demand better from our fictions?
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Big Thunder Mountain
Robert De Niro