Picture Courtesy of Bustle
Recently, in the aftermath of my wisdom teeth extraction, I finally had the opportunity to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I know, I’m super late to the game, but I have to say that I adored this movie, and I especially adored Newt Scamander. Before watching the movie, I had been a part of a couple conversations about Newt’s character, specifically addressing how his character provides an alternative narrative of masculinity than the usual male protagonists. He is a man whose dominant character traits are feminine- he stands out because he is nurturing and empathetic. While the characters in the movie are not so preoccupied with his personality, many reviewers of the movie have been, calling him boring and unappealing. This doesn’t surprise me at all, since we have a continuous narrative of a different kind of man through our movies- the chosen one who uses their will, strength, intelligence, etc. to conquer and destroy his opposition to acquire his prize, oftentimes a woman, wealth, glory or a of the above.
In contrast, Newt is about as average as you can get. He is an unknown magizoologist who is not around to save anyone or do anything great. He is just following his passion and moral code; all he wants to do is preserve and learn about magic animals, and then write a book about it so that others will notice and care about magic animals too. He is not chosen, has no special powers or status that make him stand out. In fact, at first in the movie, he stands out because he’s kind of a mess. While I love this, I want to hone in on Newt’s empathy, a trait that is best highlighted in both Newt’s interaction with his animals and with Credence.
Most of the movie, Newt is chasing his magical animals around New York after they escape from his flimsy suitcase. The escaping animals are not harmless either. They actually prohibited in America, presumably for causing too much trouble for the wizards, as his magical creatures do- one is wandering around collecting shiny things (which end up being mostly valuables) and another particularly large one ends up wreaking havoc in a zoo. In fact, this is how Newt meets his partners in the movie- Tina tries to turn him in for endangering the Wizarding world, to no avail, and Jacob accidently releases some of the animals and is in turn attacked by one. Newt’s affection for the magical animals creates all sorts of problems throughout the movie, and the trouble he is in for those problems is where he enters into the larger scale of events.
Near the end of the movie, Credence goes on an angry rampage after Graves rejects him and Newt sees the obscurus and chases after it. Soon, Credence is hiding in the underground railroads with Graves, Aurors, Tina and Newt chasing him. Graves tries to do damage control in hopes of using Credence’s destructive power for his own ends, but Newt comes from a different perspective. He encourages Tina to talk to Credence, and together they assure him that they don’t want to hurt him, and that they understand how much pain he’s in- they don’t want anything from him, they only want to help him. It is in the middle of this scene that Newt finds Credence alone and crying by the railroad, and before he approaches Credence, he asks for Credence’s consent to do so.
I know it is anticlimactic, but this is my absolute favorite scene. The gentleness, respect, and empathy Newt displays in this scene is a gorgeous display of his lovely mess. Credence is a stranger, and an incredibly dangerous one at that. Newt would have every right to be afraid of Credence, or even want to destroy him, as the other wizards do. Instead he chooses to engage with him with Tina’s help. With Tina at his side, he tries everything he can to save Credence, even while everyone else is out to destroy him. And beyond that, even in the aftermath of all the death and destruction, he chooses to still be innovative and helpful to the wizards who he disagrees with so much. His empathy extends not only to those who are marginalized, but also to those who were hurt because of the destruction going on around them. He changes his original plan to set his thunderbird free in Arizona, decides to do so in New York with his new forgetting tincture so that the wizarding world stays a secret, despite the dramatic events from the movie. Again, his adoration and study of magical creatures becomes the creative solution.
It is precisely Newt’s mess that is so vital to his importance. I cannot corroborate this, but I am beginning to wonder if Newt’s empathy is especially present with the creatures that most powerful people exclude to maintain their own safety and security – the magical creatures, the no—majs, and eventually Credence and his obscurus. He easily could’ve sided with those making the laws and decisions to keep Wizards hidden and safe, but he instead embraces his empathy and continually dances with trouble because he believes he is doing the right thing. And that is my favorite thing about Newt- it does not factor in that he is not important, socially awkward, or not powerful enough to be intervening in the onslaught of tragedy- compassion drives him to do so, and his care extends to both sides- seeing that both the governing wizards and Credence are both the damaged and doers of damage, and he puts himself at risk to help all of them.
And he is a mess, he is continually a mess, but he is a mess created by empathy and compassion and that is what makes him lovely. That is what makes him important; and that is what makes us important. We all have our messes and I know feel an almost constant pressure to hide them. But watching Newt helps me think that hiding our messes isn’t what they are there for.