Well, I couldn’t wait until next week.
I know there are some people who read my blog who love J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world as much as I do, but there are also some readers who aren’t great fans of that world but are interested in the psychology/personal growth topics I often write about. This post is for all of you.
Last night as I was leaving the theater after seeing Fantastic Beasts and Where I Find Them, I ran into several friends and acquaintances, and as we briefly exchanged expressions of love for the movie, I noticed that I kept putting my hand over my heart, as if I needed to keep it inside my chest. That’s how the movie made me feel. I felt like my heart was overflowing.
Another way of saying the same thing: Sharp-eyed viewers (and people who have been on Pottermore recently) will notice that the protagonist, Newt Scamander (whom I loved just as much as I hoped I would), has a Hufflepuff scarf. I remarked to one friend that even though Newt is the only Hogwarts graduate in the movie, all the inner-circle characters seem like Hufflepuffs to me. Despite their different personalities, they are all kind, awkward, earnest, and almost painfully empathetic. And I think that’s why I loved the movie.
Emotional intelligence (EQ), of which empathy is a big part, is a topic that fascinates me, so I can’t help noticing when fictional characters show that they have it–or don’t. In Fantastic Beasts, I saw the main story as a piece of Newt Scamander’s EQ development journey. At the beginning of the movie, he doesn’t make eye contact with people (he does with animals, though), he behaves bizarrely in social situations, and–most importantly–he’s very, very guarded about his personal life. By the end, he hasn’t become a different person, but he’s learned to trust a few people who have earned it, he makes the (for him) difficult admission that a human being is actually his friend, and he seem to take the first tiny steps toward falling in love.
But yes, this is a fantasy, not an introspective drama. Yet I think the splashier plot, the one involving dark magic and wand duels, also hinges on emotional intelligence. At the end of the movie, empathy saves New York City. (How’s that for a superhero movie title?) Seriously. Unfortunately, it comes too late to save the lost soul whose personal conflict has been spilling over and wreaking havoc on the city. As in the Harry Potter series, we see that children who don’t receive love usually (unless they’re special, like Harry) have no love to give others.
There’s also a beautiful metaphor for empathy in this movie. One character that I didn’t except to love (I forgot that Rowling can write really great female characters, unlike so many authors) was Queenie, who is a Legilimens (for you non-fans, that means she can read minds). Mind-reading tends to be portrayed as a sinister skill, but in Queenie’s case, it’s a literalized form of empathy: I actually do know what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, but instead of using that against you, I’m going to help you if I can, and just accept you if there’s nothing else I can do. I think my favorite line in the whole movie was when Queenie said to Newt, talking about a girl that Newt used to be close to, “She’s a taker. You need a giver.” Right at that moment, Tina (Queenie’s sister and Newt’s–I think–love interest, and the one whose empathy, along with Newt’s, saves NYC) walked onto the scene, as if on cue. The next second, so did Jacob, Newt’s new friend–a guy who’s so giving that he wants to open up a bakery and spend the rest of his life feeding people (insert emoji with heart-shaped eyes). So it was just a whole room full of real and honorary Hufflepuffs–people whom you really, really want to be your friend.
Maybe I’ll write more about Fantastic Beasts next week. (I haven’t even said anything about the fantastic beasts yet!) But I just wanted to explain why I’m not just being sappy and fangirlish when I say that I had to rein my heart in after watching this movie.