Remember My Last: Reminding You Why J.K. Rowling is a Writing Genius
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is getting a lot of hate, for no reason at all. So many negative reviews I’ve read talk about how confusing and convoluted the plot is.
And granted, it took me two viewings (and a read-through of the script) to catch everything (and trust me, I have not caught everything). But it isn’t because the plot was convoluted; just overtly complex. Because that’s how Rowling rolls.
And also granted, we as Potter fans are used to knowing what happens before we see the movie; remember, when most of us saw the movies for the first time, we were already at least one book ahead, so we always knew what was happening next. Snape kills Dumbledore? What the f***? That would have hit us from the left just like Aurelius Dumbledore did if we didn’t already know- from the books- that Snape was acting on old Dumble’s orders. And have we forgotten, that did hit us hard from the left when we first read it.
The difference here is that we have no way of knowing. There’s no books out ahead of this story, nothing for us to delve into and learn all the secrets before they hit the big screen. This is Rowling in a different medium, but Rowling nonetheless. She got this, guys. You just got to give her time to tell the story. Grindelwald is up to something; whether he is lying, or whether there really is a long, lost Dumbledore out there, we just have to be patient, and wait. And trust in our queen to deliver, as she’s always done.
Seriously, people, I think we’ve forgotten how Rowling works. And frankly, that’s understandable; we’ve been living in her past stories for so long, that we’ve forgotten what it was like living them for the first time. We’ve forgotten what it was like waiting years for the next book, waiting for questions to be answered, only to discover that the answers were given three books ago in a throwaway line of dialogue.
For example, Jacob Kowalski. Now, I was with a lot of people that- when I saw it the first time- I was a little disappointed that we had a seemingly cop-out explanation of how Jacob wasn’t obliviated. I mean, I was expecting perhaps that Newt went and kidnapped a Muggle because he was a good assistant in the first film, and Jacob would spend half of this movie not remembering the first one at all. That’s what I thought. I spent the last two years trying to figure out how Jacob wasn’t obviated by the Swooping Evil’s venom, how he was spared, or how he’d get his memories back. I remember thinking that perhaps his extreme reaction to the Mertlap bite possibly made him immune to obiviation. But no, apparently Swooping Evil venom only erases bad memories, and Jacob didn’t have many of those. Sounds like a cop-out to me.
Except way back in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, when Newt first introduced Jacob- and the audience- to the Swooping Evil, he says- and I quote:
“I’ve been studying him. And I am pretty sure his venom could be quite useful if properly diluted. Just to remove bad memories, you know.”
Excerpt From Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay by J.K. Rowling. This material may be protected by copyright.
It’s right there. It’s been there this entire time. Under our noses.
And that’s not all; no sir! You see, I just rewatched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for the first time since seeing Grindelwald (twice; and reading the script), and having that second part greatly informs the first, and makes the first movie an even better viewing experience going forward.
Likewise, I don’t think we will truly appreciate the complexity and brilliance of what Rowling has written in Crimes of Grindelwald until we have the next movie. And the one after that. We have to consider that each of these five films is more like a chapter in one large book; it is different from the Potter books, in many ways. But it is not inferior. And certainly not bad; in fact, I think I’m looking forward to this story more than I was even for Harry’s.
We’ve been re-reading the seven Potter books for so long that we’ve forgotten what it was like to experience them anew. We’ve forgotten exactly how genius J.K. Rowling really is. How much of a mastermind she is. How she’s got this story- complete and exquisite- in her head, and she’s got full control over all the plot elements.
We’ve forgotten what it was like when we discovered that the Horcrux we’d spent half the book looking for- the one Dumbledore tried to retrieve right before his death- was mentioned along with a bunch of other junk in Sirius’ house in book 5. We’ve forgotten what it felt like when we discovered Horcuxes in general, and realized we’d seen one- and fought one- way back in book 2.
Rowling is a master at laying her mysteries, and scattering the clues where we can see them, if only we knew what we were looking for. Like with Grindelwald in the first movie; going back and watching the interrogation scene where Percival Graves (cough-Grindelwald-cough) questions Newt, even just knowing the end of the movie- that it’s actually Grindelwald in disguise- you can see it in the dialogue. The way he asks Newt about Dumbledore, how he perks up a little when Newt says “for the greater good” (which I honestly didn’t catch until today…), and the questions he has about the Obscurus in his trunk. You can start to follow Grindelwald’s thread even from there, through into the next movie, how he’s after the Obscurial above all else. You get from the new movie that he wants the Obscurus to defeat Dumbledore (I still think he’s lying to Credence about who he is in an effort to aim him at Albus), but going back into the previous flick, you can still follow that thread, even when we didn’t know Graves was a villain.
Rowling’s also the master of red herrings; initially I didn’t see the point in Leta Lestrange’s backstory, since it ultimately meant nothing to Credence or the plot. But it did. Even if it was a beautifully tragic storyline, it mattered to the plot, because Grindelwald was using it to bait Credence into needing Grindelwald for answers. Like Sirius being a baddie, or Snape being a goodie, Rowling’s a Jedi master, able to make us think one thing and then prove another.
Crimes of Grindelwald is not a perfect movie; neither is Fantastic Beasts. But neither are any of the eight Potter flicks. They’ve all got issues, one way or another, but not a single damn one of them is because of Rowling’s writing.
So hate on the movie if you want to, but don’t hate on the author. She’s doing brilliantly, and I have total faith in what she has in store for us over the course of the next three movies… and beyond.