Growing up, Harry Potter was my favorite book series. It was a series that I didn’t want to talk about with other people, lest the feeling of weight the series had for me vanish. I’ve never found another book series that has had the same effect on me, and there have only been a few other series in other media that have (Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, The World Ends With You). So the fact that I am writing about Harry Potter today shows how much I have changed given time away from my childhood love, and serves as a testimony to my willingness to critique the series and its byproducts where before I would overlook any flaws and see common praise as unsuited for describing something I esteemed so highly.
Last night, I went and saw the new movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Watching the movie, I felt a sense of unease I hadn’t felt while watching the previous movies in the Harry Potter franchise: “What is she doing?”, “Why is she using so many unfamiliar proper nouns?”, “Why does this feel like badly-paced fan fiction?”... (The “she” here is of course J. K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter franchise and the script writer for the Fantastic Beasts prequel series.) To be honest, the movie reeked of executive meddling and pandering for higher box-office sales, and while it had a couple of scenes with that old wander-inspiring magic, the overall rushed pace and execution of plot points left me confused and... not angry, per se, but... bothered. Things in the movie just seemed to happen, and plot points felt like they were supposed to have issued from previous plot points in scenes that had been deleted. Character motivations were strange and sometimes uncalled for given the circumstances and previous characterizations, and the final twist (which I won’t spoil here) felt unearned and, honestly, disrespectful to longtime fans of the Harry Potter franchise given its implications to the greater series as a whole.
All of that said, the film did get one thing right: Albus Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Jude Law pulled off an excellent performance as the younger version of the Merlin-archetype we HP fans know and love, showing all of the wisdom, charisma, and tact for manipulation we’d expect from the best Headmaster Hogwarts ever had (according to Hagrid, anyway). But what I really liked about Law’s performance and the way the character was written for this movie was the sense that underneath that charismatic exterior were deep insecurities. Regret is played out by Dumbledore in many of his scenes, with the character outright stating as much in one of the better scenes around the film’s midpoint. Given the time that takes place between the Fantastic Beasts prequel series and the main HP series, I can believe that the man in The Crimes of Grindelwald will grow into the man we met in The Philosopher’s Stone, when his regrets are no less prescient to him but better hidden given more time away from the source of those regrets. Dumbledore’s mask is not fully set in The Crimes of Grindelwald, and given the intimate nature of his relationship with the antagonist, I felt in this one aspect at least the film did an admirable job, so good in fact that last night I dreamed about it.
In my dream, the “camera” is close set to Dumbledore writing at his desk. Behind him we (the “audience” watching the film, I suppose) see bookshelves crammed with books pertinent to magical instruction and lore. There are a couple of the magical, silver instruments we HP fans know from Dumbledore’s office as described in the books and movies. We hear footsteps approaching. The camera pans out to reveal that Dumbledore is not in his grand office from the rest of the HP franchise, but is instead at the end of a hallway, his desk and bookshelves (of which it turns out there are only two) placed as neatly as possible at that hallway’s terminus. Dumbledore looks up at the footsteps and sees Newt Scamander. Scamander asks “What happened to your office, Professor?” to which Dumbledore replies “I’ll have one again soon enough, no need to worry.” He had that way of speaking that I referenced above, his voice and facial expression calm and smiling, but there was a sense of that underlying regret, and a feeling that he may think that he deserves to not have an office of his own. That was the whole dream; a deleted scene from the movie my mind made up as I slept.
For those of you that don’t know from my previous posts, I’m a teacher; a teacher of Latin, to be exact. In some ways, my job feels the closest you can get (besides teaching chemistry or physics) to being an instructor of magic. As nerdy as it sounds, the Harry Potter franchise played a major role in my decision to become a teacher, and to study Latin in the first place if I’m being perfectly honest. I wanted to be like Dumbledore: an instructor respected for his wisdom and compassion. This year my school is undergoing renovations, and I do not have a classroom nor an office of my own. You don’t have to be Sigmund Freud to know why I had the dream I had last night, in other words. I was grateful for that dream, as it makes me think that maybe I can keep being the best teacher I can be, like Dumbledore, even though the circumstances I find myself in this semester have been trying to say the least. Since the movie caused me to have this dream, I am grateful for it as well, despite its many, many flaws.