By: Troi Watts
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them introduces Harry Potter fans to a very different kind of magical world. Where the British magical community depicted in the Harry Potter series was living confidently, almost in harmony with the non-magical world, the American magical community lives in fear. They fear that if the American non-magical world discovers them, there would be war. This fear has not only separated the magical community from the rest of society but has also led to the creation of a dystopia for Credence Barebone, a young boy who possesses magical abilities. Credence lives in the non-magical world, under the thumb of his abusive adopted mother, Mary Lou. Mary Lou, an anti-magic activist, has abused Credence to the point of suppressing his magical abilities, resulting in the creation of Credence’s Obscurus.
An Obscurus is formed when a child tries to “suppress their magic to avoid persecution” (1:04:16). Credence has suppressed his magic due to the hostile, anti-magic environment he lives in with Mary Lou. His Obscurus manifests as an “unstable, uncontrollable dark force that busts out and attacks. And then vanishes” (1:04:30). Credence is aware of his Obscurus but is unable to control or understand it, and as a result, Credence is frightened and lost. The only thing that seems to keep Credence from crumbling under the weight of this dystopia is his hope that the magical world will be a utopia. To Credence, the American magical world is a place of acceptance, where he can practice and learn to control his magical abilities in peace. Unfortunately, that utopian dream is broken when the magical community also rejects Credence because of his Obscurus. The actions of his Obscurus – the murder of innocent people, the destruction of New York City – risk exposing the magical world. This leaves Credence stuck between two dystopias, which begs the question, what happens when you have no hope of finding a utopia? Credence’s experience complicates this question further by asking, what happens when multiple utopias exist, but you have no hope of joining them because of their exclusivity?
Credence responds to his non-magical dystopia by being quiet and reserved. He lacks individuality, choosing instead to simply follow Mary Lou’s instructions. However, this allows Mr. Graves, a wizard, to take advantage of Credence by promising him a place in the magical world in exchange for help finding the Obscurus. What Credence does not know is that Mr. Graves is actually Grindelwald, a magical elitist and terrorist, who hopes to harness the Obscurus’s power as a weapon against the non-magical world. Also, Grindelwald does not realize that Credence is the Obscurus – as Obscurials typically do not live past the age of ten as their magical powers become overwhelming – instead believing that Credence’s younger sister is the Obscurus, as she has also suffered from Mary Lou’s anti-magic abuse. By promising Credence acceptance into the perceived magical utopia, Grindelwald is suggesting that this utopia is open to all, whether or not they possess magical abilities. Credence’s naivety to the fact that it is actually an exclusive utopia, needing its citizens to meet specific requirements, is part of the reason he has such a violent reaction when Grindelwald reveals that he is a Squib – someone who comes from a magical family but has no magical ability of their own. This reveals the fact that Grindelwald, then, will be unable to teach Credence magic, as he promised, implying that Credence will never be fully accepted in the magical world. Grindelwald’s proclamation also reveals that entry into the magical utopia is limited to 1) those with their own magical ability and 2) those that can control their magical ability in a way that keeps the magical world hidden from the rest of society. This revelation, paired with Grindelwald’s harsh words, “I’m done with you,” visibly crush Credence, sending him into a spiral that releases his Obscurus and seals his fate with the magical world (1:34:53). With all of the destruction and consequential attention on the magical world, the leaders of the magical world would never be willing to give Credence an opportunity to adhere to their conditions of citizenship.
In the final scenes of the film, Credence is an outcast. He does not belong to the non-magical world nor the magical world. He is adrift with no hope of finding a utopia. He responds to this by going on a violent rampage, lashing out at Grindelwald and anyone who tries to help him. When an individual like Credence Barebone is left without the hope of a utopia, it threatens all perceived utopias. Credence’s journey to be free from dystopia is still developing in the Fantastic Beasts series, but utopian scholars can look to him as an example of the consequences of exclusive utopias.
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Directed by David Yates, performances by Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterson, Colin Farrell, and Ezra Miller, Warner Brothers, 2016.