‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ Group Portrait: Is it a Meaningful Picture of the Story?

Warner Brothers released its first picture of ensemble cast for the ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ that will be in theaters a year from now. David Martin shared with me the official ‘Everything We Know about The Crimes of Grindelwald franchise posting over at PotterMore which featured the cast picture and a key to the various players.

As helpful as this survey post was in gathering together a lot of information (and links) about the story points released thus far, it certainly wasn’t everything.

Most importantly, there was no interpretation of the portrait itself in the PotterMore post, which includes only brief descriptions of the characters, though the cast picture has been posed as carefully as a painting by Pieter Bruegel or Giorgione. Let’s begin the conversation about this still-life drama by noting the position of the players relative to one another and the possible and more likely meanings.

First note that the picture is bracketed by the two great contraries of the story, Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald. They both lean against framing pillars that contain the shot, the story frame. The young Dumbledore is on our left, Grindelwald is on the right, and I think it obvious we are meant to conclude these are their respective political positions as well. The drama to unfold will be about how these opposing, complementary poles attract, manipulate and win or lose the eight players, four couples, that rest in tension between them.

[If the picture is to be read from the perspective of the players, of course, Dumbledore is on the right or conservative pole and Grindelwald on the left or revolutionary position, a seemingly more apt interpretation. Not to mention that ‘left’ in the West always has ‘sinister’ connotations, politics aside (sinister is the Latin word for left-handed), and in being ‘not right.’]

Three characters in the portrait are standing; Newt Scamander and the two brackets. These three also have wands, which, though seemingly not at the ready because pointed down and away from the viewer, are in hand and strangely lit. As standing vertically and empowered, even illumined, I think it fair to assume these three are the only players aware of what is going on and, hence, true actors (rather than re-actors) in the larger drama playing out.

Back to the left and right defining persons. They are a study in opposites beyond being at the outside edge of the picture. Dumbledore is standing with his arms crossed and coat closed, buttoned up to the neck, and his feet right over left. Every hair is in place and he seems relatively contemplative and reflective. Grindelwald in strong contrast looks like he has just come from a fight or struggle: his hair is disheveled, coat open, shirt unbuttoned, and legs crossed left over right. He, too, is leaning, on the post defining his edge but he seems more like a prize fighter in his corner taking a moment to catch his breath and perspective between rounds.

The difference in leg crossings points, I think, to ‘right’ as in ‘correct’ or ‘just’ and ‘left’ as in ‘sinister’ or ‘not right,’ i.e., ‘wrong,’ rather than a political interpretation. Dumbledore in this pair of contrasts is not an active agent but a wizard working for the good through others; his job is to understand the situation correctly and move his chess pieces accordingly. His relatively closed posture and insecure body language suggests, too, that he is protecting himself from further emotional engagement or injury.

Grindelwald is the contrary on all these points. He is acting in his own cause, he fears nothing with respect to the ability of others to hurt or even influence him, and, while aware of what is really going on as the principal agent of the drama (the show is ‘The Crimes of Grindelwald,’ right?), he is not so concerned about the larger picture as he is about making results happen.

Note, too, that the pair hold their wands in opposite hands, Albus with the left, Gellert with the right, and the wands are pointed in contrary directions, Albus’ outside the bracket, Gellert’s to the ground, the here and present. Dumbledore is the relatively rare bird in being left-handed, with a note of quirkiness there and the hint of ‘not being quite right,’ but more importantly, the wand pointed off-stage speaks to his greater concern with what cannot be seen, both the repressed as well as the greater principle implicit in things and behavior.

Alchemically, these two are the Quarreling couple, the reagents or catalysts that drive the hermetic drama. Dumbledore is the relatively feminine, passive intelligence of alchemical Mercury or Quicksilver; Grindelwald is the active, masculine, passionate embodiment of alchemical Sulphur. In the alembic of the five part Fantastic Beasts film franchise, their exchanges and relations through the players in the crucible between them will define all the action.

Before we get into the eight players or four couples, it’s necessary to note all the actors and actresses not pictured. I count twelve of them at the PotterMore ‘Everything’ post, from a child named ‘Sebastian’ to the Circus Arcana ringleader ‘Skender.’ Most of the cast is not represented. Even so, with ten principals in a production of twenty-two players not counting the Beasts in the suitcase, this is an oversized ensemble cast. I suspect the first Beasts film which introduced the Fantastic Four of Newt, Tina, Jacob, and Queenie and Doctor Doom Gellert Grindelwald may eventually be seen as just the necessary roll-out and focusing of the action lest we get lost in all the relationships of this oversized band of featured characters.

First aside: there is a lot of verbiage in the ‘Everything’ post about Grindelwald holding the Elder Wand versus Dumbledore’s beautiful but not quite a Death Stick. This is just silly. We learned in Deathly Hallows that taking a wand away from the master of the Elder Wand makes the aggressor the new master even if he doesn’t take possession of the wand (Draco on the Astronomy Tower) and even if the wand taken away is not the Elder Wand (Harry taking wands from Draco in the Malfoy Manor).

Ergo, when Newt takes down Gellert Grindelwald and disarms him (Tina ‘Accios’ it away from him), Newt became the master of the Elder Wand. We already know that Dumbledore will be able to defeat Gellert in combat with the unbeatable weapon because Grindelwald is no longer its master. End aside.

On to the eight players bracketed by Dumbledore and Grindelwald —

The first thing to note is that the eight are paired off and each pair is in a unique posture and relationship with their partner and the rest of the group.

Starting at the left and moving clockwise, we have Credence Barebone and the unnamed Maledictus.

Credence appearance has changed from the comic, pathetic Buster Keaton schoolboy to that of a Parisian proletariat or artisan. I think we can assume that with the Maledictus he is performing in the Circus Arcana we learned about through posters on display in the first Beasts film. Before interpreting this pair, please note two things not said in the PotterMore ‘Everything’ post.

  • ‘Maledictus’ means “slandered” or “cursed” in Latin (‘dictus,’ contra PotterMore, does not mean ‘to speak;’ it is the perfect passive participle of the word for speak, dicere, and means ‘man having been spoken of;’ a man poorly or wrongly spoken of is ‘slandered,’ one spoken of with evil intent is ‘cursed’).
  • That this character is the only one of the ten pictured who is not named, not to mention we are told she is turning against her will into a snake and her appropriately anguine appearance, gives substantial support to the fan theory that her name is Nagini.

This pair of the four is the most off-center. We see them as outliers and unlike the other three pairs. They are the two closest to Albus Dumbledore, which may suggest a dependence on him or at least as likely, a similarity to his pole in the group portrait, that of vulnerability as well as pursuing understanding in secret rather than action in the public square. Both the Maledictus and Obscurial have double-natures, one of which is a “beast within” over which they have limited control and which separate them from all humanity but even from their magical brethren.

Credence is pensive. He is seated, unlike all the others, in the position of a person on a toilet. He is also the only one literally “on his toes.” This combination speaks to privacy, a fear of exposure, and a readiness for flight.

Nagini of all the women is closest to her man, almost wrapped around him, a closeness or dependency he does not seem to return in like degree or be especially comfortable with. Their shared alienation from others and the similarity of the conditions each has, however, gives her almost the look of a mother holding a lost child she has recovered or of a woman who has at last found a man, though damaged, who understands her.

Moving clockwise, we come to Tina, Newt, and the case of Beasts. As noted above, Newt is the only one of the interior eight who is standing and who holds a wand, a wand that is illumined at its tip. I think it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of these qualities; he is vertical, which is to say “upright,” “aware,” and relatively “far sighted.”

Note that he and Tina are positioned above all the others and that they are the only pair who are not touching one another or even looking in the same direction (both face front, yes, but Tina almost has her back to Newt, looking over her shoulder at the camera or portrait artist). She has both hands on Newt’s case with one playing at the lock. He has one hand on wand at the ready, this world in focus unlike Dumbledore, and another in his pocket, elbow pointing outward in the body language position of aggression.

Tina’s position, behind Newt and protecting his most valuable possession, the Beast-case, his identity as Magizoologist really, shows that she is the most supportive of the women depicted. Simultaneously, she does not share Newt’s confidence or knowledge; she quite literally is not on an equal footing with him or seeing him eye-to-eye. As with their farewell in the first film, Newt must juggle the feelings he has for this brilliant, beautiful witch with his life-or-death secret mission from Dumbledore.

Of all the eight figures in the picture’s center, Newt is the only one with squared shoulders and standing up, a posture of honesty, determination, and integrity. He is aligned with his partner but his devotion is to his missions, the Beasts and Dumbledore, not the personal and private or public, professional aspects of his life.

Aside: though Rowling tried to muddy the water about Newt’s mission from Dumbledore in the introduction to the latest edition of Fantastic Beasts, and Warner Brothers does the same in its paragraphs about the new movie, we have a strong clue from canon that Newt is a Dumbledore trained secret agent.

In Half-Blood Prince, after blowing his mentor off the Astronomy Tower and being pursued and taunted by Harry Potter, Severus Snape hits him with a mysterious spell:

And [Snape] slashed at the air: Harry felt a white-hot, whiplike something hit him across the face and was slammed backward into the ground. Spots of light burst in front of his eyes and for a moment all the breath seemed to have gone from his body, then he heard a rush of wings above him and something enormous obscured the stars. Buckbeak had flown at Snape, who staggered backward as the razor-sharp claws slashed at him….

Compare that to what Newt uses to take-down Gellert Grindelwald at the end of the first Fantastic Beasts:

With a sense that he’s been holding this one back, he slashes [his wand] through the air: Out flies a crackling rope of supernatural light that wraps itself around Graves like a whip. Graves tries to hold it off as it tightens, but staggers, struggles, and falls to his knees, dropping his wand. Fantastic Beasts Original Screenplay, p. 256

Light, whip, slashing wand – pretty similar, right? If you don’t remember this from the Beasts film, it’s because the filmmakers chose not to use this part of the shooting script; read this post I wrote with Kelly Loomis about all the departures from the released film and the published screenplay.

My speculative conclusion is that Dumbledore taught this take-down spell to Newt before he left for the US to go hunting for Grindelwald (hence the “sense that he’s been holding this one back” and the several cues in his dialogue with Grindelgraves before Gellert gives him a death sentence that Newt recognizes who he is talking to). It worked so well that he taught it to his next secret agent, Severus Snape, who uses it to punish Albus’ pet student.

I’m pretty sure, despite the ‘Everything We Know’ piece’s denial, that Newt is already Dumbledore’s preferred proxy.

Back to the picture.

We arrive next, moving clockwise, to the happy couple in the set, Jacob Kowalski, No-Maj, and Queenie Goldstein. They are seated just to Grindelwald’s right, the closest to the active-not-contemplative side of the portrait. Which is not to say the two are not smart; both are remarkably insightful.

This pair, though, of the four is the most set on physical action, getting things done. They are the least restrained by ideas or ‘what other people think,’ most likely because Queenie knows what people really think — and that there’s nothing to be done about it. Hence their unconventional match, ‘magical miscegenation,’ migration to France, and Jacob’s punching Gnarlak in the nose…

They sit on different levels, Jacob above Queenie, but his grasp on her arm and her elbow resting on his knee seem to communicate the greatest familiarity and shared understanding of the four matches. Because she knows every one of his thoughts and their relationship crosses the greatest divide (requiring the most sacrifice for each), this no doubt leads to a greater openness and dependence than the others are likely to know.

Or maybe not? Can Jacob’s hand on Queenie’s elbow be read as his trying to hold on to her, to turn her in his direction, a pull she resists? The slight lean she is making away from him hints, just hints at the inequality of this relationship.

I’m going to talk about Queenie’s dress and shoes when I get to the colors of the group portrait but I want to note here that her posture to the artist and audience is exactly opposite to that of her sister Tina’s. Both are looking forward and have bodies turned towards Dumbledore (in allegiance?), but Queenie’s head and face are turned to her left and Tina’s to her right. Queenie has the heart for Dumbledore, perhaps, but Grindelwald’s message of change is tempting.

She faces Dumbledore with her body but looks to Grindelwald, slightly torn. That she and Gellert are the only characters with light colored hair may also be a pointer to their kinship. Is his revolutionary message of change more attractive to her, condemned as she has been by the status quo, than it would be Tina?

And finally we arrive at the two unknowns, the pairing of Theseus Scamander and Leta Lastrange. We saw a picture of Leta in the first film and learned in Newt’s conversation about it with Queenie and at end with Tina, that she was his first true love.

Unlike what the PotterMore ‘Everything’ post related, though, we do know quite a bit more about her relationship with Newt. We explored Newt and Leta’s life at Hogwarts in this post at HogwartsProfessor, the scandal of his near expulsion (Jarvey!) as revealed in various ancillary books released by Warner Brothers last year at Christmas time, books whose writers almost certainly had access to the Shooting Script, which is to say, the story before Yates and Heyman cut out fifteen scenes and a lot of back story.

In the same post, item 4, we have the information about Theseus Scamander that was in the shooting script Rowling wrote and approved but didn’t make it to the movie or the ‘Everything’ post. What we know from the film is that the big brother was a war hero; we were told yesterday that he is the Head of the Auror’s Office in the UK Ministry of Magic. The information not shared is what we learn in the letter he sent Newt which, in the shooting script at least, he is reading as his ship sails into New York harbor.

The letter shares that he has been picked to play a role in the Grindelwald hunt, about which he says he is delighted; everyone in his office wanted that job, he reports, and it’s been “a lot of hard work to reach the status” to have been chosen. Theseus, in other words, is a ‘climber.’ That he has made it in the years following Newt’s adventure to the head of the Aurors Office means that he is a man capable of doing what needs to be done to realize personal ambitions.

We are also told in the key accompanying the cast picture released today that Leta and Theseus are engaged to be married. This was both to be expected and something of a surprise. It was a surprise, of course, because we were led to believe that Newt still held a candle for Leta, whatever his feelings for Tina. Quite the shock to him that his war hero and big shot Ministry leader brother has supplanted him with the ‘home-town honey.’

But, again not mentioned in the PotterMore ‘Everything’ post, we knew that Leta wound up with Theseus. In a HogwartsProfessor post about the Theseus myth and Newt Scamander, I explained how mythic Theseus married an Amazon named Hippolyta, ‘Leta’ being the last two syllables and diminutive of that name. 

Newt plays the Theseus part in the first film in an inverted fashion as Rowling re-writes the myth to serve her “Beast Within” theme. See page 311 of Career of Evil for her “beast inside” notes as well as David Heyman’s comments at SnitchSeeker:

The films are called Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. So are the beasts themselves going to take a step back in the coming four films and Grindelwald’s going to take center stage?

David Yates: The beasts are going to feature slightly less in the second movie, and Grindelwald takes more of a foreground. But we love the beasts so much. There’s an amazing beast in the second movie – a Chinese beast, actually – which features. We’re exploring how we can get a couple more beasts into the second film because we enjoy them. [John aside: Note that the Chinese beast is not mentioned in the PotterMore ‘Everything We Know’ posting.]

David Heyman: But, you know, I think beasts, in a way … there are creatures that are in the case, but essentially the beasts are within each of us. Isn’t that what happens with Credence. When his essence is repressed, a form of beast is unleashed. So I think the beasts will continue to play a part. Also it’s so much a part of what Jo writes about, which is consequences of oppression.

Back to the Theseus and Leta of the ensemble cast portrait.

The Scamander brothers are the central figures of the picture and are a study in contrasts like Dumbledore and Grindelwald at the defining edges. Theseus sits; Newt stands. Newt stands apart from his sitting partner; Theseus sits alongside Leta whose hands have his elbow and rest on his hand. Theseus’ tie is an over-hand number and knot appropriate to his three-piece business suit. He is dressed for success among the governing elite. Newt wears the non-conformist straight bow-tie (no flared butterfly wings to draw attention or to say ‘flair!’) in an eclectic overcoat and brass vest. His hair, unlike his brother’s, is a mess and the elements of his clothes from shoes to tie do not match.

Appearances matter to the older brother more than the younger, obviously. Newt is above his brother, standing straight, and with wand at the ready — but the older brother, though sitting and seemingly powerless, seems taller, stronger, coiled for action, dangerous. Leta, alone of all the characters, looks at her partner rather than at the artist or audience; Theseus looks like he is not even aware she is there. Newt is apart from Tina as noted; Theseus seems self-consumed and driven, about to spring.

Leta is similarly striking, in both senses of that word. She faces to her left, body and face, not only in the direction of Theseus but of Grindelwald. She has her hand over his on his knee and at his elbow in positions suggesting less affection than control or literal manipulation. Unlike Queenie, Tina, and Nagini, she is wearing a dress that is styled to her, not off the rack or self-made, and of satin; the cleavage she shows, again unique in the picture, speaks to her self-confidence and immodesty, a woman comfortable in her sexuality and attractiveness.

Together, Leta and Theseus radiate wealth and power. This couple is pictured at the bottom of the grouping because they are the most grounded, practical, and well-positioned or situated. Front and center seating! Leta’s posture, dress, and gaze suggest she is working to corrupt the ambitious Scamander to take up Grindelwald’s cause; Theseus’ powerful, coiled position hints that he is susceptible to this manipulation. He does not have the humility or principles of his younger brother. 

Leta’s purple dress, the most colorful clothing of the ten, brings us to the colors of the portrait.

What is most striking is how much blue there is, right? Albus, Nagini, Tina, Jacob, and Gellert, half the ensemble, are all in various shades of blue and the stone steps and backdrop (the stands of the Circus Arcana?) are bluish gray, almost steeley. With the exception of Leta’s purple dress, all the colors the actors wear that are not blue are muted, earthy colors, shades of brown. Even Newt’s brass vest is less a sort of golden hue than a bright brown (that it suggests gold at all is not to be ignored; see the alchemy discussion below, in which Newt is the metal being transfigured). Can you say ‘Blue Period‘? The blues?

Which is depressing. Jacob and Queenie seem happy but everyone looks like they’re expecting bad news, aware of a disaster about to break, or just uncomfortable sitting with the others around them. Though everyone in the picture besides Nagini knows other people, is even related to others biologically in the case of the Goldstein and Scamander siblings, this is not a family portrait or a class reunion. I’m struck more by a feeling akin to a weigh-in before a boxing match if everyone knows there is a tornado hit imminent or a bomb scare.

Nagini’s anguine blue-green outfit and Leta’s royal, evening gown purple reinforce the ideas of their characters. What are we to make of Queenie’s dress? It’s plaid colors, though muted, are the only patterns one can see without squinting (at Nagini’s hose). I think with her hair color — she’s the only blonde — the dress is meant to suggest either this is a character more complicated or more conflicted than the others. 

Or perhaps the crossed lines are meant to highlight what a central or pivotal role she is to play? Her ability to read minds makes the superficially ditzy blonde the most powerful player in the ensemble potentially, bracketing wizard giants excluded. Only Credence and his unknown heretofore repressed capabilities seem equal to Queenie’s powers of discernment. This secretive lot are an open book to her, after all. I think the busy-ness of her outfit is a marker of the multiple lines running through her inner world, what for most would be a psychological nightmare.

I’d say it’s no accident that, within the Albus/Gellert brackets, the interior octet are bracketed by the pair of magical persons easiest to overlook or dismiss as bit players but who are the game-changers on the board, the queens that seem to be pawns (hence the younger Goldstein’s name).

Ah, ‘Goldstein.’ ‘Gold-stone’ in German, right? As in the Philosopher’s Stone able to transmute all matter even lead to gold? If Dumbledore and Grindelwald are the Quarreling Couple of the second Fantastic Beasts film, what alchemical parts do the four couples play, if any?

To get this, you need to understand the four humors and alchemy, how Rowling used it in the Hogwarts Saga (remember that she said in 1998 that alchemy sets the “inner logic” of the books), and what signals she has sent up recently that the four humors are on her mind. Besides Nicolas Flamel being cast for a role in the new film, that is.

All of which, any of which really, would overwhelm this already long post.

The short versions? Alchemy is the resolution of contraries hot and cold as well as dry and moist and their four combinations in the elements of earth, air, fire, and water to derive their essence, the fifth element or ‘Quintessence.’ The four elements have their reflection in the four temperaments of human personality: phlegmatic, choleric, sanguine, and melancholic.

This table from the Wikipedia page on humorism is helpful:

Humour Season Ages Element Organ Qualities Temperament
Blood spring infancy air liver moist and warm sanguine
Yellow bile summer youth fire spleen warm and dry choleric
Black bile autumn adulthood earth gallbladder dry and cold melancholic
Phlegm winter old age water brain/lungs cold and moist phlegmatic

 

[The three books on the subject I have on my shelf are here, here, and here. There are a lot more out there.]

Rowling revealed in the Half-Blood Prince interviews with Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz that the Four Houses of Hogwarts derive from this traditional physics and she drops notes from it throughout Harry’s adventures. Remember Fleur being called ‘Phlegm’ by choleric Ginny? And Harry’s perusing Quintessence: The Quest for Charms class?

And Rowling has signaled us that she has the humors and a particular kind of drama that features characters that are story ciphers for the temperaments (think Fantastic Four) by putting the cover of Ben Jonson’s play, Every Man in His Humour, on the homepage of her Robert Galbraith website. I wrote about what that might mean here when I thought that the humors might be an effective interpretative lens through which to understand Cormoran Strike. I think today she was thinking of the four couples featured in The Crimes of Grindelwald.

Did I mention that none of this is mentioned in the PotterMore ‘Everything We Know’ post?

Here are a list of the four temperaments traits when balanced and imbalanced taken from Randy Rolfe’s The Four Temperaments, pages 73-74:

Temperament/House Balanced Imbalanced
Sanguine/Ravenclaw

Air (moist and warm); blood

Wise, empathetic, encouraging, trusting, communicative, humorous, compassionate Argumentative, bombastic, self-blaming, weepy, obstinate
Choleric/Gryffindor

Fire (warm and dry); yellow bile

Magnanimous, inspiring, enrolling, charismatic, visionary, intuitive, decisive Domineering, aggressive, condescending, insistent, overbearing
Melancholic/Huffelpuff

Earth (dry and cold); black bile

Creative, enthusiastic, playful, insightful, analytical, galvanizing, imaginative Mercurial, withdrawn, accusatory, defensive, anxious
Phlegmatic/Slytherin

Water (moist and cold); phlegm

Masterful, steadfast, supportive, faithful, persistent, loyal, skillful Impulsive, rebellious, lethargic, crying, complaining

 

My first attempt at charting the four couples using these charts (and a little experience with humoural comedy via The Taming of the Shrew and the Narniad’s Pevensie children, if alas, no Jonson yet) led me to this breakdown of the four couples per temperament:

  •  Jacob and Queenie: Sanguine

The sanguine are the enthusiastic, funny, and sociable people in your life. This was an easy match.

  • Leta and Theseus: Choleric

We still use the word ‘choleric’ as a synonym for ‘angry’ and ‘overbearing.’ Though we haven’t met the engaged couple, the powerful radiance of their picture here and their status seems to make the entitled temperament a fit.

  • Newt and Tina: Melancholic

Most of us think the ‘melancholic’ are just plain sad. That’s an extrovert’s putdown of the thoughtful introvert who doesn’t wave pompoms even when playful and enthusiastic. This is the quiet, smart set and the humble, deep crowd which corresponds with Tina and Newt.

  • Credence and Nagini: Phlegmatic

Can you say ‘whiny’? I guess the phlegmatic get a bad break but the cold and wet gang aren’t the naturally cheerful lot. I ran my list by an Early Modern Literature Jonson lover and she said, “I’ve seldom seen someone more phlemy than Credence…”

And “If [Rowling] is following that road, that all looks on the nose to me!” Which I understand is not an endorsement but a conditional sentence depending on Rowling’s deciding to write humoural comedy. Whether she is or isn’t though, this sorting by temperament suggests what we might expect of this crowd in conflict.

Check out the wheel of the elements (and chapter 6 in Burckhardt’s Alchemy, ‘The Rotation of the Elements’):

The sanguine and melancholic, the Kowalskis and Newt Scamanders respectively, are like air and earth, natural allies; the hot and moist sanguine pair complement the cold and dry melancholic without changing either.

The choleric and phlegmatic, in contrast, are a much harder match (if it worked with Bill and Fleur Weasley in the alchemical wedding of Harry Potter). Fire and water are a rough mix; don’t expect the Misfit Toys at the Circus Arana to pair up with Mr. and Mrs. Theseus Scamander, if that couple ever does get married.

The Scamander brothers and their partners? Well, the choleric and melancholic have dryness in common, but one is warm and the other cold, almost classic introvert/extrovert archetypes. I don’t see much love between the brothers or Tina and Leta, even without the inevitable baggage of prior history; the power and personality profiles are not parallel. Fire is as wary of earth as it is of water, only air, the phlegmatic pair of Jacob and Queenie, match up with them.

Credence and Nagini can be friends with both earth and air so their eventual alliance with the Fantastic Four of the first film seems a match. Only if Grindelwald offers them protection and power when all others turn them away as freaks can I imagine Credence opting for the Dark Side.

Too bad the couples are not arranged as wheel of the elements and temperaments! As it stands, though, you do see the natural alignment of the Fantastic Four, the closest set of two couples, the central place claimed by the choleric, front and center, and the outlier phlegmatic pair out in left field (our left, their right…).

Your takeaways from this first look at the ensemble cast portrait for The Crimes of Grindelwald:

(1) What I really hope you get from this post is that the picture released yesterday is not a meaningless promotional snapshot of the actors and actresses but a meaningful portrait of the story to be told. It’s a three-dimensional drama painted as still-life. You can carry it away in one sentence: “Dumbledore and Grindelwald go to war with one another via proxies.” The position of the ten players relative to their partners, the other couples and the framing brackets, the cut and color of their outfits, and their posture and attitude tell the tale in some detail.

(2) I hope, too, you can see it as a hermetic portrait of the Quarreling Couple of Alchemy, Albus as Mercury and Gellert as Sulphur, overlooking a cauldron of the four elements in conflict, with each of the four couples representing one traditional temperament.

And …

(3) If nothing else, I hope you get that PotterMore’s survey piece, ‘Everything We Know about The Crimes of Grindelwald,’ while a useful review of information released through the Warner Brothers marketing office, does not begin to cover what we know about the characters and the next film. Just from what I was obliged to mention in this interpretation of the portrait, the following elements of known-story-points not in that post came up:

  • The Chinese beast to be featured,
  • Newt as Dumbledore’s agent in Beasts 1,
  • Newt and Leta’s kerfuffle at Hogwarts (the Jarvey incident),
  • Why Newt wasn’t expelled or his wand taken away,
  • Theseus’ ambition and desire for greater status,
  • Why Theseus and Leta are a match (mythic Theseus and the Amazon), and
  • The Gold-stein/Philosopher’s Stone pointer to the alchemical structure of the drama.

And that’s stopping the list at seven, just because. Which means not mentioning Newt and the Elder Wand and not even getting into the Four Humours we know about from Hogwarts adventures and Rowling’s interviews and website pictures (did you see Rowling’s contributions to A Journey Through a History of Magic? It’s virtually all about alchemy).

Thank you for joining me for this long reflection on the still-life portrait of the movie in progress. And thanks in advance for leaving your thoughts, your comments and corrections, in the spaces below!

[I discuss below the 24 second trailer in which the still-life portrait comes to in-motion life for seven seconds.]

 

Comments

  1. You actually outdid yourself. I have some objections on the interpretation of the poles that Grindelwald and Dumbledore are likely to represent. Nevertheless you took into account the way the Left was viewed in the 20’s so they’re not really significant. I would also be interested in seeing your analysis on the moving teaser. There are slight details in the way that Grindelwald and Dumbledore interact even from afar. Moreover, when Leta turns to Theseus and he looks directly at her face she nods and he gives her the slightest nod, which may be an indication that he is much more affected by her than we might initially think. I would love to see what you make of it.
    Overall, this is the best analysis I’ve read. It was fascinating.

  2. Thank you, Des, if I may, for the kind comments and for pointing out that the still-life is not exactly still in the teaser trailer!

    The teaser I found at YouTube was 24 seconds long with the action between :07 and :13.

    At :07 Dumbledore looks across the scene at Grindelwald. It’s not a friendly look, that’s for sure! But is the intensity angry betrayal or the look of an analyst or detective trying to figure someone out? Gellert seems oblivious to the attention; he holds his stare to the audience and his pose for all six seconds of motion in the clip.

    As you noted, Theseus and Leta look into one another’s eyes throughout the clip. I didn’t see the nod, though. At :13 he lifts his head while holding her gaze, a look I would qualify as an ‘appraising’ look, something like he is trying to estimate her value at an auction or as a specimen. Does he suspect she is manipulating him?

    Back to the :07 mark. Tina is looking at Newt almost longingly here. At :09 Newt has turned to look at her as if he noticed that she was looking at him. She turns to the front, perhaps to hide the fact she had been looking at him. From :11 to the smoke obscures everyone and we get a Deathly Hallows symbol, the two almost look at each other without actually making eye contact.

    Which suggests, I’m afraid, that it won’t be smooth sailing for them in Beasts2.

    Credence like Gellert maintains his eyes front throughout. Nagini, though, looks downward, inwardly I’d say, the look of the heavy-hearted.

    At :09 Queenie has turned to look at Gellert Grindelwald quite openly, not adoringly but as if she is intrigued by what he is thinking, which she alone of all the characters can know. Is this admiration — or Queenie’s mission from DDore in Beasts2? Albus, a skilled Legilimens, would be the first to appreciate Queenie’s gift as a tool in espionage.

    At the :11 second point Jacob has joined Queenie in staring at Gellert Grindelwald with his characteristic open faced grin.

    I don’t see much here that contradicts my interpretation of the still life and quite a bit that supports it. I’m most intrigued by the Queenie-Gellert bit and by the look shared by Leta-Theseus.

    Not to mention the big finish in the Deathly Hallows triangular eye and the way its components have been embedded in the movie title. The Resurrection Stone is still at the House of Gaunt and Harry Potter’s namesake grandfather has the Invisibility Cloak, neither of which Hallows (unless DDore was lying to Harry at King’s Cross, egad) was known to Albus at the time. So, it’s all about the Elder Wand, of which Newt is the master.

    I’m pretty sure, believe it or not, that Jacob will wind up as the master of the wand (long story discussed at the JK post here), but expect some wand lore pieces in Beasts2, no? Along with that Chinese Beast!

  3. What an interesting deconstruction of the photo! Whilst I enjoyed FB, it doesn’t hold the same fascination for me that the HP books had, probably due to its reliance of special effects and seemingly overpowered wizards everywhere. But I am hopeful a stronger narrative thread will emerge as the films progress.

    On your aside about the Elder Wand, I wonder if it’s right that because Newt disarms Grindelwald, he is therefore the master of the Elder Wand – I say this because I doubt that Grindelwald was the master of the Elder Wand. Grindelwald stole the wand from Gregorovitch (the chapter is even entitled The Thief) – he didn’t disarm Gregorovitch in any type of fight (Harry disarmed Draco of his wand in a fight, albeit a non-magical one; he didn’t just pick it up and run off whilst Draco’s back was turned). It’s always been my suspicion that this is why Dumbledore could beat ‘the unbeatable wand’. Dumbledore says he was “a shade more skilful” and I suspect that this is a huge callback to our first introduction to wands in Philosopher’s Stone by Ollivander that “the wand choses the wizard” – the Elder Wand chose Dumbledore, the ‘shade more powerful’ of the two. Of course, I could well be wrong (or retconned), but I’ve always liked this particular head-canon.

    I look forward to more of your interesting analyses.

  4. Thank you, Debbie! Great to hear from you!

    I don’t want to turn this thread into an Elder Wand discussion forum rather than conversation about the Beasts2 ensemble cast foto, but I feel obliged to point out that there is good reason to think Grindelwald was Master of the Elder Wand after stealing it from Gregorovich.

    First, as someone who has been robbed in absentia or just having witnessed the theft as the wand maker did, he certainly experienced it as a violation, assault, and conquest. Though what we see of Mastery-switcheroo is mostly about physical disarmament, we’re not told that simply gaining possession from the previous Master without his or her consent would not suffice. Grindelwald seems satisfied that he has taken both the Wand and its Mastery from Gregorovich.

    Voldemort murders Gregorovich. This did not make him the Master when he finally takes it from Dumbledore post mortem. I think we can conclude this was because Mastery had long ago passed from the wand maker.

    I’m not sure what we’re to make of Dumbledore’s losing the wand to Voldemort in his crypt. The Mastery had passed to Draco on the Tower and Voldy mistakenly assumed it had gone to Severus when the wand didn’t work the way he thought it should. He thought, however, that his lifting the wand from the hands of a dead man, something not requiring a confrontation or act of violence, just violation and theft, was sufficient to gain Mastery.

    So… though we’re not told as much by someone in the know like Ollivander of Dumbledore or even Lovegood, the story makes clear that the principals at least, Voldemort and Grindelwald think taking the wand from its owner, even if the theft requires no violence, is sufficient to gain Mastery of it.

    I hope that helps — and, as you say, it is a side point in a long post. It promises to be a wild year of slow-release revelations. I doubt many will be as important as this first diorama portrait! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, Debbie!

  5. Kelly Loomis says:

    Debbie and John, It will be interesting to see how Rowling sees it as she was the one who devised all these rules. Guess we just have to keep watching to know!

  6. Wayne Stauffer says:

    So, John, you’re suggesting that this Maledictus in this film becomes full-time snake and then animal familiar/horcrux for Voldemort about 70 years later. Did I get that right?

  7. Wayne Stauffer says:

    This is a great study in nonverbal communication

  8. I‘ve thought of something, and it’s about the character of Theseus Scamander.

    It has to do with the potential direction, or directions Ms. Rowling could go with this character. There is at least the possibility that she could give Newt’s older brother either a tragic, or a comic trajectory for the series.

    Let’s take the tragic arc first. Let’s say Theseus is a man of ambition. Whether this stems from an inflated or extremely self-loathing ego that never believes her can hold on to anything of worth or value is something fans can make up their own minds about at this point, because guesswork is all any of us have to go on. The point is, if Rowling charts a course where Theseus’ ambition gets the better of him, then we may be looking at a riff on the classic tragic character downfall; one which involves the old “Brother vs. Brother” trope. In this scenario, Newt could find himself forced to decide whether his older brother should even be allowed to live, possibly in connection with the Elder Wand.

    What has to be noted is this. If Rowling does indeed give T. Scamander a tragic villain’s arc, then she’ll be following classical Greek tradition. Most people tend to have a dim, basic knowledge of the myth of Theseus. For instance, they might know that he fought and killed a guy with a bull’s face and horns for a head. A pretty weird, yet kind of awesome concept; and there’s an end of it as far as pop-culture seems concerned.

    The problem is, this isn’t the whole story. I know this because of Roger Lancelyn Green, and his dependence on Plutarch. Technically, the only reason I’m able to make the above guesses about Newt’s brother is because Green fills in the rest of the story of his Ancient Greek original in both “Mystery at Mycenae”, and his anthology collections “Tales of the Greek Heroes”, and “The Tale of Troy”. In all three books, the rest of Theseus’ mythical career is sketched in. Let’s just say he comes to no good end.

    Green himself acknowledged in the Author Notes for “Mycenae” that all the background info for his portrayal of the Hero of Knossos is taken from a mythological narrative by the Greek writer Plutarch. The title of this work is simple: “The Life of Theseus”. Actually, a better title might read more like “The Life and Lies of Theseus”, as Plutarch describes a classic tragic character.

    All I can do here is to offer the possibility that Ms. Rowling might also utilize Plutarch in order to tell the story of Newt’s brother. If she sticks close to Plutarch, then Newt’s Big Bro might come to an end that is similar to Wile E. Coyote. The big difference is the Coyote was always able to pick himself up again. I wouldn’t expect the same from the Theseus of FB 2.

    However, she could also use Plutarch as a springboard, only to diverge from the Fate of the Greek original. In this scenario, she subverts the Greek text by, possibly, giving Theseus an arc more similar to that of Percy Weasley, where Big Brother is pulled in the direction of pride and ambition (and maybe Leta will know just the right personal insecurity buttons to push, turning him into kind of her own, usable junkie, of sorts) only for him to successfully fight back against it all, and join his kid bro and his new American friends in the fight against Grindelwald.

    She could always do something completely different, of course. All I’m offering here is just one theory. I could be wrong.

    Incidentally, a good overview of the original Greek Theseus can be found here:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theseus

    The text for Plutarch’s narrative cycle is here:

    http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/e/roman/texts/plutarch/lives/theseus*.html

    For whatever it’s worth.

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