Crimes of Grindelwald: Leta Ballroom and The Mystery of the Missing Baby

As mentioned yesterday in Crimes of Grindelwald: Deleted scenes 2,’ the DVD extras for Crimes of Grindelwald include the Ballroom scene we saw shots from in the film trailers. Leta is told by a murmuring wizard, seemingly in confidence and with admiration, “Congratulations, Leta, your brother lives. We all believe it.” You can watch the fifty second clip on YouTube now:

The list of all the deleted scenes reports that the clip in the DVD Extras begins with the man repeating to Leta the words of the Prophecy, “Return great avenger, with wings from the water.”

How would including this scene have changed our experience of the flashbacks to Hogwarts and Leta’s Defense Against the Dark Arts encounter with the Boggart? With the payoff at the Paris cemetery when she explains about her brother’s seeming demise and we learn at last what the descending-in-water-blanket means to her? What do they tell us about the film as written and the film we see?

In the film as released, the DADA classroom scene is offered as a flashback at the dead center of the movie (scene 69, for you Taoist numerologists). We see Newt’s Boggart transform into Ministry of Magic furniture because what he fears most is a day job indoors behind a desk. Significantly, especially in light of the Lana Whited theory about Grindelwald being a dragon-beast-within and Dumbledore needing a dragon trainer, Newt’s Riddikulus spell transforms the furniture “into a gamboling wooden dragon” (published screenplay, p 152).

Leta’s confrontation with the Boggart and her greatest fear appears immediately after Newt’s. She is something of a bully and bad girl as a student so the Gryffindor students murmur to each other, “I’ve been looking forward to this.” A peek inside the heart of darkness? A weapon to use against the seemingly fearless Slytherin intimidator of others?

In the film these classmates must be disappointed because all they get to see is the floating blanket that the dancer in the ballroom scene recreates as a pointer to Leta’s family history and the “great avenger” returning from the water as prophecied.

In the published screenplay, though, there is no mention of the blanket.

LETA steps forward. The Boggart transforms and at once, all laughter is extinguished. Green light is reflected in every horrified face.

We see a shadow, with a tiny human hand. LETA lets out a sob and runs from the room. (p 153)

The scene dissolves to another Leta memory with Newt, one that opens with her exclaiming to him, “I don’t want to talk about it!” They have a bowtruckle moment instead of discussing the “tiny human hand.”

This set-up at the center of the film for the pay-off at the Mausoleum finish, then, was originally quite different than the released film. The shooting script had the Ballroom scene that included the descending-in-water blanket that we would see again in Leta’s memory of the sinking ship. The DADA scene did not have the blanket but the haunting image of a “tiny human hand.”

If you have a copy of the published screenplay, go to Scene 109, “LIFEBOAT — 1901 — NIGHT,” on p 235. There’s no blanket-descending-in-water described there. We get a drowning baby instead.

We close in through the surface of the water , past the drowning woman, and see the dark shape of a drowning baby trailing bubbles of magical light as he sinks… and his figure becomes… [end scene, begin scene 110] INTERIOR LESTRANGE MAUSOLEUM — NIGHT … the drowning baby falling through the sea-green light, hanging in the air in the mausoleum. LETA has conjured it. It has haunted her all her life and now she shows it to them.

The orchid representing LETA on the Lestrange family tree twists around the branch labeled CORVUS LESTRANGE until the leaves wither and die.

Two quick notes before I ask for your thoughts.

(1) This is quite the change, no? Instead of the horrific image of a drowning child in Leta’s memories, film goers are given the art concept of a descending baby’s blanket, an image sufficiently abstract or symbolic that it allows, even encourages the possibility that the child didn’t really drown and die. Leta’s memory as we have it in the ‘Original Screenplay’ doesn’t allow for that wiggle room.

(2) Cutting the ballroom scene, all fifty seconds of it, was a bizarre decision. Without it, we have no idea how public, how well known Corvus’ death was, the connection with the Prophecy, and the weight Leta carries from the memory of why baby Corvus was not in her lifeboat. Instead of our having some clue about what the “tiny human hand” is that the Boggart becomes for Leta in the Hogwarts flashback scene and its connection with the pay-off big reveal in the Mausoleum interior, Leta’s seeming suicide in the Underground Ampitheater and mysteriously collective “I love you!” to the Scamander brothers just seems arbitrary and disconnected.

But I’m obviously not a movie person. Go ahead. You tell me how the not-floating-blanket is a big improvement on the baby hand at Hogwarts and the actual “drowning baby” Leta conjures in a graveyard-Pensieve moment. Dupe that I am, I think this is just butchered story telling consequent to fears that a dead or drowning baby would be too much for audiences to take. Let me know where I’m wrong here, though, please! Have I just blanked out the baby’s hand and body scenes because of my own aversion to those images? Why do you think the scenes were changed from the original screenplay description?


  1. John, Think the “artistic” showing of the drowning baby was done perhaps due to maybe going over the “tipping point” of PG13 into a R rating? There is a bunch of violence in the film , but it’s about overall impression, too, so thinking that just like the image of a drowning child haunted Leta her entire life, so the filmmakers might have been haunted by the possibility that such a scene might sink their bid (excuse the pun) for a PG13 rating.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    Or even if the rating wasn’t the issue, maybe they feared complaints from parents that their younger, Harry-loving children were traumatized by the image of a drowning child. Even with a PG13 rating, a movie from the Wizarding World franchise will attract a lot of younger viewers, if not in the theaters, then in the inevitable reruns on family-friendly cable TV.

    A similar cut was apparently done in the Revenge of the Sith movie where Anakin killed the youngling Jedi.

  3. I think both arguments above are legitimate explanations for the change from ‘baby hand’ or ‘baby whole’ to ‘descending-in-water-sheet-or-blanket.’ It was just too risky in terms of a restricted rating and of audience blow-back.

    What I’m not hearing is a dispute that the movie version was not what the so-called Original Screenplay, usually a straight transcript of the released film rather than the shooting script before cuts, called for in two critical spots. The Original Screenplay does not have the film opening (as Kelly Loomis noted in her comment after the Deleted scenes 2 post yesterday) with the descending blanket or Credence’s survival. Nor does it have the Ballroom Scene we saw today.

    But the Original Screenplay for all its omissions does have the Leta-Boggart scene and the Mausoleum Big Reveal, both featuring baby Corvus as he drowns.

    I think we have evidence in this important difference between script and film of a split between screenwriter and the David tools of Warner Brothers. She wrote a film that turned on Credence, Leta, and Corvus; they shot that film but cut it into something so disjointed that the original story and its Scamander-Lestrange story dynamic is all but lost.

    They’ve delayed the beginning of shooting until late this year. I hope that means they are working out a shooting script in advance that will survive gestation and infancy to make it from filming to theaters.

    Or that they’re looking for a new director and executive producer.

  4. Kelly Loomis says

    I just watched the opening scene on a bigger screen (an Instagram user posted all the scenes). In it, we see the blanket AND part of the baby. Then it breaks to the piece of Credence in the street which travels to the Salemer’s wrecked house where he is reborn and finds his papers. As John pointed out, the baby detail along with Credence being reborn was the perfect ring structure with the ending Phoenix scene. Also shown in the scene where Nagini asks (VERBALLY) for Credence to “make it happen, the CURSE”, he was feeding the little chick in an inner pocket of his jacket. This would have shown he really had the chick before he went with Grindelwald.

  5. Katherine and I had a conversation about this post tonight. She thinks the idea of a drowning baby is less subtle than the notion of the blanket falling away and that the suggestion of violence or tragedy is much more powerful than showing it directly.. She compared the shower scene in Psycho to a scene in a later Psycho sequel wherein a character (played by Vera Miles, perhaps?) is found with a knife sticking out of her mouth. As the Ancient Greeks knew, violence occurring off stage and imagined by the audience based on on-stage description is more artistic than the kind of violence Shakespeare would have depicted.

    Did Rowling decide, or was she persuaded, that leaving the question of whether the baby survived open would allow more flexibility in the story in future installments? This requires us to believe that she doesn’t have the whole story already planned out, which seems unlikely, given the careful plotting she is known for.

    We did not come up with a definitive answer to your question, but the question itself reminded me of the significance of water in the HP series and how often Harry emerges from water in a scene involving his own rescue or the rescue of someone else: in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the escape from Gringotts, and the recovery of both Regulus Black’s locket and the Sword of Gryffindor are all examples. Dumbledore is buried at the edge of water. The Durmstang students travel to Hogwarts through water. And all First-Years cross water on their first arrival at school.

    In Crimes of Grindelwald, there as at least two other scenes involving water. In the first, Grindelwald escapes his captivity while the carriage is over a river (and drenched in rain). In the second, Newt takes a thrilling ride on the back of the Kelpie. Have we noticed that he is under water for perhaps more than a person is comfortable holding his breath? And what to make of all those magic-looking bubbles as the blanket falls?

    Before you ask me what I am implying, let me be clear about the fact that I’m not sure. I only know that with Rowling, water often becomes a site for magic. I think an argument based merely on ratings does not give her enough credit.

  6. The „missing baby hands“ aspect certainly is interesting, but I am not sure if the blanket was a mere addition of the director (although the not-so-original screenplay would suggest that). The blanket just seems to fit so well into the imagery of the movie which depends so much on hiding things, often in plain sight; putting them “under cover”, either through the use of actual cloth/veils or magic:
    Off the top of my head, there’s the following:
    – the baby-in-the-blanket in various scenes throughout the movie
    – all the pieces of cloth in Irma’s appartment; also note how the tent of the Circus Arcana is literally a giant piece of cloth
    – the entrance to the magical part of Paris appears to be behind some kind of curtain or veil, although actually, one has to slip under the skirt of the female statue. (The idea that the French would have such a sexually evocative entrance to one of the magical parts of Paris makes me chuckle!)
    – in the (cut) dance scene, the things in the air are evocative of the blanket in the water, at least to me
    – Dumbledore covers the whole of London with fog, while Grindelwald covers Paris with those black curtains
    I’m sure there’s much more that I can’t think of right now. I’d need to see the movie again, but I get the impression that the images of covering (up) cumulate around Credence/Corvus, which is fitting, as it appears that the identity of Credence/Corvus and their backstory is the big secret that is un-veil-ed at the end of the movie. (The question is, however, if by revealing what’s under the blanket we can see the truth beneath it or if there’s just another set of covers/secrets underneath – similar to Russian Matryoshka dolls.)
    And isn’t the idea of things being put under cover and thus hiding them from sight related to the motif of shape-shifting? In regard to that, we’ve got at least the boggart, the French ministry cats (turning from monsters to cute kittens) and the possible phoenix chick turning into an adult by a flick of Grindelwald’s wand. Nagini’s curse, of course, is another instance of shape-shifting, as is Credence’s switching between human and Obsucurs forms.
    Grindelwald, Abernathy and Newt all use Polyjuice Potion, Abernathy at least twice, assuming the shape of Grindelwald and of an old lady (?) in the French ministry. (Actually, even more people may have made use of Polyjuice Potion without us realizing! Who’s looking forward to finding out that Queenie wasn’t actually in the movie, but that Dumbledore has been posing as her throughout the movie? 😉 )
    Then there’s also the non-magical variant of being someone else than what you seem to be, e.g. acting as a family when you’re not (Irma, Leta and Corvus on the ship). Irma’s killer is a double agent for the British ministry and “for the greater good”. Grindelwald himself is a master of deception anyway, as is Dumbledore.

    Sorry, that got a bit off topic, but what I want to say is, for me, the image of the blanket in the water (instead of the dead baby without the blanket) does make “artistic” sense to me. It stresses what we know anyway and what JKR has said in one of the featurettes released around the movie: that a lot of the things are not as they seem at the end of the film and that we as the moviegoers are also among the deceived.

  7. David James says

    Sebastian stated, ” Dumbledore covers the whole of London with fog, while Grindelwald covers Paris with those black curtains
    I’m sure there’s much more that I can’t think of right now. I’d need to see the movie again, but I get the impression that the images of covering (up) cumulate around Credence/Corvus, which is fitting, as it appears that the identity of Credence/Corvus and their backstory is the big secret that is un-veil-ed at the end of the movie”.

    Interesting point in that there may be a larger “cover-up” that has yet to be made complete.
    Some believe that the “Black Curtains” that Grindelwald conjures may be a Lethifold, a dark spirit of the shadows, that would be fitting for someone like Grindelwald to use as a “calling card”. Another thought…if you remember the scene in the movie….Queenie walks up to the curtain as it forms over a wall in Paris, as she approaches the curtain she witnesses a symbol on the curtain….it’s a Raven…..the symbol of the Lestrange family !!

  8. Honestly, I was annoyed and upset about the drowning baby BS in the first place – never mind how it was communicated. IT SERVED NO ACTUAL PURPOSE. There are a million and one ways to give Leta a tragic backstory without desperately resorting to dead babies. I’m not sure a Harry Potter franchise movie is the place for THAT kind of messed up tragedy, particularly when it was ultimately extremely pointless. Maybe it’s just because I’m a new Mom and have miscarried before.. but the death of babies and children is extremely heavy and upsetting material, and the way it was handled here just felt like cheap fodder for a convoluted and pointless backstory.

    J.K. Rowling has lost her damn mind.

  9. Also. What she did to Queenie’s character is a travesty. But that’s a whole other discussion. xD

  10. You didn’t pick up on the image of the baby – the depiction isn’t just of a blanket, the final baby drowning shows the outline of the infant with the hand rising past the baby blanket

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