Published Nov 13, 2018Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is set in 1927, and straddles the boundaries between the magical and non-magical worlds. But for all of its whimsical wizarding characters and delightfully disturbing creature creations, the story is alarmingly familiar to the real world of 2018.
The film picks up just past where 2016's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them left off, with protagonist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) back home in England and forbidden to travel internationally by an increasingly restrictive governing body. But that's hardly the most sinister similarity to current world events. The dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes imprisonment and begins to build up his legion of followers (united by a common ideology that pure-blooded wizards should rule the world), and the way that he targets, manipulates and wins over society's most vulnerable people is rather chilling.
"I can't speak for [J.K. Rowling's] intentions because those are her own, and she wrote this well before current events were happening," Alison Sudol tells Exclaim! "Although it is very timely now."
Sudol's character, Queenie Goldstein, undergoes one of the film's most pronounced ideological transformations. Far from the bubbly, romantic optimist we met in the first film, The Crimes of Grindelwald finds her demoralized after a falling out with her non-magical (but bewitched) fiancée and is unable to find her sister, leaving her alone and lost in a foreign land.
As she's sitting on a curb in the pouring rain in Paris, though, a woman takes her in and offers her warmth, tea and kindness — and then an introduction to Grindelwald himself.
"It is well noted that loneliness really puts people in a very vulnerable position, and people who are in a vulnerable position are more likely to be brought into things that are more extreme. They're like lambs being led into the lion's den," Sudol says. "When you're vulnerable and lost and then suddenly somebody is kind to you and gives you love and gives you tenderness and takes care of you in some way, that creates a huge indebtedness. From there, the likelihood that you're going to follow them anywhere is much higher."
It's a depressing reality that's as true in the world of Fantastic Beasts as it is in a global political landscape that's swinging toward the far right.
But the film doesn't leave viewers without hope. According to Sudol, there are rich emotional lessons to be learned, especially from Queenie's journey.
She points to Queenie's inability to view her legilimency (the ability to read others' minds) as a good thing as one of the reasons her character doesn't have a stronger backbone.
"As a woman, I'm in my 30s and I'm much more in touch with myself than when I was younger," she explains. "When you have something about you that is different and is unwelcomed by other people — it could be something quite powerful, quite good, quite special, but you don't think that it's so; creativity or your voice or an ability or whatever it is — if there's part of you that you feel you have to put away or compartmentalize, then you're not going to be fully in touch with your intuition, because you're not whole, you're not integrated.
"Queenie is always so busy listening to everyone else that I don't think that she's learned how to listen to herself," Sudol continues. "If she had a better sense of her intuition, I think that she would have made different decisions. She just doesn't quite know herself yet. Unfortunately, you have to go through a painful journey in order to learn how to listen to that voice. I know so many women that have, and usually it's not very pretty, but if you can use the hard rocky road that you go down as lessons learned, it's actually a very powerful journey to go on."
It's evident that she's poured a lot of that personal experience into the character; she didn't have to worry about translating an already-existing character to the screen — Queenie's a movie-only creation that never appeared in the Harry Potter books.
"I feel like I have a lot of authorship in her," Sudol says. "Of course Jo [Rowling] wrote her, but I just feel like there is a lot that I was able to bring to her that I might not have been able to if there had been a more concrete understanding of her from a book."
She also praises Queenie's incredible aptitude for empathy, which seems to mimic Sudol's own penchant for compassion.
"I hope that when people watch this they remember that love is driving all of these things," she says. "For Queenie, the choices that she's making may seem out of character, but if you think about what she's been through — the fact that her sister isn't there for her when she needs her — I would hope that people stay with her as a character on her bumpy ride."
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald comes out on November 16.