We Fantastic Beasts

I’ve never written about pop culture before, and I’m not a fan of the whole “Harvey Porter” series, having never watched the films or read the books, but on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I recently let Netflix recommend to me JK Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts” movie (the first, since there is apparently a second) and I was happily surprised at how intelligently it was composed.  It gives a perfect venue for some of the ideas that are most important to me as a therapist.

On one level of course we can watch it as a fun, YA romp of an adventure movie, full of action and amazing CGI.  However, if we watch it more symbolically, it actually has profound meaning which I assume the author intended.  Essentially, if we look, this movie shows us the perils of suppressing our true nature – the suffering that comes out of denying what Is.  On one hand, you have the protagonist, Newt (played by the gorgeous Eddie Redmayne. I mean I’d probably watch him read a phone book),  who has a collection of fantastic beasts, that he is not permitted to let free.  These magical animals are more of a chaotic neutral, or sometimes good – they don’t intentionally cause harm and they are not malevolently destructive.  But, when external powers of the land (in this case, the government of magicians) does not permit them to roam loose, they try, quite naturally to escape and thusly to express themselves as they are.  And when they are literally stuffed into a case, the culture outside of that box misses out from the great benefits that they might provide (which is demonstrated in the crucial, ‘save the day’ denouement provided by that glorious Arizonian Gryphon creature. )

On the other hand you have the example of the character Credence and the “obscurial” dark energy that very clearly is shown to the audience as a manifestation of repressed powerful energy that could otherwise have been used for good. When the young person’s natural talent and energy is labelled as “bad”, it can become this intensely destructive force as it pressure cooks inside a field of judgment and denial, becoming what is outwardly seen as ‘evil’.  But really, this is only confusion, resistance, and ignorance.

So what is beautiful about this is that it shows to us what could arguably be called the core issue of humanity, and why there is discord and suffering in the world.  We, in the first instance, deny our gifts and our talents – people don’t let themselves express the truth of their own magical wildness – we don’t let ourselves pursue art, for example, or a unique hobby, or live our authentic sexuality.  We don’t let ourselves speak true and love freely, because we are told it is wrong.  So we hide our light, and the world loses out correspondingly.

This is perhaps digestible – but what is harder to see (and what is likely of greater concern) is what happens when we deny not just the things we call positive, but when we deny the things we call ‘negative’.  What happens when we ignore and deny our own sadness, anxiety, anger, grief?  When we say that these things are dangerous and bad, when we pathologize the natural currents of life, we fracture our own spirit.  We create small to large dissociation – we disconnect from the world, from ourselves, from reality.  And this may be the primal wound.  In the movie, Rowling correctly shows that the result of this is madness and destruction.

What happens when we befriend the darkness inside us and embrace it with love?  Usually, we resist this vehemently, and are terrified of doing so.  And so it often doesn’t happen until a real breaking point in life forces us into it.  Then, some of us go even further into a protective avoidance, and lock down even more.  But those of us who have danced with our demons instead of shunning them, may have discovered that they only sought love and the light of day, and they have no power unless we grant it to them.

The movie attempts to demonstrate that embracing the darkness at least could lead to reconciliation. But, perhaps realistically, common folks step in and are too afraid of that, and come in to destroy.  What happens to you when sadness arises and you tell yourself you are wrong for having it?  Notice that this creates even greater suffering.  Is it possible to have sadness without suffering?  Is it possible to have pain without suffering?  I think so.  What happens when the sentiments in you that light you up, you push away?  We become stifled, closed, rigid – almost the definition of psychological illness.

Every day I speak to people in my role as a psychotherapist that want me to help them to get rid of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.   But the emphasis on this in psychology is, in my experience, more often a disservice to the whole person. Negative thoughts and feelings, themselves made out of resistance and fear, are only strengthened when met with resistance.

The clients that have the most transformative results are the ones that can make space for those feelings and thoughts, and know that it doesn’t define them – know that their humanity does not need to be rejected for them to live in their greatest joy and peace.  Those sentiments are underneath it all.  If we have the courage to look closely, we might see that sadness, or grief, for example, are all made of the same stuff – love.  Even this is hinted at in the Fantastic Beasts movie when the boy Credence, whose repressed power becomes evil, expresses that all he really ever wanted was trust, friendship, and guidance.  He would rather have any of that than to hurt.  We all do.

I suspect that those who criticize these ideas will do so from the perspective that says I am suggesting anarchy – that to give in to our base impulses is to let go of that which makes us civilized.  But I think we are growing out of this very, very old paradigm.  I am not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater and forget to use critical thought in considering our behaviours.  I’m merely pointing out that to use thought to negate or deny what is already present is insanity, and produces even greater problems.

Someone wise once said, “Resist not evil”.  I suspect that it is because evil is made out of resistance – it is internal conflict that becomes fractured and leads to confusion and desperate turmoil.  This is not to excuse but to explain, that we may have compassion, not just for others, but for ourselves.

Dark days come and sunny days go.  Gifts and loss step like a left and right foot in our walk through the years.  Ideas and impulses move us and then subside.  And there is space in us for all of it.  We are the open field beyond right and wrong, that holds all things, just by our very nature.

Let’s have the courage to question the wisdom of trying to cram it all in an old, heavy suitcase.

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