Saturday, December 24, 2016

An Imposter of Good

(There are spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. You’ve been warned.)

Sometimes, it’s a little hard to tell the difference between good and evil. Evil can dress itself up as good and become appealing, or something a character desires. And when he lets it in, it can lay down roots, and it keeps on acting like it’s good, but it only makes things worse for the character the deeper it gets.

After watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and after a few discussions with friends, I’m seeing how this seems to be true in the movie. Credence is a boy abused by the woman who dares call herself his adopted mother. She beats him, so Credence finds a gentle hand in Graves. He finds a seemingly protective father figure, and he craves the gentle, caring touch Graves offers, and an offer to become a wizard. In exchange, he helps Graves locate the child with the obscurus.

However, Graves is not the kindly man he pretends to be. He’s greedy (he is the hunted Gelert Grindelwald, after all) and a liar. He gives Credence the love he needs, and dangles an additional reward just out of reach to ensure continued obedience. Graves recognizes this need in Credence and gives it to him, making Credence a tool he can use, without having any attachment at all. It’s a false face, and we can even see hints of how Graves has intruded upon Credence’s space, how he may not have built up the trust, but forced it upon Credence right away. The boy is briefly hesitant whenever Graves is about to touch him, as if he expects a blow, but Credence’s desire for it is so strong that he only sees the gentleness and fatherly affection he’s given.

And when Graves at last betrays Credence, and Credence’s powers lash out, Graves recognizes his mistake and tries to regain the lost trust. He apologizes, but now Credence can see beyond the mask. Graves is just like his adopted mother. Worse, even. Graves trampled on every promise he gave, every hope he gave Credence. Evil tainted whatever façade Graves had, and that stain can’t be easily removed.

In contrast, Newt takes an entirely different approach to Credence. He recognizes a frightened boy, and just as he would with any frightened creature, he approaches cautiously, giving Credence space if he needs it, but offering his friendship. Newt’s offer respects Credence’s space, and it’s genuine. Newt makes himself small, nonthreatening. He doesn’t thrust his presence upon Credence like Graves does and force his way into Credence’s trust. He asks Credence for permission to approach. He lets Credence make the first decision. Newt has only to speak quietly, calmly, and only make a move if Credence gives him the go ahead.

Granted, Newt never made it this far, but it still kind of shows how Newt lets Credence make the calls.

Evil can offer a character what he wants, sometimes with immediate results, and with a promise of something more later on. It can use his desires to make the character nothing but a tool for the villain to use for his own ends. Good doesn’t use a character and then throw him away. Given the chance, Newt would have done all in his power to help Credence, without asking for anything in return. He recognized Credence’s fear, his needs, and Newt immediately addressed them for Credence’s sake, not for his own. Tina follows the same approach, speaking gently, offering comfort and safety. Her own motherly approach offered the same thing Graves had offered, but this time, it’s real.

Good and evil can be the same way in other stories. Evil intrudes, but it dangles something the character desperately wants, so the intrusion and the motives behind it are veiled. It uses the character only for its own purposes. Good treats the character like a person, addressing the character’s needs. It has no veiled motives. Good is genuine. Evil is an imposter.

It was an interesting contrast in the movie, and I liked seeing then and later during discussions how it played out, how Graves seemed so gentle, but had ulterior motives and cared nothing for Credence, and how Newt exhibited genuine concern, and cared enough to ask Credence’s permission before doing anything around him, understanding how fragile Credence’s mental state was. It’s an interesting aspect to write about, a possible layer behind the characters that we write. Evil can tempt a character to do things they may not usually do, but disguises it as something noble or useful, or perhaps keeps their eyes on something desirable. Good, while it may not satisfy the desires of a character right away, can offer what they need, without any thought for selfish gain. These kinds of facets make the age-old Good vs. Evil struggle even more complex, and can make one think a little more when making a distinction between the two.

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