Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander: A study in gentle masculinity

They are muscular, highly attractive, quick to anger, and prone to violence. There are, of course, exceptions, but more often than not, that is what we see in popular franchises. Chris Hemsworth’s Thor and Henry Cavill’s Superman come to mind.

Chris Evans’ Captain America is an exception, but even he has a too jacked-up physique to be an alternative take on Hollywood’s leading man.

We are so used to this image of our action heroes and superheroes that is prevalent in films and even TV shows that we do not even question it. That’s the natural depiction of men,  Hollywood, like rest of the pop culture, has brainwashed us into thinking. They might have internal conflict but are basically highly unrealistic representations of masculinity, of actual men.

One major exception to those portrayals is Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander. The primary protagonist of the Fantastic Beasts franchise, that is a part of Wizarding World, Newt Scamander was mentioned in the Harry Potter books and films as a legendary expert on rare fantastical creatures like Nifflers, Murtlaps, Occamies, Thunderbirds, and Bowtruckles.

But in the prequel franchise that explores the struggle against a dark lord that came before Voldemort: Gellert Grindelwald, he is the hero, and despite the quality of the second movie, we are better for it.

True to his modern-day reputation (in the Wizarding World), Newt really, really, loves magical creatures. He is shy, unassuming, and gentle. Even a little submissive. The scenes that are most illustrative of these qualities are when he is with the beings that inhabit his unusually roomy briefcase.

For instance, in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, when he and Jacob Kowalski, his No-Maj friend played by Dan Fogler, explore the world inside the briefcase. While looking after the creatures, Newt comes across a huge nest filled with Occamy babies. Displaying the disposition of a long-suffering nanny, he says, “All right, I’m coming. Mum’s here.”

We are used to angry men in our daily entertainment. Nearly every film or show has at least one. The only times Newt loses his cool is when his creatures are endangered, and even then it is sort of a submissive anger, as though he is ashamed of the emotion and it is unbecoming of him. The qualities Newt possesses are usually deemed feminine — caring, tenderness and submissiveness.

Those are not, in general sense regarded as ‘heroic’ qualities, and yet, Newt is more of a hero than most movie protagonists. He might not be interested in saving the world like Harry Potter — despite the looming threat of Grindelwald, he wants to be left alone with his creatures — he would give his life for his friends and loved ones, and is actually a pretty capable wizard. Most of all, he despises power and fame. All this is cleverly told by contrasting Newt with his older brother Theseus.

Now, Theseus, while a good person at heart, is a Harry Potter stand-in, a powerful, popular wizard who embraces power and fame. It isn’t a bad take, and Potter is clearly one of the most complex and interesting leading characters in popular fantasy anyway. We are made to follow his struggles with sudden fame and the pressure of being the prophesised one to end Voldemort. However, he is not too different a character from other fantasy heroes, who are saddled with a huge responsibility and after fighting it, take control of their fate.

But Newt eschews power and it is only due to a younger Albus Dumbledore’s urging and witnessing the love of his life Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz)’s death as a sacrifice to save others from Grindelwald, he becomes committed to the fact that Grindelwald is a danger to the whole world — wizards or muggles. He is in this war between the wizarding community.

Redmayne’s portrayal of Newt is not an exception. He is repeatedly drawn to similar roles. It is likely because he sees a resemblance between them and himself, and for that reason, he is extremely good in them.

 




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