Sorry, I just really wanted to use one of those cheesy thematic post titles that I told you last week I wasn’t going to use. Before I move on to other topics (such as, possibly, another Fantastic Beasts post next week, since the Blu-Ray is coming out tomorrow!), I want to share a few more observations about Beauty and the Beast (the live-action Disney adaptation released earlier this month, as if I needed to clarify that).
- Last week I wrote about literacy, which crops up a number of times in the film, and I later posted on Facebook that the literacy issue is also an issue of wealth and poverty. Many of Belle’s fellow townspeople would probably argue that they are too busy working to have time to read or even learn to read, and there’s also an access issue: clearly the town has a shortage of books and of educators (and the limited resources that do exist are allocated almost exclusively to boys). Meanwhile, the Beast in his castle can afford a magnificent library and, as a member of the leisured class, has plenty of time to read the books it contains. Maybe I’ve just read A Tale of Two Cities too many times, but the castle storming scene in this film had definite French Revolution overtones for me, especially when I remembered the Prince’s pre-curse ball we witnessed at the beginning of the film– lavish and luxurious almost to the point of being laughable, and very Marie Antoinette-style. I don’t think the filmmakers were trying to make a political point necessarily–after all, the Beast isn’t really the bad guy, and it’s hard to pin down the exact time period (as it should be in a fairy tale)–but the contrast is definitely there. Two more things to consider on this topic: a. The Enchantress is portrayed as an impoverished outcast. b. On the other hand, it does appear that the Prince’s castle was a source of steady work for some people in the village. We learn at the end of the film that both Mrs. Potts and Cogsworth were married to townspeople.
- If you’ve read my review of the Walt Disney World restaurant Be Our Guest, you know it really bothers me that in the original animated film, Belle doesn’t get to eat during that iconic song. I argued that this results from the misguided idea that a fairytale princess could never be seen to eat because eating is somehow a coarse, unfeminine, embarrassing activity. So I was happy to see that in the new film, Belle at least appears to be hungry (she frantically reaches for several dishes as they dance by), but disappointed that, in the end, she still doesn’t get to eat anything–and that she walks away from the table seemingly okay with that.
- Before the film was released, someone told me she’d heard that Belle has to save the Beast in the wolf attack scene. This is not true. The scene plays out almost identically to the parallel scene in the animated movie. The Beast is perfectly capable of saving himself (he is a beast, after all), but Belle does have to help him get back to the castle. So rather than an in-your-face attempt to make Belle a proper 21st-century feminist, this scene is actually a lovely example of two people caring for each other in a budding relationship (well, a relationship that’s about to bud). Because Belle was already such a strong character in the animated version, there was really no need to update her to make her extra tough, so I’m glad there was no attempt to do so. The reason Disney’s Belle is still one of my fictional role models is that she’s both brave and kind (like Disney’s 2015 Cinderella), capable and feminine.
Please continue to send me your thoughts about the movie!
I wrote a Thing about the Stockholm syndrome reading of the (animated) film and why it annoys me. I realize this is a bit long, and I could’ve posted a link to where I posted it online already, but I didn’t. I hope you enjoy:
“Beauty and the Beast” is a Fairy Tale with Fairy Tale Rules.
“Beauty and the Beast” is not a story of an abusive relationship, nor is it a story of Stockholm syndrome. Rather, it is a Fairy Tale exercising a Fairy Tale sense of Justice regarding the Law of Hospitality. Maurice violates the Law of Hospitality by breaking into the Beast’s castle. Maurice didn’t know, couldn’t have been expected to know, but it doesn’t matter. The Fae do not tolerate uninvited guests. The roles of guest and host are almost sacred in the land of Faerie. How many stories are there of people wandering into Faerie, crossing a being of Faerie, and getting trapped? Because Maurice broke this law, the Beast has every right to imprison him. The punishment fits the crime in the world of Faerie. This is not “I accidentally kicked my football into your yard, so I’m going to climb your fence to get it.” By coming into the Beast’s castle, Maurice has become an uninvited guest. And we all remember what happened to Ms. Perkins when she became an uninvited guest of our favorite dog-loving assassin in “John Wick.” The Beast LITERALLY says, “You are not welcome here.” That’s not poor dialogue; that’s legal jargon. The Beast is informing Maurice that Maurice has broken the Law of Hospitality.
Belle freely, willingly, without compulsion from anyone at all offers to exchange herself for Maurice. This is the world of Fae: the world of deal making, barter, and exchange. Belle makes a deal for Maurice’s freedom which shows what a genuinely kind and decent person Belle is. (Although it remains to be seen if she would have offered to take the place of a complete stranger or someone she disliked.) Belle, realizing it or not, is participating in the barter system of Faerie. The Beast takes her up on her offer, Belle becomes a prisoner, and Maurice goes free. From the perspective of Faerie, both Belle and the Beast got what they wanted: the Beast has someone to punish for violating the role of guest, and Belle’s father went free. Win-win.
While Belle is a prisoner in the Beast’s castle, she is not mistreated, she is not deprived of sustenance (there was the whole thing about dinner, and yes he did tell his servants to starve her, but that was a temper tantrum, and under the Laws of Hospitality, Belle is still guaranteed rights as a prisoner: she must not be physically mistreated, she must be protected from violence, and she must be well cared for. The Beast would have known that, as a citizen of Faerie, so it’s unlikely that he would have enforced that rule), she’s given a comfortable room rather than the tower; the only prohibitions the Beast gives her are: do not go into the west wing and she is unable to leave. Everything else the castle has to offer is hers to enjoy. (Marry the Beast to get that library.) Those are the only two stipulations imposed on her captivity. And the stipulations could have been much more stringent. There’s nothing stopping the Beast from deciding that the necessary punishment for Maurice’s transgression is death. Now, before I go any further, yes. Holding someone in your house against their will is wrong…in the world of humans, but not in the world of the Fae. The Beast has every right to keep her captive for as long as he feels is necessary in order to pay for the crime of violating the Laws of Hospitality. He was the wronged party; he has the right to determine the punishment or the restitution.
Now, yes. The Beast is short-tempered and demanding at the beginning of the story, but that’s because he’s been without contact with a human being for nearly a decade. That would change someone. And he was a brat when he was cursed, so it’s not likely that his temperament would have improved. The Beast’s character development is clear: he was beastly to the enchantress by failing to grant Hospitality when asked, so she turned him into a beast. As he spends time with Belle, not as a potential lover, but simply as another human being, he becomes more human (standing upright, wearing clothes, wearing clothes with colours other than earth tones) as the movie progresses. But they really don’t spend very much time together. He basically leaves her alone.
Everything changes when Belle goes into the west wing and finds the rose. This is a violation of the terms of her captivity. Further, this is an incursion on the Beast’s sanctum. The rose is the only thing connecting the Beast to his humanity, and the way he gently replaces the glass cover, the aggressive way he protects it, and the way he clings to it after Belle runs away shows how important it is to him. The Beast would have been well within his rights at this point to go track down Maurice and lock them both up in the tower for the rest of their days. BUT HE DOESN’T. He lets her go. By shouting, “Get out!” the Beast has relinquished all claims on her and her father. He has forgiven Maurice’s trespass and has decided not to punish Belle’s. So he sets her free.
Later, when Belle is attacked by the wolves, the Beast saves her. He does not have to, he would be well within his rights to ignore it, and in fact we’re not even shown how he knows about the attack. He saves her out of the kindness of his heart, the kindness that she herself rekindled. And in fact, she saves him, because she’s a genuinely kind and compassionate human being. Then she takes him back to the castle, but this time, she is granted Hospitality. She is a welcome guest, rather than a trespasser. Their relationship has changed.
It is at this moment that their romance actually starts. It starts AFTER she becomes a guest instead of a prisoner. If she wanted, she could have left. He told her to “get out,” after all. That constitutes a release from obligation, so she was no longer required to stay. And with the snow and wolves, she may not have thought it safe to leave yet. Or she might have thought she had a duty of care to nurse the Beast back to health. Or maybe it started as a combination of all of those, but by the end she grew to genuinely enjoy his company, as he grows more human. Regardless, by the time of the snowball fight, she has come to actually care for the Beast and he reciprocates. Further, when she confronts the angry mob, she calls the Beast “kind and gentle.” You can see that as evidence of Stockholm syndrome if you want, but that completely ignores the fact that after she saved him he actually WAS kind and gentle. This story is actually more an example of Florence Nightingale syndrome than of Stockholm syndrome.
And the Beast allows her to leave when she sees her father in the mirror. Not only does he let her leave, he gives her a gift, symbolizing the fact that they are parting on amicable terms. He recognizes how important her father is to her, and he respects the importance of her familial ties.
The importance of the Laws of Hospitality extends farther than the relationship between the Beast and Belle. Consider that when the angry mob storms the castle, Lumiére refers to them as “invaders.” This isn’t hyperbole. This is literally an invasion of the Beast’s seat of power by an enemy intent on doing him bodily harm. And so his subjects wage war the only way they can. But Gaston makes his way past the servants and up to the Beast’s sanctum. The Beast refuses to fight back at first, only engaging with Gaston after Belle arrives, and even when the Beast has the opportunity to throw Gaston off the roof, he doesn’t. He tells Gaston to get out, the same words that he shouted at Belle. He decided not to punish Gaston for his invasion, as long as Gaston leaves. Gaston then breaks the Law of Hospitality by turning on the person offering him safe passage, and he falls to his death. Cue the seeming defeat of the Beast, whom we’ve come to care for in much the same way Belle has, and cue the miracle transfiguration in which the Beast finally reclaims his lost humanity. Ta Da. Happy Ending; Tale as Old as Time.
Amazing analysis. Now I need to watch the animated film again, because I certainly didn’t watch it on anywhere near this deep a level.