Sunday, March 19, 2017

Beauty and the Beast: Beauty in the Ashes

I don’t really care about the “gay moment” in the movie. There, I’ve said it. May the whiplash commence. Do I wish it wasn’t there? Absolutely. Do I think it was unnecessary? Totally. A few moments just felt like someone was TRYING a little too hard to be “PC”? Yes on all accounts. 
But here’s the thing. While we were up in arms in a brilliant stroke of strategy by Disney (hmmm…how can we get free publicity and a media blitz the two weeks before the release? Those Christians! Let’s tell them there’s something they don’t agree with. Hook. Line. Sinker.), we missed some really amazing jewels in what is otherwise a pretty amazing film. 130 min. Anyone want to venture a guess at how much screen time they lauded their political correctness? About 30 seconds. THIRTY SECONDS. That leaves 129.5 minutes of other content and, believe it or not, if we’d get off our high horses long enough to look, there’s some pretty amazing things we CAN bless.

Sacrificial love
Let’s start off with an easy one. If you can’t find the love that would lay down it’s life for a friend (John 15:13) in Beauty and the Beast, you probably shouldn’t bother watching movies. A Christian concept? Absolutely. We see it in Belle’s love for her father - literally willing to give up her life to save his. We see it in Belle’s father and mother’s love for her. We see it in the Beast as he comes to realize that love without the freedom to love isn’t real love and his release of Belle to return to her father. We see it displayed in Agatha as she finds and cares for Maurice despite years of having been mocked and decried as the town old maid and crazy lady. Over and over we see the message that REAL love means a willingness to sacrifice one’s self and pride for someone else’s good. 

Pride and Arrogance
A prideful and arrogant ruler who considers himself above all else is brought face to face with his sins by being turned into a beast where he is cursed to remain until he repents. It’s actually a Bible story people. Daniel 4:28-36 recounts the story of Nebuchadnezzar - “a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like the ox. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes.” Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” While it doesn’t carry quite the direct correlations that Disney’s Emperor’s New Groove did, the basic idea is definitely still prevalent. It’s the heart that God cares about, not the outward beauty. 

The portrayal of the church
This one actually surprised me - in a good way! So often today we see Christians portrayed as legalistic, judgmental people full of hot air and a lot of wind. The clergyman in Belle’s village was the one “sane” person she could turn to. He supplied her with the means to educate herself and allowed her free access to his library. He is the one voice of reason. Christians have long been proponents of education - the concept that people should be able to read the Bible for themselves and study and understand why they believe what they believe. That means a literate community and books.  Gutenberg and Martin Luther are two figures of Christian history that immediately come to mind - “Gutenberg’s new process sparked a revolution in society and the church. Books could now be produced in quantities and at prices that made them available to many people, not merely to scholars and monks. The resulting explosion of knowledge continues to accelerate in our day.
In the church, the Protestant Reformation might have been impossible in the pre-Gutenberg age. (Indeed, the Reformation became, in some ways, a war of books, each party pointing out the errors of the others.) Everything the Reformers said about the priesthood of all believers was rooted in the assumption that people could have access to the Bible in their own language. Thus, Luther and the other Reformers worked to translate the Scriptures so that no priest, pope, or council needed to stand between the plowboy and the Word of God. The chief book being printed was the Bible, thus spreading Christian teaching. As more were printed, more people became readers, and readers demanded more books, thus spreading literacy. And even for the illiterate, the Bible became more accessible, because the pastor could read from, and preach about, a Bible that was more readily available.”  (http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/issues/issue-28/1456-gutenberg-produces-first-printed-bible.html
By the time of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation this idea of education being linked with leading people to Christ and giving them access to explore Christianity on their own began to effect society as a whole - “The Protestant Reformation in the 16th century led not only to deep changes in the doctrine, the rituals and the leadership of the Church, but also to an aftermath that may be seen on an ecclesiastic level, as well as on a larger level, socio-cultural and political. This European movement also had repercussions in point of education, and the Reformers constantly evinced, among others, the necessity of a consistent religious education provided to the young, based on the Scripture. The Protestant Reformation proved favourable to the education of the masses, of all children, regardless of gender and social status.” (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187704281403688X) To see the clergyman representative of a more noble and more historically and socially accurate TRUE Christianity was a welcome one! 

REAL love over "follow your heart" as a theme
Along with sacrificial love, the idea that there is a real love that changes people comes across as the main theme of the movie. I've tired of the constant barrage of Disney's message to "follow your heart" (Jeremiah 17:9 - where was the uproar on this one?). The Bible clearly teaches that our hearts aren't that trustworthy. In fact, our emotions and hearts can lead us astray. Instead, Beauty and the Beast focuses on REAL love - love as defined in 1 Corinthians 13 as being "...patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails....And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 
The theme that real love is the opposite of pride and arrogance is one I can get behind!

We were silent

This one hurt a little. When Belle quizzes the cursed members of the castle and tells them they were innocent, they disagree. “We did NOTHING” they tell her. Nothing when they saw an innocent boy be hardened and emotionally abused by his father, nothing when they had the opportunity for influence. They gave their permission by their silence and fear to stand up for what they know is right. And they do not feel that it is somehow unjust that they have been under the curse. Ouch. While Christians rose up in mass the last few weeks at the idea that Disney (a non-Christian company) would somehow dare to add homosexuality (a non-Christian concept) to it’s film (a non-Christian film) where were we 20 years ago when I was a child? 40 years ago? Where were the people that are shaking their heads in dismay? They were silent and they did NOTHING. Can there be a more timely, ironic message for us as Christians today? What are we putting our stamp of approval on by our silence? I’m not talking the big politically correct messages here. Let’s face it, some of those hurdles have been passed already and by our silence and lack of effort, there is little we can do to reverse it now. I would venture that in running our mouths and boycotting and letting people know we “don’t support that” that we are actually making ourselves less effective. If those same characters had chosen to invest time and love into the beast as a child, what would they have accomplished? How much less pain and loss would they have had to endure? How much more influence could have been seen? Open your eyes to what is around you! So many lost opportunities to love and serve those around us. So many people hurting and feeling so alone. So so much pain. Where are we, Christians? Are we silent? There’s a song by Casting Crowns that says “No one knows what we’re FOR. Only what we’re against.” The world gets it. They know there are things we’ve decided to vocally hate to make ourselves look better. What about the things we stand for? What about the self-sacrificing love? Giving opportunity for others to hold and read a Bible for themselves? Or are we just stuck in our pride and arrogance and fear being silent? 

3 comments:

  1. Wow. Jessica, you nailed it. This is the best commentary I've seen on "Beauty and the Beast." I really appreciate the last paragraph. That message resonates so deeply with me - I see it all the time among my many friends in the LGBT community, that Christianity has come to mean hate for gay and trans people, and not love for God and all people; it's come to mean arrogance and bigotry, instead of humility and love. Thank you.

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  2. Your post is simply Wonderful!. It is a complete dissection of the movie and gives an in depth analysis of every character and the movie theme.

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