Yesterday I finally saw the movie “Maleficent” for the first time since I spotted the movie posters last summer. I had not seen any trailer nor had read anything on the movie – and yes, that is perfectly possible. So, I started watching this, not realizing this is an adaptation of the sleeping beauty story. And it was not until five minutes ago that I figured out the looks of Angelina Jolie in this movie were very much based on those of the evil witch in the original 1959 animation movie of Sleeping Beauty.
With this largely unbiased mind I tried to see what message this fairy-tale was implicitly conveying. I realize that a large number of viewers do no more than considering movies as entertainment, but fairy-tales are traditionally known as stories with a moral, so I instinctively try to distill any such morals as the story unfolds. These are the morals that are most obvious to me – please forgive me if some of these seem twisted, but I didn’t write the story-line.
One of the positive morals of this movie is that it urges people to realize that not all ‘bad people’ or ‘hateful people’ are intrinsically bad. It emphasizes to consider the possibility such people were originally goodhearted people, perhaps naive, often emotionally attached, but they just got hurt once too often, too painfully. Now, we don’t meet a lot of criminals in daily life, but there are also other sorts of people that we tend to label as bad or hateful people, while we often fail to realize they turned out to be like this because they’ve been hurt once too often.
For example, it can be awfully uncomfortable hearing the views of a misogynistic man. The instinctive urge would be to fight evil with evil, or avoid it altogether. As the movie nicely illustrates, this kind of response does not solve the problem: it merely solidifies it. It won’t change the ‘evil one’ into a nice person. As a better alternative, the movie shows us that kind, understanding, and loving interaction can change the people that have become bitter at heart, so they can become loving people once again. If we apply this moral to the case of the misogynist example, then it would mean that replying with anger, rejection or by ignoring a misogynist, you will solidify his point of view. Instead, it would pay off to see him as a person – a person that in his heart really loves women, but is convinced all women are out to hurt him; who is convinced that guys like his former kind self are always treated worse by women than guys who in their heart have less respect for women. The way to change such a man’s view on the world would be to prove him wrong, not by words, but by action. By showing him that loving and respecting a woman won’t get him hurt, that she will treat him better than any other man. Et voila, here you have the recipe to transform another misogynist into a man with good intentions.
Or is that too naive of me? Maybe it is – at least if I pay heed to the second moral of the story…
The second moral of the story can be summarized by one word: misandry. Perhaps that is too harsh of a word, so please decide for yourself. (SPOILER ALERT!) As a beautiful young magical creature, Maleficent gets a feeling of attachment for a boy after spending lots of time happily together. The boy then just disappears from her life without notice. (I presume this must be quite recognizable for those that have been ungracefully dumped and/or lied to by a man once a time too many, but if that is the case for you, please open your mind to the fact that there are also many men that have been ungracefully dumped and/or lied to and are left just as brokenhearted; that some men and women end a relationship on relatively friendly terms; and that there are also men who stay with their woman until they die – and no, the ones that stay aren’t all cheaters. So no: not all men are bad.)
Anyhow, back to the story: many years later, as a now adult man the former boy returns, gets forgiven by the girl – now woman – and they spend a wonderful time together again and fall asleep in each others arms. But lo and behold, the man once again breaks her trust, and hurts her even more than he did before – by cutting of her wings. (Did I mention she is a magical creature?) Is it a metaphor for taking away a girls dreams? I don’t know. It is definitely a metaphor for something so incredibly painful it will make a woman bitter at heart.
(However, a bit of context may make the man’s action more an act of caring than of selfishness. The apparent selfishness is that by cutting off her wings, he became the successor to the previous king. However, this can also be a desperate act of caring, because in fact the previous king ordered anyone capable of KILLING Maleficent, to kill her. By cutting off her wings and bringing those back, the boy/man not only became the new king, but most importantly: misled everyone into believing he killed her, thus preventing a witch hunt that would otherwise lead to her actual death.)
This interpretation is then pushed to the background because in the end of the movie the man seems to be prepared to kill Maleficent, underscoring the message that men are really evil and not capable of truly loving a woman. (However, this too needs a bit of context. The man, now king, is under the impression that Maleficent has cursed his daughter Aurora, and does not know it was also she who had lifted the curse by her (step)motherly love for Aurora. To me his urge to fight Maleficent just means he now loves his daughter more than Maleficent, but it does not necessarily have to mean he never loved Maleficent.)
Now, this is not the only example of a somewhat misandric undertone in the movie. Every fairy-tale has a prince charming, and so does this one. Aurora, as a young beautiful, always cheerful girl that has been cursed to sleep forever by the prick of a spinning wheel*, one day meets a prince charming. They exchange some words and they seem to kindle a certain feeling of attraction for one another. However, the story makes clear this feeling is not true love, definitely not from the prince’s side. Of course, I understand that when a guy and a girl have just met, it is unlikely he is truly in love with her. So I understand this can originally be intended to be merely an antidote to the message sent out by more classic fairy-tales, where the girl meets a guy one night and immediately knows he’s “the one”. On the other hand, this prince charming is the only other male character in this movie that is the love interest of a female character, and magic points out his love for her isn’t real – or at least not real enough to lift the curse of eternal sleep. The examples of the king and prince charming taken together, that’s a pretty bleak image of guys being portrayed here.
And by the way, I think this is a good time to say that women are always very skeptical of a guy’s feelings when he doesn’t know her, but as a guy I know a crush can be pretty real even if a girl feels there is not enough connection yet. Of course, there are a lot of guys who fake it, and that’s sad for the ones who really feel it, because all that negative experience with lying guys affects how girls respond to sincere guys. The only difference between a crush and love between a couple that has been together for many years is the degree to which you know each other and the amount of investment and shared time and experiences, but the feeling at its root is the same. For me, as a man, the feeling of a crush and the feeling of love are both about wanting to make a woman happy. Such an irrational crush can actually lead to a man to getting to know a woman and accepting her, them getting together and his growing to love her for who she is. I know this, because I’ve been with my first girlfriend for 11 years for this very same reason. (After that, we both called it quits on friendly terms. And yes: this proves not all love stories have a happy ending. In fact, none have; if you stay together until you die, do you think it is a happy moment to see your loved one die? But that doesn’t have to mean love isn’t real, that love isn’t beautiful… It is! It is real! It is beautiful! So cherish it while it lasts, and look back on it with a smile once it has passed. Smile for having had the opportunity to experience such a wonderful feeling!)
I find it hard to classify the final main moral listed here as being either good or bad. I guess for some people it is good and for others is not, so I’ll just keep it to calling it a more or less neutral moral. The moral is as follows (SPOILER ALERT!): the only true love is the love you grow for your child – in the case of the movie, and also for Angelina Jolie in her real life, an adoptive child. (This moral may also relate to the second moral mentioned earlier, because in this movie, the only true love is a mother’s love, not a father’s love, implying only women are truly capable of love. If that is not a misandric sexist message, then I don’t know what is.) That the love for one’s child is the only true love is perhaps a nice message for people who want to and can have children, but at the same time the movie kind of denies that the love between significant others is real. Now, I know many parents agree that they love their children more than their spouses and that they actually love their children unconditionally but not their spouses. However, for people who have opted not to ever have children, or for those who want children but are unable to have them, this moral is not one I think anyone in that situation would agree on. Surely, the love significant others have for each other can be just as real. And for parents, do you really like being degraded to being part of an equation that was merely necessary to produce and raise offspring? Do you really like reducing the meaning of the feelings you had for each other as a couple that led to the creation of this offspring in the first place?
* I wonder if the prick of a spinning wheel inducing a deep sleep from which one can only awaken by a loving kiss is a metaphor. As fairy-tales originally used to be stories intended for adults and not for children, the following interpretation may not be far off. In fact it is not just the prick of a spinning wheel, but the penetration of a girl/woman by any prick that may induce a real deep sleep. And the first time this penetration happens can indeed be around the 16th birthday. (But don’t feel weird if it is/was a later age for you: apart from individual factors and gender, education level and culture seem to be good predictors for the age of first sex.) If the man does his job right, both man and woman will fall in a deep sleep right after that, only to be waken up from this bliss by the kiss of morning breath.
(There is a biological advantage that has favored sleep after sex: laying down afterwards reduces the leak out of semen and increases chance of impregnation, thus increasing chances of offspring. In other words, those that fell asleep right after had more babies, and those babies likely had the same tendency for falling asleep after sex once they turned adults. More so than the non-existent offspring of the people that never fell asleep after sex.)