The animated classic “Beauty and the Beast” was released when I was 6 years old. A relative gifted us a VHS copy the following Christmas, which we still have. Being so young, I do not remember watching the movie for the first time, or the second, or the third. All I know is that I had two sisters which means girlie cartoons were the norm for my childhood, though Gaston’s siege at the end of the movie was just enough to give my childhood imagination a few delusions of warrior grandeur!
As I grew up, the VHS lay dormant on our shelf for many years. In college I managed to get my hands on a copy of the DVD release and watched it anew. I was shocked at just how pitch perfect the animated tale really was. By then I knew a bit more about what made a good movie great and Beauty and the Beast had it all. The animation was gorgeous, even by today’s standards. The plot points were perfectly paced. The characters were strongly written. The songs were charming and deep, particularly the title song which sang about the “tale as old as time.” I particularly fell in love with the line, “Barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly.” I wish I could write like that!
When my wife and I started dating we named that “our” song and a sextet of our friends sang it at our engagement and again at our wedding. I let this happen despite knowing I was going to have to tolerate decades of jokes about how “truly a beast” I was. Seriously, people write some new material!
Yet therein, lies the problem with the whole movie. The beast is, well, a beast and, at least in the first act, he does some pretty beastly things. He rages. He roars. He destroys. He kidnaps. He extorts. This has led many to
ask the very appropriate question, “Is this movie actually about Stockholm Syndrome?” Or is it about the power of love to transform the most vile of us?
Part of what elevates “Beauty and the Beast” to a “classic” is this wonderful debate. Fiction is not supposed to answer but to ask. In fact, fiction can begin the best conversations and debates in a way little else can. And “Beauty and the Beast” wonderfully begins a great debate about the “power of love” versus “Stockholm Syndrome.”
On the one hand the movie seems to illustrate what Christianity has always taught, that love transforms people into the image of the beloved. The Apostle Peter put it well when he said, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Do not be fooled by the English word “covers.” The Greek word Peter used does include the idea of erasing or getting rid of. Love erases evil and brings out the best in the one loved, just as Belle did for the Beast.
However, I am certainly not sending my daughter off to date a beast, especially not one that just kidnapped me. In fact, as far as logic is concerned, Belle’s father, Maurice is the most logical of anyone in the film. Of course he is going to go get his daughter back and of course he is going to try to recruit help, even if that goes horribly wrong. It is hard to imagine anyone managing to be any more composed in those moments.
So Beauty and the Beast reveals two conflicting truths we really want to hold together. First, love can transform the most beastly. Second, for heaven’s sake, don’t go near the beast!
But then there is Gaston. For me, the entire movie would not have worked without the Gaston character. Here is the true beast, hiding in plain daylight. Successful, handsome, strong and completely crazy. My high school was full of Gastons. The churches I have pastored and attended have all had their fair share. These are the wolves in sheep’s clothing who are far more harmful than any ill tempered recluse living in the mountains. A few of my high school friends went ahead and married the Gaston’s and they did it with their parents’ and society’s blessing. Now, fifteen years later, they are telling tales on Facebook of their less than happy endings.
Those too, unfortunately, are a tale as old as time. And it seems to me if we really want to have a conversation about beastliness we should probably start there, with the ones society has elevated to godhood and the ways in which we insist on sacrificing our children to them. The beasts seldom are recluses off in some castle. They really do walk among us and we create them by glorifying the wrong things in them.
And the way Beauty and the Beast illustrates that reality invites just further conversation and debate. It truly is a classic!