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frozen_posterFor part 1, click here

As you might expect, I feel I would be remiss in moving forward with my analysis of “Frozen” without first talking about how Jesus Christ fits into the history of the scapegoat mechanism.

Eccehomo1According to René Girard, Christ both reveals and rejects the scapegoat  mechanism by making Himself the scapegoat, the victim who dies for the community.  He thus makes His story the first to be told from the perspective of the victim, who is vindicated against the guilty persecutors — as opposed to the ancient myths that were told from the persecutors’ perspectives and used either to justify or to conceal the murder of the scapegoat.  So “Frozen” is in a certain sense automatically a Christian tale, in that it is predicated on the rescue and vindication of the scapegoat character.

Young ElsaThe people of Arendelle do make Elsa (Idina Menzel) a scapegoat in the traditional sense…they want to kill her.  But the scapegoat mechanism can occur in mitigated forms as well, and what the people of our society can relate to in Elsa’s situation is a particular kind of frustration: She cannot count on her people to help her deal with the reality of her strange (and not freely chosen) powers constructively.

So we can understand why she chooses to run away, seclude herself in the mountains, and be alone…why she decides it’s time to stop trying to conceal her powers and just “let it go” (the polar extreme of the suppression she has been forced to endure her whole life).

Anna-kristoff-from-disney-frozenBut to the rescue come Elsa’s sister, Anna (Kristen Bell), and her newly met companion, Kristoff the iceman (Jonathan Groff).  With that in mind, let’s play a little game.  Tell me I’m reading too much into this if you like, but the names intrigue me.

We should consider first and most obviously the name Kristoff, a Germanic variant of Christopher, which means “Christ-bearer.”  The name makes sense — Kristoff is more or less brought into this situation from without, and he bears the weight of Anna’s (and, by extension, Elsa’s) burden on his shoulders.

movies-frozen-still-1Which brings us to Anna herself.  St. Anna (also known as Anne or Hannah) is very important to us Catholics, because she is the mother of the Blesséd Virgin Mary.  Among her various traditionally recognized intercessory roles is that of protection from storms, which is interesting given Princess Anna’s quest to save Arendelle from the “eternal winter.”

The name itself means “grace,” which is really what Christianity is all about.  Throughout His earthly life, and in His ultimate act of self-sacrifice on the Cross, Jesus Christ touched people in their infirmities, in their weaknesses, in their pain; He was not afraid to enter into their loneliness and isolation, nor did he use the “marks” of the scapegoat as an excuse to ostracize or kill people…

Christ's Wounds…in fact, He would ultimately take these marks upon Himself.

Elza_ElizabethFinally, let’s look at the name Elsa.  Elsa is a Scandinavian variant of Elizabeth, and St. Elizabeth is known for being the cousin of the Blesséd Virgin Mary and the mother of St. John the Baptist.

The_Embrace_of_Elizabeth_and_the_Virgin_MaryAccording to Luke’s Gospel, Mary undertook a long and arduous journey to visit Elizabeth immediately after learning from the archangel Gabriel that both she and Elizabeth were with child.  Tradition recognizes this as one of the first acts of evangelization; in a certain sense, Elizabeth stands in for all of us, for the whole human race awaiting salvation…awaiting the Mother and Son who will spell the end of the serpent’s reign (cf. Genesis 3:15).  The great spiritual writer Thomas Merton spoke of it as the fulfillment not only of the words of all the Prophets, but also of all the poets (and, I would add, of all fairy tales).

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

(Luke 1: 41-45)

Not incidentally, Elizabeth conceived her child late in life.  She is therefore also known for having been set free from the stigma of barrenness.

Elsa is like Elizabeth in both respects.  She desires to be set free from the stigma that has kept her prisoner for most of her life; and, whether she knows it or not, she awaits the intervention of grace (remember Anna?) and of Christ-like (remember Kristoff, the “Christ-Bearer”?) love.  What this looks like in the context of “Frozen” is something I mean to turn to in the next post (which will probably come after Thanksgiving).

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

Frozen_(2013_film)_posterFor those of you who have already read part one (and this post will seem totally random and make no sense unless you have), it occurs to me that I did not sufficiently clarify the relationship between Prince Hans’ admonition to Elsa not to “become the monster they think you are” and the Garasene demoniac of the Gospels.  So I made an addition that I will cite here (addition in bold):

[I]f we read the Gospel account carefully we find that beforehand, the demoniac’s community carefully maintained his status as village outcast by chaining him to the tombs.  What results is a vicious circle.  The demoniac rages about, breaks his chains, gashes himself with stones…in short, “becomes the monster they think he is.”

Now we can move on…

Image from Wikipedia

White WalkerMedia tie-in: http://www.weather.com/storms/winter/news/winter-storm-western-new-york-20140107

Image courtesy of http://www.memegenerator.net

I don’t think I have ever physically kicked myself.

But I am a little tempted to do so, in opposition to the generally accepted sense of the term, when I recall that Disney’s “Frozen” was playing in my local theater shortly after it first came out, and I did not go see it.  Had I known what a sensation it would become, I might have rethought that decision.

Anyway, I did finally get around to seeing the film a couple weeks ago.  Apart from some broader reflections that I offered last week, here are the thoughts that stand out most in my mind:

René_GirardElsa, the “snow queen” (voiced by Idina Menzel), made me think of Stanford University anthropologist René Girard’s great book “The Scapegoat,” in which he demonstrates the universality of the scapegoat mechanism across all cultures and its concealed presence in world mythology.

ElsaElsa qualifies as a scapegoat in the classical sense — not merely as one who gets blamed for everything, but one who is:

1) distinguished by some unusual mark or deformity — in Elsa’s case, her (often uncontrollable) magical powers of being able to produce and manipulate ice and snow (if we are looking for a more concrete physical mark, it would be the white gloves she wears to conceal these powers);

2) somehow perceived as the cause of the pestilence or curse on the community — Elsa does, of course, set off the “eternal winter” (though not on purpose); and

3) perceived at the same time as the one who can cure the community’s misfortune — a big part of the quest to rescue Elsa is to get her to stop the “eternal winter,” after all.

Contrary to what you might think, the latter is especially troubling with regard to traditional scapegoats.  Very often, this was where human sacrifice would come into play.  The one with the special “mark” would be killed (“sacrificed”), and this person’s death was thought to bring about the harmony and safety of the community.  Subsequently and as a result, the scapegoat would be deified or “mythified.” This basic societal impulse would morph into a variety of well-known stories (the blind Oedipus, for example).

Anna_Elsa2I hope I haven’t got people depressed.  If so, know that the analogy doesn’t end here.  “Frozen” is a much more upbeat and hopeful tale than Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” on which it is loosely based — and, ironically, the scapegoat mechanism doesn’t seem to make it into the latter at all.

Hans-elsa-stormBut before I move on, just one further illustration of how Elsa resembles the traditional scapegoat.  I’m thinking of the scene in which Prince Hans (voiced by Santino Fontana) and his band of men come to capture her in her secluded “ice palace.”  In the face of these intruders who appear to mean her harm, Elsa unleashes her powers in self-defense.

At this point, Hans pleads with her –apparently with concern and sincerity — not to “become the monster they think you are.”

If Elsa’s situation in general reminds me of the scapegoat mechanism in general, then this scene in particular makes me think of perhaps the most striking living example of this societal impulse mentioned in the Bible: The Gerasene demoniac.

Healing_of_the_demon-possessedMost people know this to be the gentleman out of whom Christ cast a host of demons, whom he then allowed to enter a herd of swine.  But if we read the Gospel account carefully we find that beforehand, the demoniac’s community carefully maintained his status as village outcast by chaining him to the tombs.  What results is a vicious circle.  The demoniac rages about, breaks his chains, gashes himself with stones…in short, “becomes the monster they think he is.”

This chaining is both literal and symbolic.  It is a concrete manifestation of the community’s determination to keep him trapped in his scapegoat status.  Elsa faces a somewhat similar situation in “Frozen.”  But, like the Gerasene demoniac, she is rescued by Christ — although in a more indirect, disguised, and admittedly symbolic form.

We’ll get into that next time.

“Frozen” stills obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

This Guy Turkey

Courtesy of http://www.memegenerator.net

Frozen_(2013_film)_poster

Please note: This is not going to be an in-depth commentary on the film.  I intend to offer one of those in the very near future, but this particular post is more of a general observation/reflection.

In a recent AP article, Sandy Cohen observes a trend in Disney films — most notably, the 2013 film “Frozen” — involving stronger female protagonists who, among other things, no longer need a “Prince Charming.”

Cohen draws attention to some interesting topics that are well worth exploring, and to do justice to such exploration would probably require a series of posts.  For the present, I want to focus specifically on “Frozen” and attend to how it deals with the subject of love.

Anna_ElsaWhile I think Cohen is unduly harsh on traditional romantic motifs in Disney fairy tales, I also see much that is positive in, for example, “Frozen’s” shift of focus.  As fans of the film know, the main thrust of the narrative involves Princess Anna’s (voiced by Kristen Bell) tireless quest to find and rescue her estranged sister, Queen Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), and, by extension, the Kingdom of Arendelle.

There are hints of romance in the movie, of course — most notably, between Anna and the intrepid iceman Kristoff (voiced by Jonathan Groff).  But this is peripheral.  Sisterly love is the main “point” of the movie.

Bear with me while I step away from “Frozen” for just a moment (which I’m only doing to make my discussion of the film more fruitful).  One of the troubles with the English language is that we really have only one word for love.  And often — especially when it comes to storytelling — we associate it primarily with romance.  (Do we recognize different kinds of love?  Sure.  But let’s face it: When we hear, “This is a love story,” do we think mom-and-baby or knight-and-damsel?)

The ancient Greeks, on the other hand, had several different terms denoting different forms of love.  Two examples: Eros was their word for romantic love; but then there was also philia, which was the love of friendship and family.  Interestingly, some of the wisest among the Greeks believed that philia, not eros, was the highest form of love — because eros, even in its noblest form, involves the expectation of pleasure, whereas friendship is more disinterested and more naturally conducive to selflessness.

Anna_Elsa2The fact of sisterhood clearly puts Anna and Elsa within the realm of philia.  But more importantly, we see in Anna’s quest to save Elsa and Arendelle at least something of the highest form of love, the love which contains and perfects all other loves — in Greek, agape; in Latin, caritas, which enters the English language as charity.  This is the love which wills the good of the other as other.

Again, I think the trend in which Cohen situates “Frozen” has some positive aspects.  I think part of the reason our culture has developed an unhealthy fixation with all things sexual, and why many marriages are collapsing, is that deep in our souls we desire a broader experience of love that is not limited merely to eros; but since we have fallen just short of equating love almost exclusively with the erotic (meant in the classical sense of the term, as referring to sexual attraction in general rather than to anything “kinky”), we tend toward the idolization of sexuality and the idealization of romantic relationships (which leads us to demand too much of them).

To be clear, I do not believe it is the responsibility of Disney movies to ensure that people understand and appreciate the full breadth and depth of human love and affection.  But all art has a way of making things like this come alive, and of drawing our hearts and minds toward worthy things.  Further, it makes sense for art forms intended for children to explore the types of relationships to which children can more easily relate.

Movie poster image from Wikipedia; stills obtained through a Google image search

Originally posted on Into the Dance:

DF-SC-84-11899Veterans Day is one of those rare holidays that pay homage to the lost virtue of heroism.

Along with our policemen, firefighters, and other public servants who put themselves in harm’s way for our freedom and safety, our men and women in uniform are a sign of contradiction.

Most of us prize subjective contentment as the summum bonum of life.  We pride ourselves on enjoyment and convenience.  So when people — flesh-and-blood human beings just like us — dedicate themselves to complete self-oblation, to the risk of life and limb for a cause higher than themselves…well, we cannot help but admire that, but at the same time it’s hard for us to understand.

Our veterans and those currently serving speak to us of mankind’s greatest potential glory.  For to give oneself away in the service of others and of a higher cause is part of the essence of sainthood, the…

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