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:
Elsa, 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.
Elsa 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).
I 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.
But 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.
Most 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