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J. J. Brown, Wordslinger

"I Sling Words As I Go Along."

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beauty

So, I’ve seen Beauty & the Beast (2017) twice now…..

……..and I loved it both times.  I also cried at the sheer beauty (pun not intended) of feelings it evoked in me, regarding the characters and the story.  This is not a review, only my response to a number of reviews about the film and its flaws.

The most common theme in all of the reviews I’ve read is how it’s Belle who bends and changes first, that it’s her responsibility to change the man, rather than the man doing it of his own volition.

I heartily disagree with that assessment.

I’m not excusing the Beast’s behavior (he’s a jerk and needs to learn about boundaries), but it’s his poor behavior that’s the catalyst.  It’s the reason Belle flees the castle in the first place – he’s rude, he’s being an asshole and he scares her over something that she does not realize has significant importance, not just to the Beast, but to his servants, as well. [1]

After scaring her out of his castle, the Beast realizes his error and almost becomes paralyzed with despair.  He knows he blew it, he knows he’s probably ruined the only hope to undo the curse that he and the castle are under and he wallows.  In many ways, his behavior is of someone who has given up all hope, who does not even dare to acknowledge that there is hope.

I understand that feeling.  I’ve been in that black pit of despair.  I did not treat my nearest and dearest well during that time.  Would anyone?

But what does the Beast do then?

For reasons never explained in the animated film or (presumably) the Broadway production or even in the 2017 version, the Beast goes after Belle.

Why?

What would be the point?  If he’s such a misogynistic, self-centered asshole, why would he do that?   Was he obligated to go after her?  No, he was not.  Was he obligated to save her life?  No.  The Beast CHOSE to go after Belle (to apologize, presumably, but, as observed earlier, it’s not made clear), and he ends up SAVING her life.  Was he obligated to that, too?  No, he was not.  He chose to do it because it was the right thing to do.

The Beast changed first.

It was his selfless act of saving her from the wolves that allows her to change her mind.

And yet, no one sees that. No one sees that he recognized his error (self-awareness) and went after her, to apologize (again, there’s no reason stated for why he went after her) and ends up risking his life for her.

All they see is that she changes her mind about him.

Belle didn’t reassess her opinion of the Beast out of nowhere. There was a motivating factor.

He saved her life, at great risk to himself, of his own free will.

She could have let him die and you see her move to leave him again, while he’s wounded and too weak to follow.  But she doesn’t – she recognized that he saved her life.  He chose to bend first, not Belle.

My argument here is that it was not Belle who initiated the change in their dynamic first.  She didn’t in the animated version nor in this version (and not in the Broadway production, either, I’m assuming).  I’ve read many reviews of this movie, and no one, NO ONE, remembers that Beast risked his life to save Belle BEFORE Belle decides to reassess her opinion of Beast.

Nothing happens in a vacuum.

Belle bends, but the Beast did it first.

*****

[1]  As for his relationship with the servants and why they couldn’t help Beast change his abusive and rude behavior?  Their relationship dynamics are in an already established hierarchy (master and servants).  As anyone in a family knows, effecting change in someone’s behavior is difficult enough as it is.  To effect it in someone you know is even more so.  Sometimes, it takes a stranger, someone from outside, to hold a mirror up to you before you can see it.

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So, I had the opportunity to see a performance of Frankenstein…..

…….featuring actors Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) and Johnny Lee Miller (Elementary), alternating the lead roles of the Creature and his creator, Victor Frankenstein. The novel by Mary Shelley has captured the imagination of people the world over and has been given countless adaptations for film, television and stage, either adhering to the source material or being a loose interpretation. The novel has also been an inspiration in popular culture, ranging from comic books to video games to toys and models.

This stage adaptation written by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle premiered in 2011, at the National Theatre, where it was filmed live and screened in selected theaters across the world. It was given an encore screening by Fathom Events on October 25, 2016, with Cumberbatch as the Creature and Miller as Frankenstein.

It was tragic and beautiful, haunting and horrific. Unlike the Universal classic with Boris Karloff, this adaptation of the novel, Frankenstein gives the Creature his voice and soul as he struggles from his (re)-‘birth’ to find his place in the world. His loneliness and desire for companionship and belonging defines the Creature, even as he is constantly rejected for being physically different than those around him. He is called ‘vile’ and ‘disgusting’, a ‘monster’ and is brutally thrown out, even as he secretly offers his catch from hunting and kindling to keep an old man and his family well-fed and warm.

His desire for love comes in the form of another creation by Frankenstein (Miller). Because of a hellish nightmare of the two potentially having children, he destroys the female creature before she becomes fully animated.

The tale of Frankenstein and the Creature transcends its original time – it is a cautionary tale of blindly following science (Jurassic Park is another example of this); it is a story of a man running from his responsibilities to his creation, thus setting off a chain of events that leads to the deaths of those he holds dear; it is the story of trying to find one’s place in a strange world, of trying to make connections and find love; it is the story of brutal rejection and vilification instead of compassion and empathy.

I first read the novel in high school, as I’m sure many of you have. I don’t recall much of my initial impressions of it, but this theatrical production moved me to tears. I wept throughout a performance that had been filmed five years previously. As cruel and angry and hateful as the Creature became, I understood his hurt, his rage, his desires, his difference.

But where he had been abandoned and abused and vilified and had no one to turn to for any kind of support, I have been blessed with friends and support. By no means has it been perfect, but from the Creature’s point of view, it might be.

Frankenstein isn’t just the first science fiction novel to be written. It is a novel about humanity – those who throw it away (Frankenstein), those who find it (the Creature) and how people react to it in those who are not like themselves.

The first step to de-humanizing a person is to take away their identity, their humanity.

There is a reason that the Creature in the novel has no name.

We are the Creature. And we are Victor Frankenstein.

And I continue to weep.

frankenstein

Recommended:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Last Man by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley (Biography) by Miranda Seymour
Romantic Outlaws (Mary Wollstonecraft & Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley) by Charlotte Gordon

And now, a word from L.M. Montgomery……

“Twilight drops her curtain down, and pins it with a star.”

 

L.M. Montgomery, author
November 30, 1874 – April 24, 1942

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