Theme: Beauty, Betrayal, Blessing
Walt Disney Studios has taken a beloved fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty, added a terrific twist and come up with a smash hit in the new movie Maleficent. The film follows the basic Biblical pattern of Beauty (Creation), Betrayal (Fall) and Blessing (Redemption) while exploring other Biblical themes which may not be as familiar to the audience.
The King and His People
The story begins with a narrator describing two neighboring kingdoms. The first is ruled by a greedy, discontented King, while the second more ethereal kingdom, called The Moors is filled with fairies, pixies and benevolent folk. A representative of each kingdom is introduced in these opening scenes: Maleficent the young fairy and Stefan the human boy; both are orphans. And so the stage is set for a possible end to the age old enmity between these two realms with the budding friendship and teenage romance between the pair.
The first Biblical theme introduced is the profound truth; “what is true of the King is true of his people”. The King is representative of his kingdom, so as he goes so goes the realm and those who live under him. King Henry is corrupt, greedy, ambitious, and willing to murder in order to get what he wants. Stefan the young orphan follows this pattern and initiates the betrayal which disfigures Maleficent and corrupts his own soul.
Later the same principle is worked out in The Moors as Maleficent ascends a lifeless throne of twigs and brings darkness over her own dominion.
What is true of the King is true of his people is the Biblical truth explored in Romans Chapter Five where the first Adam is contrasted with the last Adam, King Jesus. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ .(Romans 5:17). One is either “in Adam” or “in Christ”…..what is true of the King is true of his people.”
Betrayal: The Kiss of Death
One of the most dramatic and haunting scenes in the movie is the betrayal of Maleficent by Stefan. Having given her “true love’s kiss” on her sixteenth birthday, Stefan disappears only to return years later. He seduces Maleficent and then steals her virtue (source of power) by removing her wings, (this scene could be a powerful teaching to young females regarding their own virtue or chastity). His action is a self- willed power play against another person, filled with deception and disloyalty. It ultimately leads to his own disfigurement and death.
In the Bible betrayal carries the image of handing over one person to another (just as Stefan hands over Malecifent’s wings to King Henry). The most famous betrayal is of course Judas’s betrayal of Jesus. He hands him over with a kiss to the Roman Prefect Pontus Pilate, which leads to the death of Jesus and the death of Judas.
Some of the most memorable images in the film are of thorns. Malecifent erects a giant wall of briers around The Moors to keep Stefan and his men out. At the same time Stefan has his metal workers create a snare of iron thorns at the castle to burn Malecifent should she dare to enter.
Thorns in the Bible are always considered a negative. When they appear their imagery suggests something worthless, non-productive, and lifeless and they are often associated with punishment. In the Old Testament they are symbolic of exile (Isaiah 5:5-6) and in the New Testament they symbolize torture (John 19:2).
All of these meanings are applicable to the thorns in Malecifent. Exile, death, torture, and torment encircle both kingdoms. Perhaps the two walls are most symbolic of the thorns which encase the hearts of Malecifent and Stefan.
The climactic scene in the movie is of course the awakening of Aurora by true love’s first kiss; here the film takes a real turn. The young princess loved the one who cursed her and this love found its way through the wall of thorns and into Malecifent’s heart. The fairy who was lost in hatred and revenge is found and brought to a true and deep repentance. She makes her confession at the sleeping beauty’s bedside promising her she will guard her as long as she lives. This is sacrificial love, this is true love and it is the undoing of the curse. When Malecifent kisses Aurora’s forehead the spell is broken.
The most famous verse in the Bible is probably John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” God loved those who rejected and cursed him so much He gave His Son to be the sacrifice for their sin. When that true love finds its way into a thorn-covered heart it elicits a deep repentance and confession. It awakens the one in sleeping death to life; the dawn (Aurora means dawn) of a new day that will never end (Revelation 22:5).
The Twisted Tale
There are many other Biblical themes in the film which could be explored: good triumphs over evil, love is stronger than death, blessing overpowers cursing, and the love of power verses the power of love, just to name a few. If this story were written to stand on its own it would be wonderful and there would be nothing further to say. However Malecifent was created as a “back story” to one of the most beloved fairy tales of all time, Sleeping Beauty. Indeed the Malecifent trailer teases, “You know the tale ……now find out the truth”!
And what is the supposed truth? Quite simply Malecifent takes what is good in Sleeping Beauty and makes it evil, and takes what is evil in Sleeping Beauty and makes it good. This is the terrific twist and a very post modern way of retelling an old story.
Good King Stefan can never be good again for he has been transformed into a paranoid, demonic, murderer. Malecifent (the very name means evil or harmful) is no longer the evil witch/dragon; she has been transformed into the heroic fairy with angelic looking wings. The three good fairies who give the shield of faith and the sword of virtue to Prince Philip and help him destroy the dragon are reduced to the three pixie stooges; Flittle, Knotgrass, and Thistlewitt. Prince Philip who fights against the powers of Hell to reach his true love is carried along in a floating comatose state and dropped at the bedroom chamber door by none other than Malecifent and on and on the twisting goes.
Why is this important?
Fairy tales intuit The Gospel. As G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy: “There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the Sleeping Beauty, which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also may perhaps be softened to a sleep. But I am not concerned with any of the separate statues of elfland, but with the whole spirit of its law, which I learnt before I could speak, and shall retain when I cannot write. I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.”
Which begs the question if Sleeping Beauty can be twisted in such a way, is it a far stretch of the imagination to see how the Bible could be too? Could Judas be given a “back story” or Lucifer the anointed cherub who fell to become The Satan be resurrected with a new set of wings?
So while the audience applauds at the end for a terrific movie and a well told tale, one has to ponder at what expense was the story told? Will children who see Malecifent ever see Sleeping Beauty with the same eyes of wonder and delight? Which tale will be true to them? Was the deconstructing of Sleeping Beauty a good and truthful thing to do?
You know the tale….now You decide the truth.