Reflections in the Ice Part Three: Redefining True Love

Frozen is a film that not only shows women taking control of their own happiness, but it also shows them acting on love instead of receiving it. Throughout the film, Anna experiences several types of love, but the most significant form is that which Anna chooses at the very end. Her sacrifice for Elsa redefines the meaning of “true love.” It’s not something that women wait for from men, and it’s not even realizing who “the right person” is. It’s completely placing someone else’s life before your own. In Anna’s case, it’s defining true love as something women act upon for each other. While one can’t easily ignore the queer vibes between Elsa and Anna, Anna’s sacrifice and love for her sister goes well beyond any romantic definitions, even if you ship them to the ends of the earth. Of course Anna would be willing to die for her sister. Elsa is all she has left and Anna has always accepted her for who she is.

Any time Christians see a character who dies for another’s sake and then lives, we’re quick to say, “Hey look! A Christ-figure!” Anna’s acceptance of Elsa, her fervent pursuit, and her desire for Elsa to know that she is not alone, certainly mimic Christ. This combined with how her acts define love and a quick “resurrection” invites audiences to read Anna as a loose Christ figure.

Anna is not the type of Christ figure who easily fits into a traditional understanding of why Christ came to earth and died on the cross. Elsa is not portrayed as a fallen human being who desperately needs redemption. Rather, she more closely represents the outcast and excluded, those whose lives are in constant danger because of a status quo that marks them as Other. So, when Anna consistently endangers herself to reach Anna–whether it’s traveling up a mountain alone or daring to stay in the same room as Elsa even as Elsa loses control of her powers–she is acting as the Christ who deliberately seeks to love the Other. Reading Elsa as queer only adds more depth to this understanding. Many people accept that Christ died to wash away personal sins, but fewer realize that his sacrifice and resurrection also shows that oppressive social systems that deny love and care to the marginalized will not last. They cannot kill and cause suffering forever, and they certainly cannot defeat the type of selfless love that Anna displays toward her sister, nor the love that Christ shows in the Gospels when he consistently seeks to change people’s understanding of those who are marginalized in his society. Anna’s radical act of love paves the way for people to understand and accept Elsa. It also frees Elsa to learn more about her powers and to no longer hide that part of herself for her own safety. Now, there is no longer a “system” of fear that would compel others to kill her.

The way Frozen defines true love is not only an important message for young girls and women in a world that wants to feed us the tired, heterocentric expectation to wait for a man’s love, but it’s an important message for everyone to understand that love is so much more than romantic relationships. It’s something that compels you to place another person’s well-being before your own, and it’s something that comes with truly knowing someone before committing to them.

 

Here ends this little blog post series—thanks for reading! Frozen is perhaps one of the best animated movies that the West has produced in quite a few years and I’m sure my interpretations only scratch the surface of what it shows us.

 

Reflections in the Ice Part Two: Anna’s Agency in Frozen

Anna_FrozenOne of the best things about Frozen is that it’s primarily a story about two sisters repairing their relationship, not one about finding love with a man. While romance is part of the story, it is not either of the main characters’ primary problem. Even Anna’s doe-eyed infatuation with Hans takes a back seat when Elsa leaves, showing one of many ways in which Anna simultaneously supports and subverts the Disney princess stereotype.

Throughout the film Anna and Elsa are agents of achieving their own happiness. Elsa does this by finally accepting her powers, a journey that parallels the experiences of many queer people. Anna does this by persistently taking action when something goes wrong instead of relying on a man to solve her problems for her. Even at the end, when she is expecting a man’s action to help her, she ultimately takes matters into her own hands.

 

Anna the Rescuer

Despite the fact that Anna has an over-the-top love at first site experience with Hans, it never occurs to her to let this dashing prince be manly and bring Elsa back. During that magical night when Hans and Anna sing about finishing each other’s sandwiches, they are both presented to the audience as character types that we have come to expect. Anna becomes the lovely, innocent princess whose dreams will come true when she gets to marry her prince and Hans becomes that handsome, kind, and brave prince. These two are so into each other that they’re ready to tie the knot the first time they meet, but Queen Elsa doesn’t give them her blessing, which infuriates Anna. Their fight is what forces Elsa’s powers out of control, exposing them to the entire kingdom.

The context around Anna’s choice to go after her sister makes her agency more prevalent and more effective to the audience. Anna resents Elsa a lot and now that Elsa has just refused to affirm true love, Anna has yet another reason to resent Elsa. However, Anna doesn’t hesitate to tell Hans to wait at home while she ventures to the dangerous mountain to find her sister. From this moment on, Anna sees it as her task to save Elsa and hers alone. The only time a man comes to save the day is near the end of the film when Anna literally cannot move. Even then, Anna still makes choices that defy the conventions of her character type.

 

 

Anna in Love

Anna’s love story also supports and subverts the typical princess love story. Her fling with Hans comfortably fits this pattern and it borders on parody without obviously hinting that it’ll fall apart. It isn’t until Anna meets Kristoff that she seriously questions getting engaged to a man she just met. His frank criticisms of it are a blatant example of Disney mocking much of their filmography, as this very plotline is what they popularized in several of the classic princess movies.

Of course, Hans turns out to be a conniving fiend, feigning innocence and honor to win Anna’s trust in the hopes of marrying into royalty to rule his own kingdom. The moment when he stops short of kissing a dying Anna and says, “Oh Anna, if only there was somebody out there who loved you,” is perhaps Anna’s darkest moment. At this point in the story, she’s relying on a true love’s kiss to stop her heart from freezing, so naturally she expects Hans to fulfill this role, but instead he reveals his true intentions. This betrayal speaks to real experiences that many people have unfortunately had, and it also provides a cautionary lesson of making sure you actually know who someone really is before you decide to marry them. The fact that Frozen presents a girl learning this lesson is especially important in a world where “ring by spring” is a goal that many college girls still aim for, especially at Christian schools. Our culture often repeats the idea that a young woman’s greatest story is falling in love with a man in a manner that’s not too different from what Anna experiences with Hans. By having that story fall apart, Frozen is teaching everyone, but especially young girls, that true love is not the handsome prince you connect with on your sister’s coronation–it’s not the classic Disney fairytale.

Though it’s heartbreaking for Anna to be denied her true love’s kiss and to also discover that her “true love” was never love at all, the only way out is for Anna to solve her own problem. Frozen is a story about women taking active roles in their happiness and how they express love, so Anna cannot stay in the damsel role. Kristoff is certainly the obvious choice for Anna’s true love. If Anna can reach him, they can kiss and she will be healed. With Olaf’s help, Anna makes it outside in the blizzard, still hoping that the act of true love will happen to her. However, Anna is soon forced to make a difficult choice: run into Kristoff’s arms to receive true love, or sacrifice herself for Elsa to act in true love. She chooses the latter, and in doing so, makes the final point that true love is an action that women take, not for the sake of men, but for the sake of each other. Anna saves herself by performing a loving action rather than simply being a recipient of love.

One final point I’d like to make about Kristoff, though, is that he is a much better example of a love interest. Not only does he have the sense that people should know each other well before marrying, but he also clearly understands consent and shows this at the end of the film where he asks Anna if it’s okay to kiss her. Yes, it’s a cute scene, but it’s also an important message for viewers to internalize.

Thus, through Anna’s agency, the meaning of true love is flipped on its head and comes much closer to a Biblical understanding of love as expressed by Christ’s sacrifice. In the next and final post, I’ll examine Anna’s actions in this light. Although the parallels are admittedly loose, they still provide interesting insights as to what love actually means.

Reflections in the Ice Part One: Elsa’s Queerness in Frozen

frozen

I’ve finally had the absolute pleasure of watching Frozen, this year’s Oscar winning animated feature that the Internet has been freaking out about since its theatrical release. I expected the movie to be good, but what I didn’t expect was for it to impress me on a level that would inspire an entire blog post series. There is a lot that this film did right in terms of representation and story telling that shows a major shift in how stories are speaking to us. Its largest blemish, however, is the utter lack of PoC. Many have already extensively written about this particular issue with much better expertise than I, as a white person, could ever express. I’ll summarize my opinion thusly: I don’t see many people take issue with the fact that Disney movies are hardly ever true to their source material story-wise. This type of historical inaccuracy seems just fine with creative licenses and such. But when people begin to question the lack of PoC, especially in Frozen, suddenly maintaining historical accuracy becomes a very important reason why there are none at all. This blog post covers the issue quite well, and includes some historical analysis of the presence of PoC in Denmark.

As I’ve said before, most of the stories that I give lip service to on this blog are merely steps in the right direction, and I don’t think any one story will ever “get it right” in terms of representation. What Frozen does well is that it subverts the princess story arc that Disney itself popularized. In this blog post series, I will discuss three ways in which Frozen has challenged what we’ve come to expect from Disney stories about women, especially princesses. The first, and perhaps the subtlest, is Elsa’s queerness. The second is the way that women take action instead of waiting for men to help them and the third is the complete redefinition of true love as expressed in the film’s final scenes.

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“Couldn’t keep it in, Heaven knows I tried.
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see.
Be the good girl you always have to be.
Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know.
Well, now they know!
Let it go, let it go!
Can’t hold it back any more.
Let it go, let it go!
Turn away and slam the door.
I don’t care what they’re going to say.
Let the storm rage on.
The cold never bothered me anyway.”–Let It Go

 

Conceal, Don’t Feel

It’s not only Elsa’s long gazes at Anna that make me read her as not-so-straight. Of course, the pain of not being able to even hug your own sister would probably make anyone look at someone that way. It’s how everyone, especially her parents, reacts to her icy powers. As far as we know, Elsa is the only person to have any sort of elemental gift, though the first scene with the trolls reveals that people can be born with these powers or cursed with them. Elsa was born with her magic and it’s clear from her father’s reaction to Anna’s accident that her parents have never been comfortable with or approved of Elsa using it. As the girls grow, Elsa is never encouraged to learn about or understand her powers. Instead, her parents teach her hide them from everyone and “conceal, don’t feel” becomes Elsa’s motto. She learns to resent her powers and keep a huge part of herself a secret from the outside world. For most of her life, Elsa is quiet literally in the closet–she locks herself in her room all the time and becomes even more secluded when her parents die.

“Conceal, don’t feel” subjects Elsa to a life of lying to herself, hating a huge part of who she is, and generally not allowing herself to be happy. Since this philosophy was imposed on her at such a young age, her entire story becomes an allegory of what many queer people experience in their own lives. When queerness is seen as something to be feared and pushed down instead of understood, “conceal, don’t feel” is what many queer people end up doing to stay under the radar. The allegory isn’t perfect–Elsa’s powers do legitimately hurt Anna, so the negative reaction is more understandable in the movie; however, everything else about Elsa’s story speaks to this experience, especially since her powers are strongly tied to her emotions.

Let It Go

In keeping with the queerness allegory, Elsa experiences a dramatic coming out scene at her coronation when her fight with Anna causes her to accidentally expose her powers to the entire kingdom. Not only do these powers shock everyone due to their rarity, but because Elsa can’t fully control them, she’s easily subjected to the fear mongering that pigeon holes her as a monster. Again, this is a familiar experience for many queer people when they come out to friends or family members. In Elsa’s case, the backlash hurts so much that she runs away, which reflects cases where young LGBT people are kicked out of their homes or made to be so miserable that they leave of their own volition.

At this point, the “Let It Go” number begins. Now that everyone knows Elsa’s secret–and now that she’s placing distance between herself and her home–she finally begins to embrace her powers. Her physical change (loosening her hair, tossing away her cloak, and donning a fabulous new dress) mirrors her emotional change into a more confident person. Coming out to oneself has this freeing effect. Elsa’s not completely fixed at this point, but she does realize that at least being in a place where she doesn’t have to hide her powers is infinitely better than living at home where she could be persecuted for them. If that means living alone for the rest of her life, she’ll make that sacrifice.

As the film progresses, Elsa gradually becomes more comfortable with her powers and subsequently gains better control over them; however, she doesn’t have complete control and that nearly becomes a fatal factor in the story. Still, “Let It Go” is an emotional turning point for Elsa–the point where she decides to take ownership of her happiness.

Though Elsa’s queerness is never explicit, her story parallels many of the non-romantic experiences of queer people. Elsa finally accepting herself is one of many examples in the film where women take action to pursue their own happiness. In “Let It Go,” Elsa starts living for herself a little bit, an important step in understanding and loving who she is. This kind of representation is sorely needed in a world that continuously rehashes the same stories about women. In the next post of this series, I’ll analyze other ways in which women are the agents of their own happiness as opposed to waiting on someone else to provide it for them. Anna’s story specifically breaks what we’ve come to expect of princess tales.