I’ve always loved fairytales for their ability to convey universal truth disguised as an engaging story. A lot of my worldview, and especially the way I relate to the gospel story of redemption, stems from the influence of fairytales in my life. The very first fairytale I remember watching was Sleeping Beauty. I had seen it at a friend’s birthday party when I was in 2nd grade or thereabouts – and I was amazed with it. Still to this day, the film fascinates me. It birthed a passion for medieval history which has never abated (that was due to the super cool cone hats that the women wore). I loved the story, the art, the backgrounds, the colors, the costumes, the music, and above all, I adored those three fairies.
One of the great strengths of fairytales are their ability to be molded by each culture and generation and yet retain their truth and relevance. We’ve been blessed recently to have a resurgence in the popularity of the genre, and especially in revisionist fairytales. These new versions are intriguing, both in their creativity for telling an old story in a new way, and for their ability to reveal the heart of the culture that produced it. The film Sleeping Beauty was a product of the 50s and is an unabashedly optimistic tale. Like the culture in which it was created, Sleeping Beauty glows with a reassured hope of its rightness of cause – even in the face of a deadly curse, the effects can be mollified and a solution presents itself at just the right time, courtesy of fate. It is a beautiful story and dear to my heart, but sometimes it feels like it’s a frothy look at life, as if its creators were afraid to really look deep into what the story could reveal.
If Sleeping Beauty was an expression of the optimism of the 1950s, then Maleficent is surely a fairytale for the disillusioned. It’s messier, harsher, deeper, and even more beautiful than the original because this film dares to look long and hard at the story and reflect all the cosmic struggle we find in our own hearts. From the first few minutes, you’re drawn into conflict on so many levels – between cultures, between kingdoms, between individuals, and between the desires of a heart. And how that conflict plays out is both horrifying and exhilarating. Our culture knows the heartbreak of conflict, of disappointed love. We know now that love is not a song and dance – we’ve been there and done that and are left to deal with the sorrow when the dream evaporates. In Sleeping Beauty we are assured that “true love’s kiss will break any curse”. In Maleficent we are informed that “there’s no such thing as true love’s kiss”.
The film traces the backhistory of Maleficent, a fairy who experiences the brutality of betrayal and false love. In rageful vengeance, she curses the young princess to a pain as deep as her own. And there’s where the similarity with the original version ends. In the retelling, Maleficent watches over Aurora, initially with curiosity, then gradually with care. She and Aurora form a close bond, and in the light of growing love for the young girl, she tries unsuccessfully to revoke her curse. When Aurora realizes it’s her trusted Maleficent that had cursed her as a babe, she experiences the betrayal of her love just as Maleficent had as a young girl. It’s this complex relationship between the two women that give this retelling such depth and emotional weight. And at the climax of the story, it is not the kiss of a young prince that rescues Aurora. The message of this story centers on the meaning of love. We have wakened from a dream and know that love is not a happy feeling and it doesn’t occur at first sight. Love is hard, it hurts, it breaks. But the power of love is that it forgives. This is true love – to look into the face of betrayal and to forgive it. Both Maleficent and Aurora must confront this choice. And both choose the freedom of forgiveness over clinging to the pain of their past. Both women find redemption, healing and relationship. Kingdoms are united, love is shared, and hearts are made whole. Through this retelling, we get a deeper, more complex, and more satisfying story. And when the credits scroll, we leave with a greater appreciation and understanding that “true love conquers all” .
Blessings to you,