Have you ever walked out at the end of a movie and thought, “That was a good movie, but something about it just isn’t sitting right with me?” I sure have. We, as Christians, are no different than any movie goer. We love exciting plot, thrilling suspense and spectacular special effects. The difference though, is that the Holy Spirit within us doesn’t always bear witness with the themes woven throughout the movie and we leave unsettled.
I had that experience when I watched Maleficent. Since I really enjoy fairy tales retold, I was interested to see how Sleepy Beauty might look from a different angle. From the beginning, I could not help but fall in love with the mythical land and creatures that were beautifully created. The plot twists were well thought out and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time wondering what to expect since the landscape of the fairy tale was so radically changed that I didn’t quite know where it was headed. When I left the theater, I was both in love with the story and disturbed by the themes. When I had time to process it, there were three major issues that I realized, as Christians, we should be aware of.
First, the character of Maleficent was a conflict to behold. She was described as a fairy, but wore dark clothing, had dark horns and large dark wings and her face was shadowed. My brain immediately recognized her darkness as a symbol of evil, but then she was portrayed as kindhearted and protecting. The aspect of Maleficent that I recognized as disturbing was the similarity between her and the ancient demon known in Jewish traditions as Lilith. I realize this may have been the original design in Disney’s old Sleeping Beauty, but in that tale, she was solely evil and was not presented in a way that we should be sympathetic towards her. In this modern version, she is presented as powerful, dark and seductive, but when a cruel act is committed against her by a greedy, power hungry lover, we suddenly find ourselves feeling sympathy for her. I had a part of my brain screaming, “Warning, she’s evil,” while the other part longed for her to be avenged. I was as conflicted as her character.
Second, the plot of the original Sleeping Beauty required Prince Charming to destroy the thorn wall and vanquish the evil fairy turned dragon. Only after accomplishing the hero’s feat did he earn the right to offer true loves kiss. This was a strong image of Christ’s sacrifice for us which erased the curse and broke the power of the evil one. The work of the cross is the ultimate hero’s feat. Yet, in this movie Prince Charming’s kiss is impotent and it is Maleficent’s kiss that breaks the curse. Many people see in this asa a climatic redemptive moment where love helped right her wrong, but under the surface, this turn of events actually perverts the gospel that the original tale paralleled.
Finally, in the end, Maleficent offered Aurora an alliance. The dark fairies name means harmfully malicious and to the end, her countenance remained dark and brooding while Aurora embodied all things good and beautiful, giving this alliance all the appearances of a joining of evil and good, darkness and light. Though my sympathetic side wanted to cheer, there was a check in my spirit, because it felt all wrong. And that is how I left the theater. Unsettled.
If you liked the movie, does it mean you’re bad? No. By entertainment standards, it was an amazing movie. The Christian should be careful to understand though, that there are two powerful dangers working in a story like this. First, fairy tales were once used to teach children about virtuous character, consequences for behavior, the Christian themes of sacrifice and redemption and ultimately, how Christ loved us and gave himself to purchase our freedom. With fairy tales perverted and all illusions to virtue and redemption watered down or erased, we, as a society have lost a large part of the tools once used to shape a child’s soul for good. It’s also important to understand how media can draw from us sympathy for something that in broad daylight we’d recognize as evil. This is how so many Christians are being drawn away from their biblical beliefs into deeply conflicted cultural relevancy. The Proverbs warn us to guard our heart for it’s the wellspring of life. Even in our “down time” of decompressing and watching a fun, fictional movie, we should remain aware of this command lest we become so accustomed to sympathizing with evil that we are slowly drawn away into deception.