December 20, 2008

And they lived attractively ever after.

Warning: this post will contain some movie and book spoilers.

I just saw the movie Penelope again. I always find that movie charming on a lot of levels, but I remember being very anxious to see how it would treat the subject of love surpassing a person's appearance. And I was impressed.

As soon as she stops trying to beat the curse and starts experiencing life, she finds a lot of what was missing, and realizes that even if she never breaks the curse, she can be happy. When she finally reveals herself to the public, they are more curious than appalled, and in a weird fanish way, they accept her. And when she refuses to compromise that happiness to possibly break the curse and realizes she likes herself the way she is, the curse is broken. Also of note was that her love interest, John, kisses her before he knows she has broken the curse, showing us that her looks don't matter to him and assuring us that he really is worthy of her.

Good movie. But my question is, why does the curse have to be broken? Why "reward" the ability to see past an imperfect exterior by saying, "Congratulations, now you won't have to?" What does that really teach us? That unconditional love is all well and good but you can only be truly happy if you look like you deserve that kind of fairytale?

The thing is, it's satisfying. We all feel a little bit better when the beast becomes a human again. Now they can live happily ever after. I'm sure if any of us bearded women found a way to remove the unwanted hair from our lives forever, we'd live a little happier too. But what if the beast's situation were permanent, more like life? How would that story play out?

There's one book I can think of. Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, which is her second retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale. In the first one, the beast became a man again. In the second, she chose for the Beast to remain a beast. It was a fascinating choice to me, and I have yet to find any articles that explain why McKinley told it that way. The sophistication puts it above and beyond the simplistic moral point (vanity is bad) of Grimm. Maybe that's why it's just not that popular.

Has anybody else ever tried to relate to a Beauty and the Beast story?

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