My greatest criticisms of both Fifty Shades and the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast come down to how they frame hope.
In Fifty Shades, Christian’s hope is vested in Ana, and the fear of losing her drives him to control her. In the 2017 Beauty and the Beast, Beast fares a bit better; he vests his hope in Belle’s intangible presence, which means he’s less controlling. But in the 1991 version we see something fundamentally different: Belle is Beast’s symbol of hope. When Beast surrenders to uncertainty he dies inwardly, only to be reborn into a new hope when Belle returns.
In these respects, I’d say Fifty Shades presents a hope that is Mormon, the 2017 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is Platonist, but the 1991 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is consistent with traditional Christianity.
Now you might say that’s over-analysing, but hey – I’m coming to the end of twenty-six blog posts that look into Beauty and the Beast in some form, so I think I’ve kind of already opened myself up to that accusation. I may as well keep going until I’ve said everything that I think is worth saying.
This is a long post, even by my standards (4,000 words), but if reading the above whets your appetite – keep going.
It was incredible to me that part of the Beast’s backstory is literally oppressing an entire town and his “redemption” is simply letting Belle go and not kill Gaston. Sigh. Belle became an externalized moral icon for him instead of him showing a pattern of repentance and personal growth.
When a friend comments on your Facebook feed and hits the nail on the head, there’s little more to add.
We don’t become good people by having good people in our lives, or by buying their books, or by putting their pictures on our wall. Rather, we do it by following their examples through our actions.
The 1991 Beauty and the Beast understood this. But I don’t think either the 2017 version or Fifty Shades did.
Once this five part series is done, I’m planning on taking a long break from blogging about Fifty Shades and Beauty and the Beast. I’ve got to the point where I feel like I’m either stating the obvious or repeating myself. But hey, this five-part series might be more accessible for some people than the 18-part, and it does have some new thoughts, so – what the heck, I’ll see it through.
Being and doing
Who we are affects what we do. What we do affects who we are. In a sense, who we are is what we do.
But it’s so, so easy to say you are one thing and have your actions do something else. For this reason there are some stories that emphasise it’s not who you are, but what you do that matters.
Take Batman Begins for example. Billionaire Bruce Wayne is told by love interest Rachel Dawes that he can’t claim to be some nice noble guy underneath his wealth and extravagance; she says it’s what he does that really matters. Little does she know he is the caped crime-fighting vigilante, though she finds out later when he repeats her words back to her.
But in fairness, the distinction between who we are and what we do, is a false one. Rachel Dawes draws a distinction because she wants to highlight the apparent shallowness of Bruce’s claim of being a nice guy really. Once she gets to know Bruce better, she realises that who he claims to be really is reflected in his actions.
This whole discussion about who we are and what we do is a really important one, because there are two big and weighty words out there that relate to our doing and our being: guilt and shame.
Welcome to part 3 of comparing Fifty Shades with both the animated and live action versions of Beauty and the Beast. CONTENT NOTE: I mention Christian’s sadism and his traumatic upbringing and quote one of the uglier lines from 50 Shades. Consider this your SPOILERS warning too; I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast as well as some from Harry Potter.Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 3: Guilt and shame)→
So here’s the thing: you do not protect someone by faulting their behaviour and then trying to control them so as to limit it.
It took me a while to click this and I don’t have it entirely straight in my head yet, but the way I see it, if a person is vulnerable to making unhealthy choices, you protect them by limiting their surroundings, not by limiting them.
To give an example: you protect children by keeping sharp objects out of reach; you don’t protect them by telling them they must never reach, and certainly not by punishing them for trying to reach. (Though sometimes you let them discover wisdom for themselves – like when my parents let me serve myself a heaped spoonful of mustard because I kept demanding it.)
Meanwhile, as anyone who has studied domestic violence will tell you, entitlement and desire for control are the root of abuse. I’ll be the first to say that faithfulness is bigger than consent, but faithfulness is not about control – and it’s definitely not about retributive punishment.
How does Christian Grey compare with Dan Stevens’ Beast?
I’ve already blogged at length about Beast in the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, but now we have a live-action version, it’s worth asking the question again.
I won’t drag this out into an 18 part series like I did last time, but I want to look at the characters of Beast and Christian, from five different angles. In particular, I want to look at how Fifty Shades and both versions of Beauty and the Beast frame the following:
The live-action Beauty and the Beast isn’t a redemptive fairy-tale any more; it’s a high-fantasy romance. And I hate to say it, but it feels very muddled in places.
Last night I saw the film as part of the ‘Disney Concert Experience’ at the Odeon in Leicester Square. I’m really glad I went, and I loved the performances, but I have very mixed feelings over the film.
When I started blogging through the plot and themes of Beauty and the Beast, making comparisons with Fifty Shades, and how they did and didn’t speak about redemption, I didn’t expect it would last for eighteen posts. But hey, it did, and if it’s too much like hard work to read all of them, here’s your too-long-didn’t-read, sparks notes, summary of the key points from each. Continue reading A summary of how redemption in BATB compares with 50 Shades→
Life is never going to be boring with Christian, and I’m in this for the long haul. I love this man: my husband, my lover, father of my child, my sometimes Dominant… my Fifty Shades.
— Fifty Shades Freed, p531
There is something about hope that is both now and not yet.
We see hope when people are healed and reconciled, and even when they’re comforted in times of distress. At the same time though, these are but foretastes of something more, something that will only be found fully in the beyond.
Jack’s eyes flash the darkest blue, and he sneers as he casts a leering look down my body.
Fear chokes me. What is this? What does he want?
— Fifty Shades Darker, p367
Let’s talk about villains.
Handsome, popular, and successful at everything he does (except proposing to Belle), Gaston is also rude, vain and conceited. He wants only the best and thinks he deserves it. “Best” is defined by outward appearance so Gaston directs his possessiveness towards Belle. He has mood swings when he doesn’t get his own way. When Belle refuses Gaston a second time, Gaston imprisons her and sets out to kill Beast.
Editor at a publishing company and the one who hires Ana to work there. Hyde is not as successful as Christian Grey is, but feels he’s entitled to be because they were both in foster care together as boys. Hyde controls and sexually harasses all the women he works with and is possessive towards Ana. He’s secretly filmed himself having rough sex with his secretaries and uses the footage as leverage over them. He has mood swings when he doesn’t get his own way. When Christian takes over his company and he is fired, he sabotages Christian’s helicopter in an attempt to kill him. He kidnaps Christian’s sister for a $5m ransom. Continue reading Gaston vs Jack Hyde: Monsters, mirrors and mercy→
He strolls towards me until he’s standing in front of me. “What did you buy?” he whispers, and I know it’s to change the topic of conversation.
“A dress, some shoes, a necklace. I spent a great deal of your money.” I glance up at him guiltily.
He’s amused. “Good,” he murmurs and tucks a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “And for the billionth time, our money.”
— Fifty Shades Freed, p290
I remember shifting uncomfortably in my seat as I was watching Beauty and the Beast. Belle was standing at the top of the stairs dressed in her yellow ball gown. The problem was, I couldn’t be sure that this whole scene wasn’t Beast’s way of ignoring or – worse – glamorising Belle’s captivity. And what was I to make of the strong and determined heroine? Had the prospect of a pretty dress and a candlelit dinner made her forget her dreams of adventure?
How did this iconic ballroom scene reconcile with the rest of the plot?
Who would have thought? I grin widely, the word progress running around my brain as I drift.
— Fifty Shades Freed, p310
From the early pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian displays several unsavoury characteristics, even when you completely ignore his sadism (and I will generally ignore it for the purposes of this post).
He is overly controlling of Ana, saying that he’s afraid of losing her and knows what’s best for her. He’s also very possessive of Ana, not wanting her sexuality visible to anyone else and responds aggressively to the slightest hint of male attention directed towards her.
But, as this is trying to be a redemption story, we should judge Christian more by his behaviour towards the end of the books, rather than the beginning. After all, redemption involves change on the part of the person being redeemed.
But the sad fact of the matter is that Christian doesn’t change.
“I would build this for you,” he whispers. “Just to see the way the light burnishes you hair, right here, right now.” He tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. “You look like an angel.” He kisses my just below my earlobe, takes my hand in his, and murmurs, “We despots do that for the women we love.”
— Fifty Shades Freed, p78
For context, Christian and Ana are in the Palace of Versailles when he says that.
“Hell, Ana, I just showed you . . .” he groans. “May God forgive me. Have you ever been kissed, apart from by me?”
— Fifty Shades of Grey, p109
Shame is a weird word.
It gets used a lot, but in very different ways. And far less often do you hear someone give a definition for it. But I want to blog about shame so here’s my definition:
Shame is knowledge you have about yourself – knowledge that says you are unworthy.
Shame involves a moral judgement: you are unworthy because you are bad. It also involves exclusion: you are unworthy therefore you must be separated from worthy people. But perhaps most importantly, shame is about identity: you are unworthy.
Unsurprisingly, shame often goes hand in hand with guilt: you are unworthy because your actions were unworthy. It goes the other way round too: your actions are unworthy because you are unworthy. In this, the pairing of guilt and shame reflects the truth that who we are affects what we do, and what we do affects who we are.
“Anastasia, are you okay? You sound strange.”
“I’m not the strange one, you are.” There—that told him, my courage fuelled by alcohol.
— Fifty Shades of Grey, p57
It’s one of those awkward conundrums: You try to establish a personal boundary between yourself and someone else. They ignore it. However, as a result, they’re in a position to help you overcome a much bigger problem that you wouldn’t have been able to overcome had they not been there.
Question: were they right to ignore your personal boundary?
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
— Isaiah 53:7 (NIVUK)
“What has Isaiah chapter 53 got to do with Fifty Shades?” I hear you ask.