Beast starts to read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Belle – from the special edition release
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.
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.
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.
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?
Jeez, I’m a quivering, mess, and he hasn’t even touched me. I squirm in my seat and meet his dark glare. “Why don’t you?” I challenge quietly. “Because I’m not going to touch you, Anastasia—not until I have your written consent to do so.” His lips hint at a smile. — Fifty Shades of Grey, p74
Four pages later, we see how good Christian is to his promise:
“Oh, f*** the paperwork,” he growls. He lunges at me pushing me against the wall of the elevator.
The plot of two halves
In Choice, Commitment and Consent (Part 1), I talked about how the idea of promise is important to understanding redemption. In that post I also raised the following objection to the plot of Fifty Shades:
Redemption is about the redeemer making a single promise to the person needing redemption. In Fifty Shades it’s Christian who keeps making promises – and breaking them. He is always shifting the boundaries of the relationship by changing the terms of his promises.
It’s important to recognise that how Christian reveals his secrets to Ana (and breaks his promises to her) shifts after the end of the first book. Up to the end of Fifty Shades of Grey the focus is on him obtaining and keeping Ana on his terms, for his ends. Afterwards, however, he recognises that’s not going to work because Ana leaves him. So he begins to take steps so that the relationship is more on Ana’s terms.
In other words – and I’m not saying I agree with the following statements – there’s a case for saying that, from a redemption perspective:
Fifty Shades of Grey is about Christian thrashing about wretchedly in his fallen state, trying suck Ana into his darkness and failing.
Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed are about Christian learning to relate in healthy ways or ‘learning to love’ as the narrator in Beauty and the Beast would say. In learning, Christian eventually reaches his complete redemption – being married, monogamous, a father of one child a father-to-be of another, and still having a great sex life with Ana.
The thing is, I don’t think either of these parts of the plot speak about redemption. So in this post I’ll talk about the first part, and in the next post I’ll talk about the second.
We’re coming near to the end of the bridge, and the road is once more bathed in the neon light of the street lamps so his face is intermittently in the light and the dark. And it’s such a fitting metaphor. This man, who I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight—or the dark knight, as he said. He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light? “I still want more,” I whisper. “I know,” he says. “I’ll try.” — Fifty Shades of Grey, p355
If you’ve been following this series so far, you’ll know that I’ve already posted twice about how, in a redemption story, a redeemer freely and purposefully chooses to act to save someone.
So why am I blogging about redeemer’s choice again? And why is this post a “part 1”?
The answer is that Ana’s choice in Fifty Shades and Belle’s choice in Beauty and the Beast are very different in one key respect:
Ana chooses to redeem Christian. Belle does not choose to redeem Beast.
Now, this difference isn’t a reason to disregard Fifty Shades as a redemption narrative. But it does create complications when it’s compared with Beauty and the Beast. Moreover, in this respect, the redemption narrative within Christianity appears to be closer to Fifty Shades than Beauty and the Beast. After all, Christians believe that Jesus’ choice to enter into the world and suffer and die, was a choice made for the benefit of humanity – even though it was humans who caused him to suffer and die.
This begs the question: if I think that Beauty and the Beast portrays a model of redemption that is close to Christianity’s understanding of it (and I do), how do I explain this apparent difference? And if I think that Fifty Shades is inconsistent with the Christian(ity) model, then why is that?
To answer these questions, we need to grapple even more with our understanding of choice and how it relates to redemption.
Before we begin, some blurb if you’re new to this blog:
Why am I even thinking about this? — Fifty Shades of Grey, p165
This is a mini-ish post in my series looking at the redemption arcs in Beauty and the Beast compared with Fifty Shades.
Reason being, I need a little more time to work on the next proper one in the series which will look in a lot more detail at Ana’s choice to try to redeem Christian. In this one though, I’ll just make a couple of observations about Ana’s motivation and Belle’s motivation.
“You are exquisite, honest, warm, strong, witty, beguilingly innocent; the list is endless. I’m in awe of you.” — Christian, Fifty Shades Darker, p36
The need for outside help
In a redemption narrative, the person who is redeemed cannot redeem themselves on their own. They need a redeemer.
That isn’t to say that the person being redeemed doesn’t do anything to aid their redemption – quite the opposite. But what it does mean is that if it weren’t for the help of someone else stepping into their darkness and bringing them out of it, they would not have been saved.
In this post I want to compare Christian’s need for Ana with Beast’s need for Belle.
If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and you can find the introduction to this series here.
“I think the reason why you love Beauty and the Beast so much is because it has such a strong redemption narrative.”
My best friend was right of course. I love stories of redemption. To borrow from another saying, these stories have power, not because they tell us that there are monsters in the world, nor because they tell us that we can be monsters. But rather, because they tell us that – even in our most wretched and unlovable state – we can be saved from being monsters. We can become children of light.
In fairness, the appeal of Disney’s film when I was growing up probably also had much to do with the fact that I could identify with the heroine who didn’t quite fit in. Plus I admired her beauty, ability and courage. And then there were the songs.
I was recently asked if the idea of ‘the One’ was biblical and I decided to blog about it as I think it’s essentially a question about how romance relates to hope.
The very boring short answer is No, for the simple reason that many modern romance narratives (including the idea of ‘soul-mates’ and the ‘One True Love’) have literary origins which are much later than the Bible.
But that doesn’t answer much more interesting questions like whether God intends everyone to experience romantic affection or whether a Christian can expect to meet their ‘One’ miraculously.
So, I’ve put a few thoughts on the boring short question in an appendix, and have written a post that tries to address those questions instead. Also, because the original question asked about the Bible, I’ve framed most of my answers using examples from it.
So: is the idea of ‘the One’ consistent with the Bible?
I’m going to say more no than yes.
It’s not that God never does bring ‘the One’ into a Christian’s life (he does), but specifically expecting that God will do this makes too many assumptions about life and how God works. And it encourages too many unhelpful behaviours.
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