Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Frozen" and the Lie of False Freedom

Before we even begin here, I get that Frozen is sooooo "yesterday's news", but my 9 year old daughter's chorale group just performed "Let it Go" at a recent concert and, having been  torutured, ahem, treated to my children belting it out at the top of their lungs for several weeks now, I must confess that I have some major gripes with that song.

Let me just state for the record: I loved Frozen. I bawled like a baby watching it and the instant it ended I called my sister and blubbered how much I loved her over the phone. A week later, I watched it with my sister and we both sobbed together and hugged each other as our baffled husbands shook their heads and poured themselves another glass of wine. It is a great movie about the bond of sisterhood and climaxes with a wonderful message about the healing power of self-sacrificing love.

My gripe is with the song "Let It Go" and the erroneous message it sends - erroneous, that is, if your live out a Catholic, Gospel world view -  which, as you probably have surmised by the title of this blog, I do. If you subscribe to the "I'm Every Woman" world view of determined individualism, well, then, I guess you have a new anthem in "Let it Go".

Let it Go is not a song about empowerment and freedom - it is a song driven out of fear and culminating in isolation and destruction - a recipe for slavery. 

Here's a quick synopsis (for the two of you who have not yet seen the movie):
  • Elsa has lived with a gripping fear, exacerbated by her parent's mishandling of their daughter's powers, since she accidentally hurt her sister Anna when they were children. 
  • This fear has resulted in her powers being kept secret from everyone, including her own sister. 
  • When the years of pent up fear, isolation and guilt finally explode in Elsa - she makes the mistake of doing what so many of us would do in the same situation - she runs away. 
  • In the act of escaping from Arandale, Elsa does not free herself (although she does build for herself quite a spectacular ice-castle) but merely trades one form of isolation for another. She is equally as trapped in the ice-castle of her own creation, as she was in the castle at Arandale.
  • It is only through the love and forgiveness of the community that Elsa is truly set free and is finally able to use her gifts for good. 

 Our faith and the teachings of the Lord Jesus give us quite a different perspective from the message of Elsa's "freedom" expressed in the mantras of "Let it Go".  Here's a few key points:

Secrets Destroy
Right from the beginning of the movie, we see the destructive and demeaning power of the secret. The entire castle is shut down and the world is shut out all because of the fear of the secret of Elsa's powers being revealed. Indeed, the secret has driven a wedge between the two sisters, Anna and Elsa. As for Elsa herself, she is slowly being destroyed from the inside out by this secret and the pressure of keeping it.

The Scriptures teach us to live as children of the light. In Mark's Gospel, Jesus says:  "For there is nothing hidden, except to be made visible; nothing is secret except to come to the light."  (Mark 4:22) . It is the enemy of our souls who operates in darkness and secrets - causing the secrets we keep to mushroom into crippling fears. In Christ, there is no such thing as a secret. Even our worst sins and failings need to be brought into His light. Why? So that they may be healed and we may be set free from their debilitating effects. 

Forgiveness Needs to Happen, Quickly
Part of the disconnect between Anna and Elsa exists in the fact that Elsa has never received Anna's forgiveness for hurting her and she has never forgiven herself. Unforgiveness is a powerful source of division, especially in families. We can see by the love in Anna's heart, that she would have been more than willing to offer forgiveness to Elsa, had Elsa asked.  In fact, because of the secret, Anna does not even know the source of the division between herself and Elsa, whom she loves dearly and misses terribly. Receiving Anna's forgiveness would have been a potent remedy for many of Elsa's fears.

Like Elsa, there may be many times where we hurt those we love, even inadvertently. It is often tempting, whether our of guilt, embarrassment, or pride to cut that person out of our lives rather than attempt to repair the relationship. Doing so, however, leads to more confusion and resentment on both sides. Had Elsa and Anna had an honest conversation, and extended and received forgiveness quickly, things would have been quite different in their relationship. In the context of mutual forgiveness and love, it is likely that Elsa's fears would never have had the opportunity to get a stronghold in her heart. (Of course, healthy, stable relationships don't make for particularly good Disney movies.....) 

The Past is Never in the Past
Unlike the song loudly proclaims, the past never remains in the past. The past events of our lives have an impact on our present - either for good or for bad. When the memories of  the less pleasant events of our past (and we all have them) rear their ugly heads, we need to address them in the light and love of Jesus Christ, who is able to heal the wounds of our past.

Suppressing the past, wishing it were different, or pretending it didn't happen - no matter how loudly you sing the words -  will not change the negative effects of the past. The truth about the past, brought to light in the safety of the healing and merciful love of Jesus will. 

Being A Good Girl is Good
Due to the weakness of Elsa's parents, she had a misguided impression of what it meant to be a good girl. For her, goodness meant living in fear and isolation and restricting a part of herself that she didn't fully understand.  She rejected this notion of goodness as soon as she could. Can you blame her? Who would want to be a "good girl" under those circumstances?

For the Christian, being good is good, because all goodness comes from God. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, says "Only God can answer the question about the good, because he is the Good." (art. 12) He goes on to say: "God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments." (art 35)

God gives us his Commandments out of love - not to cramp our style or suppress our freedom, as Elsa's parents did to her. Conversely, we obey his Commandments out of love for him and in response to his love, not out of fear. It is only through this understanding that we can come to live in the joy and freedom that truly being "good" brings - the joy of living out God's loving plan for our lives. 

Isolation is Not the Answer
Isolation stinks - just ask anyone who is lonely and they will tell you that isolation is one of the worst forms of human suffering. Why? Because we were not meant to live in isolation, but to live in communion with one another and with the Lord. In Genesis, we hear the Lord declare: "It is not good for man to be alone."(Gen 2:18) We need the love and support of others to help us make our way in life, no matter how unappealing the idea may seem at times (let's face it - human relationships are not exactly easy-peasy).

Elsa did not solve any of her problems in her dramatic escape to the sparkling, gorgeous, frozen castle of isolation she created for herself - she merely traded an isolation imposed on her for one which she imposed on herself. Sure, her new life had its appeal - at least for a time. I mean, she got to be herself, she had a brand new-do and a fabulous dress - who wouldn't love that?  It didn't take long, however, to realize that a life devoid of love is no life at all.

Ultimately, it was experience of Anna's saving "act of true love" which broke the chains of the isolation that resided, primarily, in Elsa's heart. and led to her re-introduction into the full life of the community of Arandale.  The movie ends, with Elsa freely sharing her gifts within the context of the community and it is there that we witness her living in true joy and freedom.

Ok, alright - you are probably groaning in exasperation by now - "It's just a MOVIE, for crying out loud!" True, it is just a movie -  and "Let it Go" is a moving, catchy song, one which every little girl I know seems to be incessantly singing. Its musical appeal makes it even more imperative that we guide our children to think critically about the words they are singing an the scenes they are watching. 
I have had many conversations with my children about Frozen (and other movies we watch) and how it stands up to our Catholic world - view. These conversations, I believe, are an essential part of guiding my children to live in this world, without being of this world.

What are your thoughts about Frozen or any other children's movies?