So, I just got around to watching Disney’s Maleficent released last year. I stalled because I’m a bit conflicted in how I feel about Angelina Jolie. But, being a lover of the fantasy genre, Peanut, The Investigator, Entrepreneur and I had a movie night last week after Twix went to sleep.
Having recently seen Cinderella in the theater, I wondered how “adapted” the Sleeping Beauty storyline would be, even though I knew Aurora wasn’t going to be the main character focus. Sometimes I’m okay with adaptations of books or classic stories….sometimes not so much. I did enjoy the background story of Maleficent as a young girl/woman and was horrified when Stefan betrayed her….but was still okay with where I thought it was going. We got to the introduction of the pixies and I bristled a bit. Expecting to hear the names Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, I was disappointed to hear they were now called Thistletwit, Flittle and Knotgrass. And they were portrayed as rather half-witted pixies at that. But I overlooked it due to artistic license…and I felt they were only comic relief in an otherwise dark story.
The nuances in Maleficent are both simple and complex. And therein lie the lessons.
1. People aren’t always who you think they are. We were all brought up to view Maleficent as horrible and wicked…never knowing why she would want to curse baby Aurora just because she wasn’t invited to the christening. The movie clears that up in the first 20 minutes. Stefan, a peasant boy who, even though he shows compassion and character early on, changes as he grows into a person who aspires position and power at the cost of a unique, beautiful friendship. In previous story versions, Stefan is the noble king, caring father and loved by all. The Stefan in this story is driven by greed and power…at the expense of others. A true narcissist, his selfish actions have severe consequences. Betrayal and abandonment can twist the sanest of minds and Stefan’s betrayal turns a young Maleficent into a creature of nightmarish proportions. But, just as betrayal can trigger resentment, anger and vindictiveness, we find Maleficent’s true nature is something completely different from our assumptions. In the end, she chooses to embrace love and selflessness…which was her true nature all along. We all lose our way from time to time. True strength of character is whether we recognize when we’ve made mistakes and need to change course…and then take the actions that will accomplish that goal.
2. Everyone is dealing with some level of angst and pain. Whether we realize it or not at the time, everyone we cross paths with is battling something. The physical pain of her wings being cut off combined with the emotional pain of betrayal is something no one sees from the outside when crossing paths with Maleficent. What they see is a woman of great power whose demeanor is one of strength and not one to be taken advantage of. She is a virtual force of nature…and not in a good way. Unfortunately, when we feel pain emotional in this way, we construct walls around our hearts to avoid the possibility of being hurt again. We choose to live in a dark and depressive world much like Maleficent’s dead forest, surrounded by thorn trees that won’t let anyone enter.
3. Time heals and love can prevail if we’re open to change. I found it heartwarmingly sweet (and very predictable) that Maleficent’s feelings about Aurora changed as time passed. A sub-lesson here is that it’s never a good idea to make life-changing decisions when angry and resentful about circumstances in our life. Those decisions usually have disastrous consequences. I enjoyed watching Maleficent’s stone-cold facade melt away the more she interacts with Aurora…beginning with the actions that repeatedly ensure Aurora’s safety as a baby when the half-wit pixie guardians are supposedly in charge. In time, Maleficent deeply regrets the curse she cast in her fit of fury…only to discover that some words can never be taken back no matter how much we want to erase them. And love is the only thing strong enough to heal the deepest of wounds…but we must first be open to the possibility of changing our attitudes before healing can begin.
4. Life-changing love can come in unexpected forms. From toddlerhood, we’re spoon fed through Disney-fied fairy tales that true love is very specific….it usually is accompanied by a love-at-first-site prince who cannot live without said princess or beautiful maiden; that all stories end with prince and princess living happily ever after. With Frozen and Brave, we see this mindset changing and Maleficent continues that trend. The juxtaposition between the parental love Maleficent develops for Aurora and the lack that love Stefan has when reunited with his only daughter is striking. The best part is that Maleficent has no idea how powerful this form of love can me. Resigned to losing her “goddaughter” when Prince Phillip’s supposedly true-love kiss fails, any last bit of hatred towards her disappears and her walls are completely torn down. She is vulnerable and her heart is laid bare….once again to feel pain. But the end result this time is drastically different. This drives home that it’s only when we can completely open up our hearts and abandon all resentment and anger can we truly find life-changing love and happiness. Being focused on being bitter, angry, resentful and full of hatred only serves to destroy any happiness that may come our way. We simply are too blind to see it when we insist on living in the dark. And, as a side note, even when Aurora discovers her “godmother’s” horrible act towards her, she chooses to come to her aid when Stefan and his army has Maleficent cornered. Aurora releases Maleficent’s wings from their caged display in the castle and they, of course, are reunited with their owner. Through Aurora’s unselfish act towards the woman who both betrayed and befriended, Maleficent becomes indestructible. And Stefan is toast.
5. Nobody is perfect. Cliché, I know. But how many times do we expect perfection from others and when they fail us, we are shaken and disappointed? The truth is, deep down inside all of us lives a wicked, vengeful Maleficent as well as a greedy, power/status hungry Stefan. Equally, each one of us are capable of great love and forgiveness if we choose to do so. We all live with regret for decisions we make and desperately hope there is a way to reverse the damage we inflict when our villainous side shows. We also are capable of rising above our circumstances like a hero, and loving unconditionally if we are brave enough to let down our guard and not worry about getting hurt. We are both villain and hero combined into one flawed package. But whatever the circumstances that tend to draw us to our darker side, they don’t need to forever define us.
We do have a choice.