Sunday, November 22, 2009

Film Review for Beauty and the Beast

For my film review I watched one of my favorite childhood films, Beauty and the Beast. At the beginning of the film, the narrator tells the story of a young prince who refuses to help an old woman who turns out to be a beautiful enchantress. As a result of his selfishness, the enchantress turns the prince into a beast and the only way he will return to his old self is to fall in love and be loved by a woman. As the movie asks, “But who could ever learn to love a beast?”

Belle is a beautiful young woman who loves to read and does not fit into the small French town she resides in with her father, Maurice. Everyone in the town fawns over her beauty, but is perplexed by her propensity to read. Gaston, a manly man who all the town people love, continuously tries to “woo and marry Belle” for no reason beyond her physical beauty. Belle, however, is not mesmerized with Gaston’s rugged good looks like the rest of the town.

When Belle’s father leaves town, he becomes lost and arrives at a castle inhabited by enchanted household objects and a volatile beast, appropriately named Beast. Maurice is quite literally thrown into a dungeon tower only to be found by Belle. Beast says the only way that her father can return home is if Belle agrees to stay in the castle forever. Belle agrees and so begins the love story. The rest of the movie consists of Beast trying to become a better person in order to fall in love with Belle and ultimately, break the spell.

Although the Beast’s character portrays, what I consider, a dangerous social message, I decided to write about Gaston simply because issues related to him were covered more in class. However, I do want to mention that Beast’s volatile behavior, which is often referred to in the movie as a “bad temper,” only changes through his love for Belle. This type of storyline has a dangerous message: if you are nice and your partner falls madly in love with you, he will change from abusive to a perfect partner all because of love. Obviously, this is not the case and this fairy tale ending has no root in reality.

Throughout the entire movie, Gaston represents hegemonic masculinity—strong, confident, aggressive, etc . . . . — and his character’s goal is to marry Belle, even though she is clearly not interested in him. Rejected multiple times, Gaston is shocked that Belle, the most beautiful woman in town, does not want to marry him, the most handsome manly man in town. His rejection and thus his humiliation, leads him to pursue Belle with even greater tenacity and strength.

One scene in particular clearly shows how Gaston uses his physical dominance to intimidate Belle. Once Belle rejects Gaston the first time, he becomes even more determined to marry Belle. First, he forces himself into Belle’s house while she is alone. Second, he continues moving into the house as Belle backs away and hides behind furniture for protection. Obviously, she not only does not want him there and feels threatened by his presence. Trying to escape from him, Belle even moves a chair into his path, but this does not faze Gaston because he just pushes the chair over and moves with even greater strength toward Belle. Finally, Belle is pinned against the door by Gaston as he forcefully attempts to kiss her. She is only saved from this situation by opening the door, which allows Gaston to fall into a mud pit; a humorous ending to a sexual predator scene. While wiping the mud off himself, the enraged and humiliated Gaston says, “I will have Belle for my wife, make no mistake about that.”

Gaston uses his physical strength as a manly man to intimidate Belle in attempt to marry her. Not only that, but he becomes even more determined when Belle rejects him because he cannot understand why anyone would not want to marry him. This particular storyline parallels sexual violence; replace Gaston’s obsession with marrying Belle with pursuit of sex and one can see the striking similarities. While watching the film, I could not help but be reminded of the article “Men on Rape” by Tim Beneke and the interview he had with a man about rape. “I’ve been taught that if you’re not aggressive with a woman, then you’ve blown it. She’s not going to jump on you, so you’ve got to jump on her. I’ve heard all kinds of stories where the woman says, ‘No! No! No!’ and they end up making great love” (564). With this sort of mentality, Gaston just has to be persistent enough and use enough intimidation and Belle will eventually say “Yes,” not because she is forced, but because she wanted it all along and was playing hard to get. Or perhaps, if he could just force her to kiss him then she will see how great he really is. He seems completely indifferent or unaware of the fact that she is very uncomfortable with the situation and most importantly, is scared of him.

Once Gaston finds out that Belle cares for Beast, he rallies the town to attack the castle and murder him. He claims it is because the Beast is a horrific creature who will eat their children, but it is quite transparent that he wants to kill him simply because Beast has what he wants, which is the affection of Belle. Already humiliated by Belle’s multiple refusals, Gaston tries to regain control by using violence. According to the article “Man’s Manifesto” by Ben Atherton-Zeman, this is a lesson he learned in middle school about what it means to “be a man.” He states, “If a girl doesn’t want to kiss you, kiss her really well and she’ll ‘melt.’ If your girlfriend doesn’t do what she ‘should,’ it’s all right to bring her into line. And if she’s going out with someone else, you have a right to a jealous, even homicidal rage against the other person—or against her” (258). The fact that violence is synonymous with masculinity explains why Gaston’s manly man character must attack Beast and since Belle never was a person in his eyes, he must regain his object from the person who stole it.

The only redeeming part of Gaston’s character is that he is the antagonist of the film. Often his hegemonic masculinity is supposed to be ridiculous and humorous, despite the fact that everyone in the town worships him as a god. For this reason, I do not think anyone viewing the film would think that this was appropriate behavior and I do not think anyone would try and emulate his hegemonic masculinity. However, there are social implications from Gaston’s behavior; the fact that the sexual predator scene in Belle’s home is ended as a joke obviously undermines the severity of this situation. In everyday life, women fear intimidation from men. Rape, domestic violence and stalking are real life issues and those situations do not end in a joke.


Claraine said...

I really enjoyed reading your film review! I thought you made some very insightful connections in your analysis of the character Gaston and some great points about the role of Beast as well. It is very interesting to analyze all of those Disney movies we grew up watching. I remember my sister thinking he was funny and silly and seen as the comedic relief. So man messages of misogyny are embedded within these films. Movie like Beauty and the Beast are definitely an attempt to make sure future generations adhere to the strict gender roles that are in place. For example, when the whole town is talking about Belle and how she is so “peculiar” because she reads and does not want to get married or be a mother and live in a small town for the rest of her life. What I found most alarming about this analysis of Gaston was the looming threat of rape and the promotion of violence as a means of getting what you want. He forces himself on Belle after she repeatedly says she is not interested. It is distressing that these messages are so implanted in these movies that are market for children. It makes me reconsider what I would let my children watch if I decided to have kids of my own. The truth is that I know that there are men out there that do think and act like Gaston, even though he does play the antagonist. Images of masculinity like that of Gaston should not be so readily available for children to reference.

Abigail said...

This was one of my favorite movies growing up as well. I loved that Bell was smart, independent, and brave though I never gave much thought to her relationship with the Beast. I never realized that the Beast was abusive and scared Bell enough to make her run away.
The Beast and Gaston were both good examples of hyper masculinity. Disney always does a great job of bringing out and stereotyping pretty much all people.

Jo said...

Your characterization of Gaston as a sexual predator is dead-on I think. They only used the word “marry” because it’s Disney and aimed at children. But the messages to young boys and girls are the same as saying that Gaston is trying to “get laid.” The boys see that they should aggressively pursue the girl they want even when she is insisting that they go away. In the movie, Gaston is perfectly justified to continue his pursuit and expect Belle to come around because of the hyper masculine traits that he possesses which are highly admired by all of the other girls and the rest of the town. This feeling of justification is the really scary part. This is something that helps to feed the rape myth. The boy is supposed to be persistent because eventually she will give in and he will get what he wants, or at the very least, once he kisses her she will realize what she’s missing and change her mind. It reminds me of the scene in Gone with the Wind. Brett and Scarlett have been doing a flirting/fighting dance for years and one day Brett is tired of it and carries Scarlett up the stairs to the bedroom, all the while she is kicking and yelling and saying, “put me down,” etc. The scene cuts to the next day with Scarlett in bed, smiling and singing; she is now a very happy and satisfied woman. I have to say; at least Gaston gets his in the end. It makes me wonder what kinds of explanations I gave to my kids when we watched Beauty and the Beast. I don’t remember.

Also, when you pointed out the Beast’s mean and violent behavior I struggled again to remember what my thought process was when watching it with my children. I know that I have always been cognizant of the women’s roles and the messages to girls; however I am not certain that I picked up on this one at the time. It is really disturbing. I have a niece who is six and I now want to watch the movie with her so that I can interject some feminist thought processing. It really is built into many women’s ideas about relationships. You hear all the time of women leaving abusive situations saying that they thought he would change or that they could change him. I’m not sure where that message started or from where else it is transmitted, but it’s a good bet that Beauty and the Beast perpetuate it. Like I said, it’s very disturbing. Thanks for your review.