I saw Beauty & the Beast tonight and I might be a huge dork but I really enjoyed it. They fleshed out a lot of details that made the story more authentic while retaining the element of fantasy, and uniting those two things in a way that subtly comments on how magick can be more truthful than real life.
And there’s something in it that’s really important.
(***Spoilers? Sort of?***)
Most prior tellings of the story (whether the animated Disney version or the original Grimm) come from a reductive angle of “Beauty loved the Beast because she was good and kind and saw the goodness in him because she’s a beautiful kind woman and that’s her job in the story.” This version really emphasizes the way that Belle falls in love with the Beast because he sees her in return – he’s capable of relating to her on the things she’s passionate about and he does so with ease because it’s natural for him, even something he takes for granted, and she finally feels like someone understands her and lets her be who she is (as opposed to the whole village she lived in that thought she was weird).
As he’s in bed recovering from his fight with the wolves in saving her from them, she reads to him from Romeo & Juliet, and he starts reciting along with her, rolling his eyes. She’s shocked that he knows it, and he answers flippantly, “I had a very expensive education.” Here’s where it gets good: when he shows her the library, he’s NOT EVEN DOING IT TO IMPRESS HER. BECAUSE HE HAS NEVER IMAGINED IN HIS LIFE THAT HIS LIBRARY WOULD IMPRESS A WOMAN. If anything, he’s actually kind of arguing with her about which books are better, in the same way that two geeks will fight over their favorite pieces of pop culture, and he ends up just being like, whatever, if you like that sort of thing, here’s some more books. He has NO IDEA it’s going to go over so well. When he gives her the library, it’s with an air of “Sure, have it, no big deal.” She asks if he’s read all the books and he answers, “Well, not all of them. Some of them are in Greek.” She smiles, bewildered, and says, “Did you just make a joke?” But his face shows he WASN’T EVEN TRYING TO BE FUNNY. HE WAS JUST LITERALLY ANSWERING HER QUESTION. He charms her just by being himself, but it’s the version of himself he never imagined anyone would like him for. He’s spent his whole life overcompensating by being douchey royalty and the idea that someone would like him for the stuff he geeks out on when he’s alone just blows his mind.
This is a really important moment because in both versions of the movie, we learn in the beginning scene that the Prince is punished by the Enchantress for his vanity – he turns her away in beggar form because he can’t see that true beauty lies within. He’s surrounded by a lavish court and beautiful possessions and expensive parties and he believes that’s where people’s worth comes from, not least of all his own, so the Enchantress turns him into a beast so he can learn better. And in all previous versions of the story, his learning that lesson gets glossed over a little. Because the true lesson isn’t just that beauty lies within and so it’s important to be kind; it’s that you can’t have emotional intimacy with someone if you’re measuring your worth by the validation of other people who are only seeing you for your superficial characteristics of wealth, attractiveness, and power. You can’t experience true love if you think you’ll only be worthy of it by dressing up and going to expensive parties.
And that’s how they fall in love. Belle has lived authentically from the beginning but can’t find anyone to meet her there. And Beast has been valuing himself for the wrong characteristics all along. Belle finally finds someone who sees and accepts her for her geekery and doesn’t call her a weirdo (or project a fantasy onto her that erases her like Gaston does), and Beast is shocked that a beautiful woman actually likes him for the parts of himself he deemed unworthwhile and not the mask he put on to make people like him.
That might be the only time I’ve seen that narrative in a fairytale, and I feel like it is super lame to get choked up about a Disney movie in a facebook post but you guys this work is so important, and I’m just so happy to see more of it out there in the mainstream world.