Monday, March 31, 2014

Three Major Movies Changing Cultural Discussions for the Better

After seeing Divergent and rewatching Frozen, I'm ready to give a standing ovation to movies that are calling the bluff of some of the biggest cultural myths of our time. Spoiler warning!

Frozen's Attack on Prince Charming

While there are at least half a dozen progressive elements in Disney's Frozen, my favorite was the way they approached romance. Enter the princess eager to fall in love; first night of real socialization, she meets someone and gets engaged. Really?

But not only does everyone tell her she's crazy, this "perfect" guy turns out to be the villain! Finally we're teaching girls that smooth-talking men are usually the most dangerous. Guys who know just what to say and do either have practiced this game too many times or are working an angle.

The film lands it with the song "Fixer Upper." A bunch of trolls tell the princess that love is something you do and give, and support the idea of loving someone who isn't perfect. My favorite line of the song and the movie says,

We’re not saying you can change him, ‘cuz people don’t really change;
We’re only saying that love’s a force that’s powerful and strange.
People make bad choices if they’re mad, or scared, or stressed;
Throw a little love their way and you’ll bring out their best.
...Everyone’s a bit of a fixer-upper, that’s what it’s all about!

I love that: people don't really change. You don't marry the perfect one; you marry and work through things--you yourself work through things. Marriage is an exercise in overcoming your own foibles and irritations.

People make bad choices when stressed. You can't marry assuming your spouse will never get angry at you. They will, and you have to remember that they still love you and they're probably angry because they're feeling insecure. When your spouse is being the most infuriating is often when you need to be the most gracious, not when you throw in the towel. 

Divergent's Revelation of Child Abuse

We need to get marriage right, but even more than that we need to bring child abuse into forums of discussion and start dealing with it. This problem is only getting worse, and as we ignore it, there are so many lies cropping up.

The male lead of Divergent, Four, was physically abused by his father. Consequently, his father is one of his few [only four] fears. The story shows us how, on the outside, the Eaton family looks perfect. Four's father is highly respected. Like most family abuse, it's so well-hidden that many people don't believe it even when it comes to light.

While the movie showed Four attempting to fight back against his fear of his father in the fear landscape, the book does it one better. Instead of having to fight your fears, characters need to calm their heart rate and show mental fearlessness in the face of what they're experiencing. Four, who daily subjects himself to his fear landscape, must sit and let his father beat him until he can calm himself down enough for the simulation to end. Woah.

It's possibly the most weighty thing in the book. Sure, it's a dystopia and the so-called perfect world is falling apart. But Four's relationship with his father takes central stage nonetheless. I love that Veronica Roth made this struggle such a huge part of the books. I love that this was a YA book that will help make this a topic of conversation with kids. Kids, so many of whom experience abuse and don't know who to turn to. I also love that it was a guy, not a girl, because boys suffer abuse too. It is another of our convenient myths to believe that only girls can be victims (and perhaps part of a lingering belief that only girls are "weak enough" to be abused?).

Divergent is helping to end our cultural silence on the topic of abuse. I'll applaud that any day.

Mockingjay's Discussion of PTSD

The last media giant chipping away at our cultural myths won't come out in movie form until November. Mockingjay is the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy and the pinnacle of Katniss's fight against the Capitol. Or maybe it's just her fight for survival; it's hard to say. The fact that Katniss never wants to be a hero is what I love best about these books.

I also love how accurate PTSD is portrayed in the Mockingjay novel. Katniss and Peeta've had to kill other children twice, and they're still just kids. As war consumes their world, they lose the one thing that helped them stay sane: each other. We watch them swirl through depression, denial, and back again. We watch them fight and give up. We watch them struggle between self-sacrifice, the desire to survive, the desire to die, and guilt/indebtedness to those who have helped them.

Most people love the book, but I've heard a few complain about the ending. I'm frankly not sure what anyone could find wrong with it. My experience with PTSD and recovery was in many ways similar to what Katniss and Peeta go through. About halfway through the book, I thought, "there's only one way this can end that I'll actually believe/like;" and that's how it ended. I hope the movie can do the same.

Either way, the fact that we're addressing these issues at all is spectacular. The fact that they've gotten so much public support and accolades even more so! These aren't adult classicized dramas; they're fantasies. And they're aimed at young adults. But who better to start the dialog with? Instead of passing on our false beliefs to our kids, maybe we're can finally open up about these issues and come clean. Maybe it's only in the realm of the fantastic that we have the courage to speak the truth about marriage's hardships, the prevalence of child abuse, or what PTSD actually is.

Keep it coming, movie makers. 

Word count: 995.