Friday, March 20, 2015

Cinderella: See it for Lent SPOILER ALERT

Last minute details from Fairy Godmother: the curfew!
Tuesday night is discount night at the nearby cinema, so five of us piled into one of the convent vans and headed out to see Cinderella, the princess movie that even Father Robert Barron did not disdain to review (although he reads way more into the story than I ever would). Seriously, Barron's review of Cinderella seems to assume that the Branagh film follows the (Christian-worldview-inspired) Grimm tale to the letter. That would explain the huge significance he attributes to the stag (traditionally a Christ figure, but absent from the Grimm telling). I'm not so sure Branagh meant it that way. (There's no stag in the Grimm tale, but there are details I'm glad got overlooked: do you remember what the evil stepsisters really did to fit into the amazing shoe?) Branagh's Cinderella is a live-action Disney remake, complete with flitting bluebirds and a kitty-cat named Lucifer.

Most of us grew up with the fairy godmother kind of magic.he magic in Grimm's tale is the bestowal of nature, with which Cinderella has a kind of Garden-of-Eden relationship, while Branagh gives us very magical magic laced with whimsy. But Cinderella is a kind of morality tale, and Branagh does not shy from this. That is the whole reason this movie is so appealing: it's not the wry retelling or the prequel that redeems the stepmother and sisters, but an encouragement to virtue. "Have courage and be kind" become the repeated exhortation, the ground rules for a new society. In the most striking moment of the whole film, more impressive than the pumpkin-coach, more stunning than the dress, more surprising than the lizard-coachmen (and the snack one of them snatched), as Cinderella is leaving the house hand in hand with her Prince, she turns to her scheming stepmother, who is slowly collapsing along with all her plans. We all expect a stunning comeuppance, but what we hear is "I forgive you."

That is what makes Branagh's Cinderella the Girls Night Out movie for Lent. Cinderella's "happily ever after" doesn't hinge on her meeting and marrying Prince Charming (well, Prince Kit). Without that grace of forgiveness, there would have always been at least a bit of her heart still captive to the injustices she had suffered. Eventually, her resolve to "have courage and be kind" would have imploded. Instead, like a good habit forged throughout Lent, it gave her the ability to transcend the provocations and choose a higher good than delicious vengeance.

Another approach to the Cinderella story comes in book form. This is Jennessa Terraccino's The Princess Guide: Faith Lessons from Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Jennessa is here in the Boston area (we carry her books in our Pauline bookstores) and she sent me a review copy--quite timely! I did not read the whole book (I leave that to our in house expert in all things Princess, Sister Julia), but I did give it a substantial going-over, and I read the Cinderella chapters clear through. Terraccino bases her book on the Disney versions of the three classic Princess stories in the title. Using details from the movies, she develops advice for young women on things like body image, modesty, fashion, preparing oneself for marriage, and potential minefields like recognizing manipulative behavior, living together before marriage, and "settling" for Mr. Not-Right. Throughout she uses language and insights from the Theology of the Body.

I thought that the book, while rich in sensible content, seems to be either preaching to the choir (and thus reinforcing a young woman's virtuous path through the world of dating) or addressing young adult women who may have already established convictions and habits that practically preclude the book's message from being taken seriously. I can't help but wish it had been directed, at least in layout, to a young readership: say, age 12 (or even 11), given all that children are exposed to in what passes as "romance" in the secular media. That would meet a need that grows more urgent by the day, unless more producers take a page from Branagh.


Blue Moth Woman said...

Thank you. We weren't going to go because the story has been retold so many times and we were thinking, how can this one be any different or better. Sounds like a better one.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

I confess, there were minutes when I wished there were more "story" to the story--but that final "comeuppance" really was worth the bit of a wait through some slow parts.