I recall once having remarked that once you reach the point where you’re upset that “The Lego Movie” didn’t include an adequate treatment of Marxist philosophy, it may be a good time to sit down and rethink your life. I fear I may also be embarked on a similar folly. There’s a special place in hell for those who habitually try to debunk children’s movies. If I am to escape from the number of those damned souls it will be because I have no intention complaining about what was missing in this movie. I hope to contain myself only to the realm of ideas presented directly in the film. A further caveat, I actually very much like the movie. Are some of the themes inadequate, wrong headed, even troubling? Sure. Don’t think for a moment, though, that “Do you want to build a snow man” doesn’t always get me. Similarly, should someone play “For the first time in forever,” if there is a heart unmoved in the room it will certainly not be mine. It is a lovely and charming film. Allow me, however, to make a couple observations concerning some of its implications.
The first issue at hand is the troubling view of human freedom. Elsa, the princess, after having severely injured her sister Anna in a childhood accident is placed in solitary confinement by her parents and told to repress all emotions and conceal herself from the world. However, following the death of their parents she flies into a rage upon her discovery that Anna intends to marry a visiting foreign prince. Unable to control her powers as a result of her anger she unleashes an ice apocalypse upon the kingdom before fleeing into the mountains and erecting a magic lair of ice. And also ice clothes, because reasons. As these events unfold, she bravely declares she has decided to “Let it go” that she no longer cares “what they’re going to say” and that “the perfect girl is gone.” As best I can tell the long and short of it seems to be that Elsa had repressed who she was for years due to social pressure, however, in order to become her authentic self, she must finally give in to her nature. There does seem to be something broadly correct about this. In so far as there does appear to be a certain Telos to human nature, a certain essence to what it means to be human which drives us and mandates that certain forms of existence are oppressive and inhuman, while others are conducive to human flourishing. Contrary to Sartre, Elsa’s existence does not proceed her essence. Nevertheless, the Frozen take on this seems to stretch to an unhealthy level. By making Elsa’s existence without the use of her powers untenable it suggests that something fairly accidental is actually essential to her nature (“People don’t really change!” asserts the hob-goblin boulder amalgamation). By doing so, human choice is profoundly undercut in favor of what seems to amount to a very deranged type of biological determinism. Elsa has to use her powers because she was born with them, just as you presumably had to have this profession, this ideology, this lifestyle because it was an essential part of your nature. Any attempt to choose anything else would have resulted in dangerous repression. Or stronger still, any other choice would have been impossible. A criminal must commit crimes because of his genes, just as a saint must be a saint due to his genes. If Elsa’s life is so governed by her genetics, it seems unclear why everyone else’s isn’t. Aside from the fact that it doesn’t generally appear to be the case that humans have so little autonomy, it seems fairly lazy or even delusional to assert such a thing. How many of us would be inclined to accept someone’s destructive or disrespectful behavior as morally neutral based on the excuse that “it was just my nature?” There is in this way of looking at things a profound failure to take responsibility for oneself. “Let it go” sounds suspiciously like letting oneself go, and simply embracing the path of least resistance while claiming a genetic tendency is the reason instead of individual choice. As Sartre would this time correctly point out, Elsa fails to accept herself as the ultimate reason for her actions. It seems to me that this path of unqualified self-embrace holds more barbarism and animality than genuine human virtue.
The Nature of Fairy Tale
Frozen has been haled as a work which offers a “better” ideal of romance to young children. The assertion that one cannot fall in love with someone one has just met is seen as presenting a more “healthy” take on what can reasonably be expected. If by all of this what is meant is that in reality people with a normal level of control of their mental faculties do not generally marry on the day they meet, I would be so bold as to venture that the praise given to the film is correct. However, if by this less than astute observation something profound or mythic is meant to be communicated about romance, then the film surely fails. What is the point of the child’s fairy tale? I would venture that it is to present the grand narrative of human life in mythic form. It is to teach a child the essence of human romance by presenting them with it in a representative micro-cosmic way, in its resplendent Platonic form. What it says of love is not meant to be sociology but fancy. That is why “true love’s kiss” exists in some children’s fiction. It is meant to portray the mysterious and powerful nature of romantic love and its uniqueness among human affections. As Cardinal Burke once said, “There is no greater force against evil in the world than the love of a man and woman in marriage.” Obviously it is literally untrue that healthy marriages result from a single night of dancing and magical deception, or that a man’s affection for a woman can be strong enough to cure his beloved from being poisoned. It does not follow that by undermining these tropes you have created something superior. What is more true of the subjective experience of love, the statement that “from the moment the prince saw the princess he was overcome by her beauty and was forever smitten with love for her, unable to be parted from her he begs her to come away with him and be his wife,” or the statement that “having been raised within a culture that incentivizes marriage, the prince subconsciously analyzed each young woman as a potential mate. Upon seeing the princess his biological need to reproduce coupled with his cultural need to marry caused an emotional reaction which prompted him to propose a familial partnership?” Both may be true, but which tells me more about what it means to be human? My complaint is that Frozen isn’t romance at all, it’s anthropology. Should a young child be inclined to study anthropology they should go to their local university and learn it from an actual anthropologist, not the makers of this film. In Frozen the myth is invaded by reality, and humanism is attacked by scientism.
One cannot discuss the themes in Frozen without also touching on gender politics. Not only does Frozen present us with an unromantic view of love, its presentation of the relationship between the sexes also strikes me as unhealthy. It cannot be questioned that by almost any metric of measurement Hans is the greater man than Kristoff. Hans sings “Love is an open door,” Kristoff sings about how Reindeer are better than people. Hans is handsome, dashing, and a prince to boot. Kristoff is a bumbling buffoon. However, all these positive attributes serve only to trick Anna. She does not see his devious nature because of his attraction. The point could not be more clear, men with power are dangerous. Better by far to choose a lesser man, who is necessarily less dangerous. As such she settles for old, reliable Kristoff. Elsa, on the other hand, is replete with feminine power. A power pushed down and suppressed by society until it finally bursts forth and she conquers society’s demands, causing her to become more human, a better ruler, and reforging old relationships. The message here is also clear, women with power are to be praised. Now, alone the viewpoints “men with power are dangerous” and “women with power are to be praised” seem to me to be reasonable points of view. It is the holding of both of them at the same time which strikes me as problematic, not to mention their juxtaposition within the same film. Let us agree either that power should be praised both in its masculine and feminine forms, or let us warn against it in both. This aspect of the film, then, is representative of some of the worst excesses of modern Feminism. A Feminism where all things feminine are unambiguously praised and all things masculine unambiguously condemned. It is this brand of Feminism which gives us commercials bragging about how women start more small businesses than men and Feminist academics who make sweeping claims that “Women can do anything that men can do, only better, faster, and in high heels,” while venturing to disagree with a women in some circles is likely to get you labeled as a “mansplainer.” Is it then surprising that in the Feminist fairy tale the princess saves herself from a problem she created, being herself both the hero and the villain, while the men in it are powerful and therefore evil, or else stooges and therefore harmless? Not only does this vision of the sexes seem disconnected from reality, it seems downright harmful. Now I certainly do not wish to imply that women have never been subject to injustice at the hands of men, or that such injustices have not sometimes persisted to the modern day. There may be a version of Feminism which is needful in the modern era. It is not, however, this version.