Like many Disney films, the new Beauty and the Beast is exploring what it means to find true love. But unlike many Disney films, and most films in our secular culture, it’s exploring love in truly Christian ways.
To truly understand this, we first need to think about the nature of the story of Beauty and the Beast. The basic premise is that a prince, who was truly beastly on the inside, is turned into a beast on the outside by an enchantress, who also curses everyone living in the castle. If he does not love someone who also loves him within the allotted time, he will be destined to be a beast forever, and his servants will be destined to a cursed fate, as well. After said Beast imprisons a weary traveler for what he calls stealing, the traveler’s daughter, Belle, takes his place. Thus begins the love story.
But in many ways, it is not your typical love story. Here’s why. Instead of the love interest being a charming and handsome hero of some sort (such as the case in Snow White, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Sleeping Beauty, Tangled, and everything else in between), the so-called love interest is, in the first act of the story, the villain. That’s a pretty obvious set-up from the fact that he is a beast, but that is perhaps the most important part of the story. Because the very nature of the conflict for the Beast himself is that another person must love him before he has transformed from the Beast into his princely form. To put it more plainly, this woman must love him while he is still a beast. This is what true love is – loving others even while they are unlovable.
Has there been a more Christian idea of love in modern cinema? Equivalencies, if they exist, are few and far between. Biblical parallels to this metaphor in the story abound. Romans 5:8 tells us “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” One may point out that when Belle does finally pronounce her love for him, he is less beastly on the inside. This is true. However, his physical form is still that of a beast, maintaining the metaphor. And I don’t think any of us would say that simply allowing her to return to her father, something he was morally obligated to do in the first place, makes up for his horrid treatment of both Belle and her father in the early parts of the story. Thus, the metaphor is maintained – even in our best moments, we are still beastly and undeserving of love.
But there’s more to the story even than this. The more I think about this film, the more I think it is a comparison between the Beast and Gaston. In a very real sense, Belle is not the titular Beauty of the film. Gaston is.
Let me explain. This is not, to be clear, a theme of homosexuality, but rather a second later of metaphor in the film. This starts at the beginning of the film, in a scene that was added for the new adaptation. The prince dresses himself up to be beautiful for the ball in his palace, and the narrator specifies that he held these parties for beautiful people. We even see him dance with several of these beautiful women. Gaston, by comparison, is much the same. The only time he calls anyone beautiful, he’s talking to a mirror. He also surrounds himself with beautiful people to feed into his pride, and like the women at the ball, the women in the village swoon over Gaston.
This comparison holds true in how each treats Belle in the first act, as well. Both think she is foolish (Gaston for her lack of social conformity and the Beast for her taking her father’s place) and both are so arrogant as to expect her to easily give in to their demands (Gaston for marriage, the Beast for dinner). These striking similarities are why Belle’s rejection of Gaston is so significant for the film’s theme. Before she’s even met the Beast, she says to Gaston, “Nobody changes that much.”
The Third Act is when this particular theme comes to a head. The first level metaphor of the film, as most viewers can probably tell, is that the beast is what the prince was on the inside. He learned true love because Belle loved him while he was still a beast. Ergo, true love loves even the unlovable – a distinctly Christian idea. But this second metaphor has depth as well. It’s worth noting that the resolution of the film doesn’t come until after the “Beauty” (Gaston) has killed the Beast. But the Beauty has died as well. So what is left?
The key to this ending is found, again, in a line of Belle’s, when she tells Gaston “You’re the beast!” What the enchantress ultimately wants the prince to realize is what Belle realizes – the Beauty (or pride in it) is the real beast. Thus, for true change to occur as far as the metaphor is concerned, both have to die. And what’s left is the inclination to selflessness that Belle has nurtured. The prince that rescued Belle in the woods and released her for her father’s sake cannot occupy the same space as the selfish beast. That leaves room for a second very Christian principle – the old man being put to death, and making way for the new man.
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry . . . and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” – Colossians 3:5,10
This brings us to a remarkable place when it comes to Beauty and the Beast. Unlike many secular films, which emphasize sexual attraction and relationships that often boil down to mutually agreed upon selfishness, Beauty and the Beast is dialoguing with truly Christian ideas. When it comes to the worldview of the film, it is bringing discussions to the table that provide a wonderful opportunity for Christians to discuss what true love is, and who the best example of this is. It’s an opportunity I implore us to take advantage of in full force.
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture. In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Christian Entertainment Reviews, and the author of three novels. He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.