Theme: Power of Sacrificial Love
On March 17, 2017 the highly anticipated live-action movie, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, opened to mixed reviews. The critics’ less than favorable response to the CGI effects and the controversial re-writing of a character did not dissuade millions of fans who had waited to see Emma Watson play Belle.
Criticism aside, the original fairy tale’s lesson of "a thing must be loved before it’s loveable" still shines through, making this Beauty and the Beast another Disney box-office bonanza.1
The prologue opens the movie and tells the back-story of how the Beast came to be. Once upon a time there was a handsome young prince who was selfish and taxed the villagers in order to buy beautiful objects. He objectified human beings, degrading them to the status of mere things; objects to be used for his own pleasure. At the same time he lusted after beautiful young maidens to satisfy his ravenous appetite. Thus filled with greed and lust, he lived in a Kingdom of Self, until one fateful night when a haggard old woman offered him a rose in exchange for kindness. Here was the test. Could the prince come out of himself, lay aside greed and lust and care for another person who offered him nothing in return? Could he be noble in the truest sense?
No he could not! Repulsed by her appearance, he rejected her and in so doing revealed the true condition of his heart. He turned away the most beautiful enchantress, bringing a curse upon him and all who lived in the castle. He became a beast and they became the beautiful objects he coveted. Sealed in a decaying castle, surrounded by wolves, forgotten by the villagers, he was doomed unless he could learn to love another and be loved in return. The rose, a symbol of the love he had been offered and rejected, remained with him and when its last petal fell he would be confirmed forever as the Beast.
After the movie title, the present story begins in the village once associated with the castle. Into this very provincial town a triune community of sacrificial love has come to reside: Belle, her father Maurice, and the ever-present spirit of her deceased mother. Later in the film a flashback reveals how Belle’s mother, dying of plague, insists Maurice take Belle and flee Paris in order to save her. The mother and father’s sacrificial love has a power to transcend death and lives on in Belle. It is captured in the poignant and beautiful song, How Does a Moment Last Forever.
After Maurice is taken captive by the Beast, Belle demonstrates her love by taking her father’s place. This act of self sacrifice is something the Beast cannot comprehend. His tragedy is he has never experienced being loved and therefore is incapable of loving.
The Beast and his staff all long for the days when they were human and lament what is happening as the castle crumbles and they become hardened in their dehumanized state. Belle’s presence in the castle has not only brought hope, it has brought conviction. The Beast confesses he did not care for his staff as fellow human beings, and Mrs. Potts reveals how the staff did not love their master enough to protect him from his wicked father.
Now, because of Belle, they are all learning the great moral of the story: to love sacrificially, to lay one’s life down for another, is what makes one truly human.
Love does not own, possess, or imprison; it always sets the beloved free. When the Beast allows Belle to return to her father’s aid, he demonstrates his love for her and willingly exchanges his life for hers. When Belle freely returns to the castle to defend the Beast, she demonstrates her love for him. The power of sacrificial love triumphs over evil overcomes death and ends the curse. The dead are raised to a new life in resurrected bodies. The entire creation (castle and village) is set free from its bondage to decay. It is cleansed and made more glorious than the original creation. Love now fills the atmosphere, brings healing and reconciliation to all the inhabitants. This isn’t the end of the story . . . it’s the beginning of the happily ever after.
1. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton p. 55