Review of Maleficent, plus What is Evil?

maleficent-trailer-500x256I just got back from seeing Maleficent at last. While there were parts that were overly cuteified, I did enjoy how they twisted the plot to achieve the feminist/backstory/how all this came to be. I also enjoyed the nod to the original cartoon/movie, particularly the curse scene. Angeline Jolie might as well have been the original actress who voiced Maleficent; it was brilliant how she pulled the two movies together in that scene.

I have always loved the design aesthetic of the original Sleeping Beauty animated movie. There were moments where you first see Maleficent only in shadow, and for me that also brought up visual echoes of the original movie.

imagesI’m a bit of a fan of the Sleeping Beauty story, and of the 1959 movie. My friends and I even dressed up as the Three Fairies at DragonCon and at other events. For that matter, we built a freaking dragon. My friend Heather is an absolutely amazing costumer. After repeated watchings of the movie to get the costumes right, I ended up creating a music video using Queen’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” starting with the scene where Aurora falls into the sleeping curse, and ending with the kiss that wakes her. So…yeah, you might say I’m a little nerdy for the movie. I come by it honestly, my mom is a total Disney nerd.


Fairy Magic, Spells and Curses

As far as the Fairytale and magical elements, I’m also a big fan of what I call Truthspeaker magic. In other words, “I speak the truth as I wish it to be, and thus I will it into being.” Most of the magic in Maleficent was Truth magic; yes, there are magic sparkles, but the essence is speaking the desired result. “Become a dragon.”  “Before the sun sets on your sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a sleeping curse.”

I often say when I teach magical/metaphysical workshops that you don’t need to recite things in an ancient language, nor do spells have to be in rhymed couplets. Words have power all the time.

I’m currently finishing up a novel that emphasizes the power of Truthspeaker magic, and the Maleficent movie has inspired me to go back to more of the original Fairytales to see what other examples of it I can find.

maleficent-photo-gallery-3What Makes A Villain? What’s Evil?
At several writing workshops and panel discussions I’ve attended, there’s frequently an agreement about villains. The villain is the hero of their own story. Once upon a time, it was perfectly acceptable to have a villain (like the original Disney Maleficent) who seemed to be evil for evil’s sake. The original Maleficent even named herself the Mistress of all Evil. However, frequently the bad guy is just the person giving us the bad day because they’re trying to do their own thing. Think about the T-Rex in any dinosaur movie. T-Rex is the “bad guy,” right? Or, is he just trying to get dinner?

But let’s get back to “bad guys” with sentience and a conscience; T-Rex isn’t really thinking about what it’s killing and eating. Once you add in sentience and the ability to understand the impact of your actions, then you can discuss the nature of evil. Some people refer to psychopaths as evil, but it’s worth pointing out that most psychopaths are a little closer to the T-Rex. They don’t really have a functioning conscience, they don’t have empathy. Their brains are not wired in a way where they can discern, “Yeah, this is wrong.”

So then, for evil, we’re left with those who are hurting people and aware they are doing so, and doing it anyways. They put their own needs ahead of those around them.

These folks would rarely identify themselves as evil. In fact, most of them feel pretty completely justified in their actions. Many atrocities are committed in the name of escalating vengeance, just as happens in Maleficent. Without going to deep into spoilers, Maleficent is horrifically wounded, and the curse she bestows on Aurora is her lashing back.

maleficent-maleficent-movie-6Most heroic stories have some moment where the hero is grievously wounded, and everything that happens in the story after that point is the result of that wound. Harry Potter loses his parents, Luke Skywalker loses his aunt and uncle, and later his hand. In purely heroic stories, the wound motivates the hero to embark on the quest. In heroic tales, the quest is usually motivated by helping to take down the “bad guy” who is hurting people.

It’s not to say the movie paints Maleficent as perfect or innocent. She’s not. She was hurt,she got angry, and she hurt others. Maleficent is fallible, it turns out. She ends up on more of the dark heroic path where her own actions hurt a lot of people, even though it made sense at the time. Yes, she’s trying to protect her people and her land, but she ends up escalating things.

And, when any of us screw up, we can’t go back and make it so that it never happened. We can’t undo what we’ve done. Even with all her power Maleficent can’t do that.

What we can do is move forward and try to right the wrong. We can try to be better. We can be the hero of our own journey.

Maleficent: Thumbs up
While the movie wasn’t any kind of fantastic piece of film, I found it pretty enjoyable on several levels. One level is, I love most fantasy movies and this movie did not disappoint. Another level is any movie that gets me thinking about Fairytales, magic, heroes, villains, and stories. This has definitely given me a lot of fodder for my own writing.

 

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