Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Theology Goes to the Movies: "Frozen"

I was delightfully surprised by Frozen. To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, a good story is hard to find these days. Now, the cast is not as star-studded as the Toy Story trilogy, unless you're a fan of Glee as of late. But all the necessary ingredients were present to make it an enjoyable movie: superb story-writing, the cinematic genius of John Lassiter, wit and humor, vivid animation, quality singing, memorable characters (personally Sven the Reindeer was my favorite), the fictional world of Arendelle (it had what Lewis would call a certain "northerness" about it), love, and my favorite cinematic theme, sacrifice.

And that's where I was most surprised. I went expecting a good, family-friendly movie for my wife and two-year old daughter. Consider that expectation met in full. What I wasn't expecting, however, was the stab of joy (as Lewis called it) that resulted in finding an unexpected Christ-figure in Frozen. The irony about Lewis's idea of joy is that the harder you try to manufacture it yourself or cling to it artificially, the more joy is hidden. That is simply because joy is not the end in and of itself, Christ is.

Of course, a good story doesn't necessarily need a Christ-figure to be a good story. (There are plenty of good stories without them. But it does make a great story even better. And what's more, it points a great story to the Grand Miracle of Christ's Incarnation and the Great Eucatastrophe of his death and resurrection. All good stories are glimpses of the one true story of the Gospel.) But this story had a clear Christ-figure.

And before I continue on any further, I must issue a...


This was one of those rare cases where the movie was better than the book. Frozen was (loosely) based upon The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson. The only parts that bore resemblance to the original fairy tale were a few names, the words "snow" and "queen," and the idea that a small speck of something can be used by people for good or evil. I'm glad Disney departed from the original in this case. I actually happen to think they made a better story in the end. (Although it would've been fantastic to have heard the characters saying the Lord's Prayer as they approached the Snow Queen's palace.)

At its heart, Frozen is about Love and Sacrifice. In the beginning of the movie we find a royal family with two daughters,  Elsa the elder and Anna the younger. We learn quickly that Elsa has a gift. She can  summon snow and ice by means of magical power. However, she discovers early on that her gift is like most things in this life: it can be a great blessing or a great curse. It really depends on how one uses the gift, and if that gift is used with love in service of others or of self.

Now, it would appear to the viewer that Elsa and her parents kept her away from Anna for her protection. And that is partially true. There was a significant ice incident that happened while building snow men in the palace - just another day in fairy land - which is how Anna received the white streak in her hair. After a brief visit to the trolls (which I found intriguing and wished they had developed more) the sisters quickly grew apart, for reasons unbeknownst to Anna. I think Elsa and her parents misunderstood the trolls words. They kept Elsa away from Anna and vice versa. And what began with the idea of loving protection actually ended up being a fearful escape, and a selfish one at that. They had  forgotten love altogether. Fear had consumed them.

As we come to find out in the course of the film, only an act of true love could break the curse. And the curse spread. At Elsa's coronation the gates of Arendelle were open for the first time in years, many foreign dignitaries were present, and conflict (naturally) arose. I'll keep it brief. The sisters had a fight. Elsa's icy powers came unleashed and Arendelle was frozen solid in an eternal winter (I hear overtones of Lewis!). Elsa fled her home ind order to isolate herself and make her own ice palace on the Northern Mountain. Naturally, adventurous and impetuously optimistic Anna went after her. Meanwhile the whole land awaited an act of true love to break the curse.

Thankfully, (and as you should expect in a good fairy story) that act of true love came. But it did not come as we might expect it to as it has in other Disney fairy tales. The prince, Hans turned out to be a snake-tongued, two-faced, power-hungry boy who manipulated Anna's innocent (and naive) love. Kristoff, the hard-working, rough and tumbled ice-block salesman was set up as the dark horse (or should I say dark-reindeer) candidate for the act of true love that would save Arendelle from the curse of an eternal winter.

Hans was discovered for the classic fool that he was. Kristoff and Anna actually did end up falling in love. But it was Anna who finally revealed herself as the Christ-figure of Frozen. As Hans stood over Elsa with sword in hand, ready to strike the fatal blow - and Anna was nearly dead after receiving an ice shock to the heart - she threw herself in front of her sister. She placed her dying body between Hans and Elsa and she was frozen. The frostbitten curse got her just in time for the sword to fall upon her frozen hand. And there's the Christ-figure. True love casts out fear - which was the problem with Elsa. Not the gift; she lacked love. And the love she lacked was the love Anna provided. It was a self-sacrificing love. An act of true love that places others before yourself.

What a marvelous picture of the Gospel. Christ who knew no sin - no frozen curse - became the curse of sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Christ stood between us and death and took death's blow for us, all the way to the hilt. Christ placed his dying body - full of the curse of our sin - between us and the grave. An act of true love for he is Love incarnate. Self-giving, self-sacrificing love. He placed all others before himself. And then he was placed into our tomb, dead and buried. But he didn't stay there. He arose. He is risen. Summer is near. The curse is gone. Sin's frozen gloom over us is melted. Death's cold, icy grip on us is shattered by the warmth of resurrected light. The love we lack is given to us by another, by Christ's perfect act of true love on the cross. Love and Sacrifice.

Anna the Christ-figure also led us to a glimpse of the resurrection in Arendelle. Summer came back. The snow of the eternal winter melted. Elsa learned to love and not lock herself away in self-loathing fear. And they all lived happily ever after. And this too is a glimpse of the true story, the story of Christmas, the Grand Miracle!

Which is why I couldn't help but think of this poem from The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe as I was watching Frozen.

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bears his teeth, winter meets its death,
When he shakes his mane, we shall have Spring again.

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

A Blessed and Merry Christmas...for Christ is on the move!

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review, Sam! I read it the other day & it convinced me to see the movie.

    It was the best movie I saw yesterday. Primarily because they focused on telling a good story and building up the characters and making them noble & self-sacrificial based on organic growth throughout the story as opposed to them being browbeaten and shamed into doing the right thing, unlike a certain other movie I saw yesterday.