Maleficent

June 16, 2014

“I was a fairy princess once…Everything was so nice and peaceful,

’til one day it all went horribly wrong!”

–Miss Bitters, Invader Zim

And the moral of the story is, MEN RUIN EVERYTHING!!!!!

Ahem.  But seriously.  I’m really ambivalent about this movie.  It had things I liked.  And it had a lot that I didn’t.

Before going to see it I saw a couple of reviews titled, basically, “Let’s talk about that rape scene in Maleficent, shall we?”  So I was looking for it, and while it was metaphorical, it was just as horrible as you’d expect. (My friend leaned over right after it and said, “Well, that’s about the worst thing I’ve ever seen in a movie.”)  I have this pet peeve, in stories about powerful women, where all their power and motivation comes from some traumatic incident in their past.  Not always rape, but often it is, and this plays right into it.  That’s the whole point of the movie — what traumatic thing happened that made Maleficent go all evil and stuff?  Ta-da, there you go.  Complete personality transplant after that scene.  I mean, when we first meet her, and she’s this cheerful happy young fairy, and she announces, “I’m Maleficent!” I’m thinking “No you very well aren’t!”  The word Maleficent literally means “evil-doer” in latin, and at that point, she really really isn’t!  Etymology matters, bitches!  What would have worked better, I think, is her renaming herself Maleficent when she decides to go for revenge — that would have shown a whole lot more consciousness of what she’s doing, some kind of agency of her choosing this path rather than inevitably sliding into it because that’s what happens to traumatized women in stories.

Because you know who didn’t really need any motivation to go all evil and stuff?  Stefan.  Base ambition was enough to turn him bad, and he didn’t need a reason, and he didn’t need any redemption after, apparently.  This whole movie is supposed to be, is billed as, Maleficent’s redemption story.  And I just kept thinking, she isn’t the one needing redemption here!  She’s the victim!  Gah!

Aurora saved the movie for me.  Until her appearance, this was a movie about how people are terrible and awful to each other all the time.  Even the three “good” fairy/pixies were awful.  But Aurora, when she announces, “You’re my fairy godmother!” with such joy, and the look on Maleficent’s face when she realizes, Dammit, the kid’s right.  That was awesome.  I feel like I should have despised the character for being a caricature, all sunny and happy and tralala.  But I loved her, because she managed to convincingly embody what’s good in the world and why life is worth living.  Oh, and I also loved the raven.  Another great character who saved the movie from being about unrelenting terribleness.

I was disappointed that Aurora’s mother died, because that didn’t happen in any of the versions this is riffing on, and it’s like the movie just didn’t want the complication of Aurora having two mother figures. I know why they skipped the whole “everybody falls into a deep sleep” thing because they wanted to have a big battle at the end, but that also felt like a misstep.

But I do really love that we now have two Disney movies seeking to redefine what “true love’s kiss” means, and that there are lots of kinds of loves that are just as important as hetero romantic love.  I also love how the closing credit version of “Once Upon a Dream” was super-emo-goth, specifically designed to appeal to two generations of emo goth kids who look on Maleficent as their goddess.

Now, if you really want a subversive retelling of Sleeping Beauty, let me recommend Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End.

 

3 Responses to “Maleficent”


  1. I felt the script was mostly passable. Elle Fanning was indeed amazing. Plus Angelina Jolie managed to give her role a lot more nuance than I expected. Visually, though, the whole thing was overkill (though I quite liked the giant, Lovecraftian-looking fairy creatures that pop up in one scene).

    On the other hand, my girlfriend seemed to enjoy it. :-/


  2. I liked that it was about women, their relationships, and what could end up screwing with them. I didn’t like how it was slow and kind of nonsensical.

  3. Tim Schmidt Says:

    Carrie,

    Mostly I find your reviews spot on but I have to disagree a bit with this one.

    I felt that this movie contrasts the 2 people who committed evil acts.
    Stefan had to chose between ambition and his conscience. He chose ambition even though he knew how evil it was (why else didn’t he just kill her). He spends the rest of the movie immersed in his guilt which isolates him from everything that would have made having the crown worthwhile. That’s what the whole scene with the queen dying was about. In the end he clings to his prize, the crown, and never seeks to atone and so is lost.

    Maleficent’s crime isn’t that she sought revenge. Its’ that she cursed an innocent. Unlike Stefan, she gives up her revenge and seeks amends, saving both herself and Aurora.

    I agree that in this story (and others besides) some characters get terrible fates that they did nothing to deserve. Here its the queen. She goes from having a tyrant for a father to having a mad husband and losing her daughter.

    I think I liked this movie more than you did.

    Tim


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