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Thoughts on Modern Fairy Tales: Movie Reviews for Edge of Tomorrow and Maleficent

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It was funny watching these two films back to back: Scott *really* wanted to see Edge of Tomorrow, which I disliked so much I insisted we go see Maleficent asap. So.

I do not understand the good reviews Edge of Tomorrow is getting, I'm going to say that straight up front. It is tedious, trite, goes on for ages, and does nothing whatsoever interesting. No, I take it back, I liked the mecha suits: they are proof we could have an excellent Starship Troopers film if anyone ever cares to make it.

Seriously though, it is the male fantasy/fairy tale: Weeny man Tom Cruise develops masculinity through War, gains affirmation in the eyes of others, and gets rewarded with a hot girlfriend. Emily Blunt's Rita is that classic Strong Female Character in the sense that her awesomeness is there for a male reward, and it is transparent that's what she's there for in each scene in which the characters go "OMG she's with him?!" It was exhausting and nauseating, and while I don't typically hate Tom Cruise, I did want to beat him to death with a spoon after this movie.

[Has anyone on my f-list read All You Need is Kill, the Japanese book on which the film is based? I'm curious if it is better or worse, esp. with regards to sex roles.]

In contrast, Maleficent: OH MY GODS YES. This is a film I can't wait to watch with my yet unconceived daughters and any other small girl younglings. It's fun both as a transformative work--every line and beat from the original is there, flipped and changed--and as a visually nuanced film. Someone mentioned that the fairies were surely inspired by Brian Froud--yes, yes, yes! (Also, memo Disney: I would ABSOLUTELY pay to see a film of Froud's Faeries, I'm just saying.) I also love how Maleficent herself is visually coded as both devil (horns) and angel (wings); it really speaks to patriarchal Christian revisionism/co-option of goddess figures from other cultures.

Slight tangent here: I adore the modern use of fairy tale "retellings." Fairy tales themselves are a genre whose roots are specifically found in the political and proto-feminist writings of women in 17th/18th c. France and Europe. As happens, the fairy tale gained respectability when male writers--including the best known of them, Charles Perrault--began publishing fairy tales that removed and repurposed the material of the women writers. (If it sounds like what's going on with contemporary YA, YOU ARE SO RIGHT.) Fairy tales became codified by the Grimm brothers in the 19th c., who did some retooling so that the girls and princesses all became passive, the mother figures all became evil, etc. etc. Make no mistake: this was patriarchal social violence to specifically women's writing, and that's what we've been stuck with, up to and including Disney's oeuvre of the 20th c.

This is why Maleficent becomes doubly interesting, because it's a transformative text that takes on and criticizes it's original: there is a dialogue with Disney's Sleeping Beauty not just in the storytelling and visuals but within the writing itself: "This is not the story you were told" etc. etc. This is about how history transforms narratives and *especially* women's narratives with a patriarchal agenda.

Within the story itself, just, here, have bullet points:

*The symbology of feminine Nature and masculine City/Civilization. Very Margaret Mead, but even so, it absolutely works, especially in the context of "developing patriarchy.

*The symbolic rape of Maleficent: She refuses to be broken, and she maintains her power. Likewise at the end when her wings are restored. Just: I love that we have this developing cinematic language of victims reclaiming their power, when we have this insistent history in cinematic and other textual narratives that this can't happen, better off dead, etc. etc.

*Women's power is shared power. Women's relationships are about mentoring and respect. (In specific contrast to the "pixies" that have total buy-in into the patriarchy, who view women's relationships as antagonistic, etc. etc.)

*True love is the relationships of family/found family.

*The prince: TOTALLY not into dubcon. He probably saw the "1 is too many" ads and was all "I would like to use my privilege to not buy into this destructive system, thanks."

*Diaval: I love how his relationship with Maleficent develops and how he is very much the anti-Stefan. Not only is he not threatened by Maleficent's power, but that lack of fear is what makes him her friend. I love how there's the ongoing joke of he doesn't like being transformed into this or that, but when she transforms him into a dragon, not only does he use his serious newfound strength to save her (note: he doesn't have to do this, and in any other narrative where we'd have a subservient male he would be filled with hate and not try to protect her), but I think she kind of realizes his friendship and love for her, because you notice at the end his clothing has transformed into a total echo of hers: a sort of royal garment that covers him completely (versus the sort of open shirt "you're pretty" outfit he has worn the rest of the film) with a feathered shoulder-garment that looks a lot like hers. I also love how they are flying together at the end, and that she is allowing and sharing her joy of freedom with him. The more I think about it, the more I think of him as a sort of counterpart to Pacific Rim's Raleigh Beckett: he is a male nurturer--he feeds baby Aurora, he always thinks protectively/defensively rather than offensively, and most tellingly, particularly after her rape, he is a male that Maleficent actually *does* trust. His power comes from accepting strong women, not fighting them.

*I love how Aurora is coded as beautiful not just because of her physical beauty but because of her openness and love for the world. This is a baby that goes up to a woman clothed in black with horns who reeks of "OH MY GOD WHAT DO" and is like "YOU'RE SO PRETTY I LIKE YOUR FEATHERS HI!" I love how she eagerly identifies Maleficent as her fairy godmother does not come off as naive and stupid--which it could have easily done--and instead comes off as a young woman who has paid attention her whole life and knows who genuinely does love her. (Which also makes her underplayed heartbreak at her father's coldness so sad, too.) I like how Maleficent confers the crown on her at the end, because again, shared power of women, women's community and continuity, etc.

In short, IT WAS A REALLY GOOD MOVIE AND I LIKED IT A LOT.

Comments

( 10 comments — Add your .02 )
browngirl
Jun. 8th, 2014 12:32 am (UTC)
Your analyses are so splendid and so very true!
caitri
Jun. 8th, 2014 03:48 am (UTC)
<3

I am sort of mentally debating a short fic about Diaval. He's such an interesting character, and I'm fascinated about the different ways we can read his relationship with Maleficent.
marthawells
Jun. 8th, 2014 12:50 am (UTC)
Yes! I absolutely loved it!
caitri
Jun. 8th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC)
I think I might have to end up buying this one. It can be my new default film for small ones.
marthawells
Jun. 8th, 2014 11:46 am (UTC)
It's like Disney's new theme is "some princes are vicious power-hungry bastards so be careful out there, kids."
avictoriangirl
Jun. 8th, 2014 01:12 am (UTC)
I loved loved LOVED Maleficent. At this point, I think everyone at work is pretty much tired of my blathering on about how amazing it was. XD

*squishes you* ♥!!!!!!!
caitri
Jun. 8th, 2014 03:50 am (UTC)
*squishes back* It was soooo good!!!! I was so dubious when they announced the whole thing and the trailers didn't do it for me, but after getting so many positive reviews I had to go, and just--WOW!!!!!
sail_aweigh
Jun. 9th, 2014 07:54 pm (UTC)
Well, now I know I'm going to have to go see Maleficent. Rotten Tomatoes did it no favors, but everyone I know who's seen it has pretty much raved about it.

Tom Cruise? *ptui*
caitri
Jun. 11th, 2014 07:17 pm (UTC)
I wonder how strictly along the gender divides Maleficent criticism falls?

As for Tom Cruise--I think he was fine in the role, it's just that the writing seriously IRKED me.
sail_aweigh
Jun. 11th, 2014 07:26 pm (UTC)
The Tom Cruise *ptui* wasn't even for the Edge of Tomorrow; it's because Guillermo del Toro originally offered the role of Stacker Pentecost to him. CAN YOU IMAGINE? A world of no. At least he got it right by offering it to Idris Elba later. That, and I just hate Tom Cruise. I have a hard time watching Top Gun, now, and it used to be one of my favorite movies. I was stationed with Top Gun in the 80s, right before the movie was made. It's all ruined now. *sobs*
( 10 comments — Add your .02 )

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