I have been staring at an open Word document since late Friday evening after I sat in a sold-out theater and watched my New Favorite Film unfold before me, trying to put into words what about Maleficent made me exclaim (much to the dismay of the audience members around me) “THIS IS A REALLY BIG DEAL” right after (major spoilers ahead) Maleficent kisses Aurora on the forehead, awakening her from the curse with true love’s first kiss. Until now, all I had was a list of non-linear bullet points, a few lines of pure exclamation points, and what appears to be the framework for a strange poem. I have spent these past few days chewing on a pen, watching the trailer over and over, and listening to Lana Del Rey’s cover of “Once Upon a Dream” until my ears ache.
The point is: the film was a really big, semi-queer, definitely feminist deal.
Full-disclosure: I never saw Frozen (I know, I know), but apparently, that film did just as well at shattering female tropes and trends in film, but with a slightly more “feel good” tone.
Here’s the thing: I liked Maleficent because it wasn’t comforting. It was real, it was raw, it was honest, and for a kid’s movie, it was pretty dark. The gut-wrenching and uncomfortably long scream and wail that Maleficent lets out after waking face-down in the forest only to discover that Stefan, the love of her life, has cut her wings from her body was probably the most successful example of this overall candid unpleasantness. He not only physically violated her, but in doing so stole both her dignity and her autonomy.
Over the course of the film, we watch Maleficent as she grows up and falls in love. She finds it within herself to trust Stefan, but in his thirst for power he becomes corrupt. After he betrays her trust, drugs her, and steals her prized wings to further his own quest for the crown, we watch her as she is consumed with vengeance and sets out upon her quest for revenge by cursing the daughter of her abuser. Maleficent is multi-dimensional. She is neither the villain nor the hero, nor any other overused, flat, cinematic archetype. She is a real character with the capacity for growth, failure, and success, and we watch her experience each.
This is a fairytale being retold to reveal the “truth” by the women within it. Maleficent matters because we are taught the downfalls of revenge without seeing the main character lose in the end. The story isn’t about destroying the villain, but about understanding the characters and their evolution, and it matters because it’s actually convincing. Maleficent sought revenge and in turn, fell in love. She doesn’t feel truly victorious until she realizes that true love does exist, and it comes in the form of the love she feels for her friend and mentee, Aurora.
Maleficent matters because no one ends up with a Prince Charming who gallantly storms in at the last minute and saves the day, and yet the female characters are still conveyed with the capacity to love, platonically and romantically. This film is important because the female characters are more than vehicles used to carry out an outdated trope of girl-meets-boy, boy-saves-girl—
It’s important because girl-saves-girl, girl-saves-herself.
Images via filmchronicles.com, The New York Post, and fanpop.com.