Disney’s Maleficent is a movie with many meanings. It can be taken as a “modern” fairy tale, or you can scratch and find our more about it. Maleficent, beyond the surface, is much more, and explains far more, than meets the eye.
We must agree that Maleficent explains a story about rape, but also a story where the stereotypes of the hero and the villain are shattered as well. Moreover, it’s also a metaphor for our current state of economy and governance, and a warning for environmental issues, industry versus natural resources.
Let’s take a brief look to all of these aspects.
Maleficent is an independent young woman who gets in love just with someone who betrays her for power. He cuts her wings, leaving her heavily damaged psychologically and physically. As happens with rape, victims close themselves into a shell, and see everything from gloomy eyes. Plus: they are regarded as the villains of the story. Stephan keeps the wings as a trophy in his castle, as to display how powerful he is. This is an allegory for rape. Women are cut off an intimate part of themselves, and live into gloomy spheres, while being seen as the villain and not the victim, while perpetrators are able to show up their trophies. Women who have suffered rape are “cut off of their wings” and it does take time and effort and love from their surroundings to regain those wings again, to be independent beings whose life has light and hope again. In this sense, Maleficent is just victim who, enraged wants Stephan to feel what she felt when he cut her wings off. It is the love of the Princess, the opening of Maleficent’s heart again, and the Princess’ help to re-gain her wings what makes of her the light being she was before.
But the character of Maleficent has more hidden into it: she is a stereotype shatterer. Usually, in films, specially tales, we are presented with good and evil represented by a hero and a villain. It is funny to find out that the hero and the villain are one and the same. Maleficent starts being a naive young woman who encounters an evil man who is just worried about power. While in her cocoon of despair she desires him to suffer, and chooses to make it through his daughter, an innocent being, just as she was before the incident with Stephan. As time elapses, keeping an eye on the Princess, she slowly but surely starts questioning her reasons for revenge, till the point she does not want any harm to happen to the Princess. She repents.
In a masterpiece move in the movie, we are presented with a “true love kiss” scene which shatters the traditional stereotype in which a “true love kiss” can only be given by a Prince. It is Maleficent who, kisses the Princess and saves her at the end. So, one single person, Maleficent, is a victim, a villain and a hero. All these aspects make her a multilayered character who sends a powerful message: it is us who, by choice, decide to be villains or heroes. It is us, by choice, who decide to repent or not repent (Stefan never repented). It is us, regardless of our gender, the ones capable of true love, no matter what type of relationship.
But there are also obvious struggles in the movie. The fairies live in the Moors, a utopian society, where everybody is happy. However, when Stefan appears, an orphan boy, he does so to steal from them. He is a boy, from lower society to wishes possessions. Just as much as the king, who tries to get the Moors for his kingdom. The Moors represent an almost infinite resources territory, which humans want to control to do with them as they see fit. They become greedy and brutal in order to get what they want. So much so with Stefan who cuts and steals Maleficent wings to win the kingdom, and afterwards create all type of spooky weapons to kill her out.
In this tale, the humans represent a greedy society, the tools that Stefan orders to create, the industry, and the Moors the planet. It is obvious that greed and industry amok will destroy the Earth if no one prevents it. Greediness, technology and enterprise can consume in record time those resources, that used wisely would be enough for everyone.
But, what about Stefan? If you take a closer look to his character you will realize that he is not a member of the royal family: he is an orphan who jumps up the social pyramid till being able to become king. To do so: he cuts off Maleficent’s wings, someone who was his friend. He took advantage of her in order to get a better place within society. The critics here is the obsession to attain a certain status taking advantage on whoever crosses our path. Those who have been victims of oppression, then, become the oppressors themselves!
And so we find here several layers, in which Maleficent’s wings are key: they defy the patriarchal establishment. She is free, independent and strong. The Princess also represents an independent woman: there is no wedding, and there is no love kiss from any prince but one made by Maleficent! These woman are in contrast opposite with Stephan and his gloomy castle. They are representations of patriarchy, or greediness, of industry gone amok. It is the clash of the new and the old, of socialism and capitalism, of feminism and patriarchy, of new ways and old ways, of greed and compassion. And yet, the movie does no offer to us a confronted ending. What we see is harmony!
There is no us versus them at the end of the movie. The Moors merge with the Kingdom through Princess Aurora. The message is clear: without greed, without taking advantage on others to arrive on the top, without polarizing edges, we can live in harmony. Of course, it is a difficult task, but it is one that can be achieve. And the key are the new generations.
There is much more that is hidden in this movie. More than meets the eye, and even more deep messages of empowerment, independence, equality and harmony. We should take them seriously.
Sources + further reading:
- Why Disney’s ‘Maleficent’ Matters, Forbes.
- ‘Maleficent’: A Story Of Repentance, the Federalist.
- Slate’s Culture Gabfest on Maleficent, faking cultural literacy, and the song that introduced sex to pop music in 1909; Slate.
- Angelina Jolie: ‘Maleficent’ Scene Is A ‘Metaphor For Rape,’ Huffington Post.
- My Thoughts on Maleficent, Gx94radio.