Maria and I went to see Beauty And the Beast tonight at our favorite little theater in Bennington, Vt., it costs $9 a ticket for the early show and popcorn and drinks are about $6. The theater is never full or crowded. The movie turned out to be more personal for me than I expected.
Beauty and the Beast is a romantic fantasy. The movie was fine, a solid B +, warm and pretty and filled with the next generation of talking households objects at Disney Theme Parks.
The girl ends up being a princess, just like Disney heroines used to end up, but along the way, Belle (Emma Watson) was strong, brave and fiercely independent, as Disney heroines are supposed to be now.
Some context. Beauty and the Beast is a very old story. It was written in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. It was a big, thick, complex work.
The story in various forms is one of the world's oldest tales, researchers have traced different versions of it back more than 4,000 years.
It has very deep resonance for many people, especially men who feel they are too grotesque, insecure, violent and disgusting to be loved by women. Or women who wonder if they can see past the worst parts of men in order to love them and see their better angels. It is a story for the ages, and in many ways, the story of powerful men in our modern culture.
It is aso the story of me in a way, it is much the way in which I have seen myself for most of my life. And I have always been a little haunted by it, all the great fairy tales seem to do that.
The current cinematic version has been thoroughly, almost overwhelmingly Disneyfied. The movie was enjoyable but poured through that special and very safe Disney prism. To be honest, I was expecting something darker and meatier from Disney these days, but they played it safe here, and they have been rewarded for it, it is a blockbuster.
Your kid will leave the theater thinking about the dancing candlestick, not about how we love or don't love.
Some researchers have suggested that the story of Beauty and the Beast was influenced by a true story, that of Petrus Gonsalvus, who was born in the sixteenth century on the island of Tenerife in Spain. Discovered by French explorers, he was brought to the court of King Henry II of France as a kind of freak.
Gonsalvus suffered from a disease called Hypertrichosis, which causes an abnormal growth of hair on the face and other body parts. Brought to Paris, he was welcomed under the protection of the king and married a beautiful Parisian woman named Catherine, who loved him despite his disfiguration.
Apart from the great acting performance from Watson, there was really nothing about the Disney movie that will stick with you.
Young children will love it,I think, it was very warm and ingenious in parts. And is not really scary at all.
I was put off at learning in the theater that it was a musical, like the play, and with some of the same music, replete with dancing cabinets and table lamps and clocks and happy, dumb, extremely gullible and hapless villagers (the same ones, I think, who went after Frankenstein with torches). In fairy tales, the mobs never seem to know what they are doing.
The movie contained Disney's first openly gay moment, but it went by so fast I doubt I would even have even noticed it if they weren't making such a big fuss about it.
It was not a great movie. The film's creators went for sappy, they didn't expand this venerable story, they shrank it. But it was not boring or disappointing either. And it is a huge success, expected to pass the $500 million box office mark in just two weeks. You can't knock that.
I know when I was a child I often wondered what I would do if I encountered a beast and fell in love, or was a beast who wished to be loved. I didn't think such a thing was possible, either way.
I admit I have often felt like a beast, ugly inside and out, and in my own mind I have thought of the story of me and Maria as my own version of the story. I felt that strongly in the theater.
I wet my bed for many years, and always felt ugly and unlikable, have always been an outsider, and never got the girl.
I always felt my body to be somewhat disgusting, even revolting. Because I never imagined anyone loving me, not too many people did. The Beast story understood the great truth about love: if you do not dare to love yourself, no one else will take the chance.
The therapists call this self-loathng, the beast loathes himself in every incarnation of the tale. An interesting twist to this venerable story is that the beast is not really a beast at all, but an ordinary, troubled, man whose appearance has been radically transformed. The real person is hidden a way, even from him. The question for Belle is how deeply into his soul can we see?
When I met Maria, I could not imagine she would ever love me. I invited her up on the farm porch one day to tell her I had "feelings" for her, expecting her to run away screaming. She did get up and walk away, she didn't say a word. But she wasn't screaming of visibly disgusted. And she didn't slap me across the face. I took heart from that.
I was very surprised to learn that Maria sometimes feels the same way about herself. Sometimes, people are so busy hiding theri vulnerabilities that we rarely realize how much we have in common with others.
This, I suppose, is why the story has endured for so long and is still to compelling to people. It raises questions almost all of us ask about ourselves all the time. I have learned that I am not the only in life who feels vulnerable and difficult to love. I sometimes think everyone does. Like Plato said, everyone is fighting a harder battle than me.
I was glad I went to see it the movie. So was Maria.
I can't imagine many people who go and see the story – mangled, of course from the original – will not find that it touches some part of their lives and fantasies.