So, Disney accidentally made a movie about the gospel. Which is awesome.
(This post contains spoilers. Read at your own risk.)
A lot has been said about Frozen, both positive and negative. It’s about two sisters, which is fantastic! It hangs a lampshade on the ridiculousness of marrying someone you just met, which is also fantastic (and funny)! And yes, it is problematic that there are no people of color. And it’s a bit weird that the sisters have essentially the exact same facial features and bear a striking resemblance to Rapunzel and apparently that’s because it’s hard to draw women with emotion, but hey, nothing’s perfect.
Most of the conversation around the movie seems to be centered around the song “Let it Go,” which is a fantastic song and is exquisitely performed by Idina Menzel (aka Elphaba from Wicked, aka Maureen from Rent, aka the woman whose voice I would kill to have). It’s become this huge phenomenon, this anthem of embracing yourself and throwing off the shackles of expectation. I’ve seen a lot of talk on the internet about how much people relate to the song and how great it is to see Elsa stop concealing her true nature and becoming who she was meant to be, with quite a bit of sass thrown in for good measure. She is rebelling against the rules and restrictions that have been placed on her for so many years, both by herself and the society around her. Obviously, this is a message that resonates with people, particularly those who feel marginalized by society for whatever reason.
What no one seems to be talking about is how her rebellion does not solve ANY of Elsa’s problems. She embraces her power and builds herself a super awesome ice palace – but nothing else changes. She is still lonely. She is still isolated. She is still afraid (the scene where Anna comes to the ice palace really illustrates just how afraid she still is). And she is still causing incredible amounts of damage to the people around her. Letting it go completely is just as harmful as keeping it all shoved in inside, even if she insists that the cold doesn’t bother her.
So what does solve Elsa’s problems? What enables her to use her gifts for good? What reconciles her with her community? What allows her to experience joy and companionship and fulfillment? Love. Specifically, relentless, unconditional, sacrificial love. Sound familiar?
Let’s look at Anna and the love she has for her sister.
- It is relentless. In “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” Anna continues to come and knock on Elsa’s door, even though she is continually turned away. Even though Elsa is hiding, Anna desires a relationship with her and does everything she can to build one.
- It is unconditional. After Elsa’s powers are revealed and everyone begins to fear her, Anna continues to love her. She says she knows her sister and that her sister is not a monster. She sees her sister for who she is and loves her all the more. She continues to pursue her sister, even as Elsa tries to run away.
- It is sacrificial. When Hans threatens Elsa during the climax of the movie, Anna steps in and lays down her own life for her sister in what even Disney considers an act of true love.
Even more than that, it is Anna’s resurrection that shows Elsa what love really is. It is only once her sister revives that she learns how to release Arendelle from the winter she has caused – through love.
When the king and queen took Anna and Elsa to the trolls at the beginning of the movie, the troll king warned them that fear would be her enemy. They tried to defend against fear with control, which only made things worse. Completely letting go of control didn’t make anything better either. But through Anna’s sacrifice, Elsa learns the truth – that perfect love casts out fear. Once she learns this, she can use her powers for good. She brings joy to the community, she is reunited with her sister, and she is both controlled and at peace.
I don’t think for a second that Disney intended to make a movie about the gospel. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t. And honestly, that’s one of the things that reassures me when I find myself doubting whether the gospel is really true – it is a story that is so ingrained within the hearts of humanity that it spills out everywhere. No matter where you look, you will find stories of this kind of love, of love that is so relentless, so unconditional, so sacrificial that it has the power to change people’s hearts. We all want that; we just have to remember that these echoes and imitations that are all around us should point us to the original source, Jesus.