(Let me preface by saying this: I’ve recently finished a film about sex trafficking. Much of my work has involved speaking to and reading about victims of sexual abuse and rape. I understand I am a man talking about subjects that are sensitive, particularly to women. However, this post is to illustrate how Maleficent fails on a story level, and actually hinders it’s own messages.)
Maleficent. A movie I had much hope for. A darker Disney movie with a great actress and great looking story. Out of those hopes, it turns out the only thing it actually delivered on was the great actress. Angelina Jolie is brilliant. She plays the evil Maleficent fantastically and even outdoes Charlize Theron’s Evil Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman. Sadly, Maleficent is evil for only about 20-30 minutes. And by evil, I mean a shade of grey, and by shade of grey, I mean a fairy princess guardian that we all completely understand where she’s coming from so it’s all cool. Because she was date raped– I mean, her wings were stolen. Wait, is this about date rape?
The King that hates Maleficent declares that the man who kills her will become his new heir. So steps in Stefan, Maleficent’s childhood love who disappeared on her to pursue his career and the only man that knows of her kryptonite-like weakness to iron. Upon returning to Maleficent, a wondrous night ensues like days of old. Those feelings are still there as they cuddle. Stefan gives Maleficent a drink and she passes out in his arms. It was spiked.
The time has come for Stefan to KILL Maleficent and fulfill his dream of living in a castle. He raises the iron knife and strikes at her heart! BUT he stops. He DOESN’T HAVE THE HEART to kill her. Instead he cuts off her wings and delivers them as proof of his victory. Cut to: A broken, violated Maleficent in agonizing pain both outside and in. He raped her of her wings. End date rape sequence.
The entire plot revolves around this date rape. I’ll bold that for importance.
Maleficent then turns into the evil witch-fairy that we paid to see in the trailers (finally). A woman scorned, she crashes the celebration of the birth of Stefan’s daughter, to get back at Stefan. She does the classic cursing of Sleeping Beauty, to get back at Stefan. She stalks Aurora for about 14 years, to ensure she gets back at Stefan. Everything is to get back at Stefan… until she realizes the error of her ways and changes her mind and kisses Sleeping Beauty who has been out for about 5 minutes (sigh). She awakens. Then Maleficent kills Gaston–I mean Stefan. But it was an accident so it’s okay.
Why the message of the film is lost:
- 1. Stefan didn’t want to kill Maleficent. He makes a conscious choice to let her live. He cuts off her wings and she lives. You SYMPATHIZE with Stefan! Scumbag? Yeah. But Maleficent is alive because he cared. Stefan shows mercy and that he has a heart. Never again is it brought up that he let her live. Kind of a big deal.
- 2. Maleficent’s rage. It’s all to get back at Stefan. Maleficent gives up on life because of what happened. Her friends, her family. She curses children and tortures fairies. She hates and blames the world, she hates and blames herself, and she locks herself away under a new persona that lets nobody in. While this mimics some real-life reactions of rape victims and revenge fantasies are common, her transformation into an evil witch feels abrupt probably due to so much focus on Stefan.
- 3. Stefan turns into a mustache-twirling villain hell-bent on killing Maleficent because she cursed his daughter! His daughter he hasn’t spent a day of his life with! How dare she! He’s a bad father, violent, and a rather shite king and becomes pure evil (although he let Maleficent live but who cares).
Maleficent learns to love again because Aurora reminds Maleficent of her younger self and thus moves on.
And by the way, Stefan actually goes insane from what Maleficent did. He talks to wings! But Stefan dies, of course, not because he is mentally ill, but because he is evil. And most definitely not because the writers wrote themselves into a corner and had absolutely no idea how to end his story.
- 4. Why is Prince Philip in this movie? However inadequately done, this film is specifically designed to send a message to young girls. I say girls, but the message it is trying to convey should target both young girls and boys. This film just throws Philip around like an idiot. He’s lost the ENTIRE movie, only in it for about three minutes, is put to sleep and man-handled by Maleficent because it would just be easier to deal with him, and isn’t even true love’s first kiss for Aurora. I’m all for feminism and consider myself a feminist but this feels like revenge with a back-handed swipe at the old trope of female characters being pretty and not much else. Except this time it’s the boy that’s useless. Congratulations, the message is clear. Girls aren’t stupid. Boys are stupid. Oh well, at least Philip didn’t run off a cliff.
If you are going to make the story an allegory for rape, then do that! Spread the message to the four corners of the Earth! But do it and commit to it! There are too many wires crossed in this and the whole message is scrambled. Why do I feel happy that Stefan cut off her wings instead of killing her? Why does Stefan not just give the wings back? Why is Philip in the movie? Why wasn’t Once Upon a Dream sung during the film!
To end on a serious and more simple note, I give you the message of the film:
People close to you will betray you. Rape is bad (but not as bad as murder!). It’s okay to be evil because you can always do take backsies. And don’t worry about the rapist because he’s an idiot and will lose his mind and fall off a rooftop, or something. Boys are dumb. But hey, you can be both evil and good!