The Gospel According to... Beauty and the Beast?

I’m a simple kind of man: I love God, I love mankind, and I love the creation God’s placed us in.

Sure, there’s some definite negative aspects to last two of those (we can thank Adam and Eve and every human since then – save one – for that), but in general, these three aspects of life are the things that turn me from your typical, coffee-reliant, half-asleep teenager into the optimistic Energizer Bunny I try to be from day to day. When I think of God I think of His power, when I think of mankind I think of His grace, and when I think of the rest of creation I think of His providence. And when you put all three of those together? That’s when you have no choice but to fall on your knees.

But, that being said, there’s another thing that I absolutely love in life, and I think that it falls pretty squarely into the mix of the first three:

I love a good love story.

I’m pretty sure I’ve expressed this previously somewhere on this website, but I honestly don’t feel like re-reading through all of my blog posts to figure out exactly where. The straight-and-simple truth is that I love a good love story, and anybody who doesn’t love a good love story is…well, I’d say that they’re in need of a reminder of what love truly is. Male or female, single or married, I think that love stories are foundational in our source of happiness, for if we don’t have love, is there any happiness to be had?

This is why I love Beauty and the Beast.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored the 1991 animated classic – it was one of the first movies my parents ever showed to me back when I was still in diapers, and has since then been one of my favorite movies of all time – but something about the 2017 version just clicked with me even more. I’m not always the biggest fan of remakes – and its no secret that animated-to-live-action adaptations don’t always work very well – but I left the theatre just a week and a half ago feeling utterly delighted at the changes they had made to the original, while remaining faithful to the source material. But why did I like this one better?

First, I assumed that it was all the resolved plot holes from the original one truly sold it for me. I mean, if we’re being real here, in the 1991 version, the Beast had every right to turn away the old lady from his door – he was only eleven years old at the time, and she came knocking in the middle of the night – and the two central male characters, the Beast and Gaston, both lie in this relatively gray area, with Gaston actually representing what would typically be presented as the heroic role of the story. I assumed that perhaps these little tweaks – amongst the fixing of many other little idiosyncrasies within the plot – were what made the 2017 version that much better to me, but then I realized what really did it. And it was the biggest change of all:

The Enchantress.

You see, in the 1991 B&tB, the Enchantress has little-to-no role whatsoever. She appears in the stained class voice-over at the beginning of the story and then disappears from the entire plot, leaving the audience, at the end of the movie, feeling like perhaps she was just this bitter old lady who liked teaching people lessons in the cruelest way possible. But in this newer version, the Enchantress plays a huge role from the initiating moments of the movie until its very end. I didn’t really take notice of this change at first, but after spending some time thinking about it, I realized why it appealed to me so much:

The Enchantress’s story arc, in a way, tells the story of the Gospel.

If you’ve read my previous posts dissecting Man of Steel and Batman v Superman to explain all the religious nods and Easter Eggs throughout the movies, it’ll come as no surprise to you that I love looking for God in art – whether that be music, paintings, books, you name it – and so it should likewise be fairly understandable that I would try to tie one of my favorite movies of all time to my favorite story of all time: the redemptive storyline of Jesus and His death for us on the cross. I think the tie-ins are a way of giving a movie new depth, in doing so allowing you to watch it with that much greater appreciation in future viewings. Without further adieu, I present to you

The Gospel According to Beauty and the Beast

It’s a tale as old as time, my friends, so lets us begin at the beginning. An old woman, uninvited, arrives at the palace of this stuck-up prince, asking him for shelter from the cold, dark, and dangerous night. Despite the fact that it is quite obvious he has plenty of charity to offer her, he instead sneers and shoos her away.

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PLOT TWIST: The old lady’s an enchantress, and she was testing the prince’s morality. He failed. She curses him and his servants, turning him into a hideous beast and them into animate household items; the only way to prevent this effect from being eternal is for the prince to find true love before a single enchanted rose wilts and dies. The catch is, as each petal falls, the household objects become more and more inanimate. And to make matters harder, she secludes the castle to eternal winter and makes people forget all about them. It seems like a tragic fate.

First and foremost, I think it’s important to state that the Enchantress, quite obviously, would represent God in this scenario. If the sovereign extents of her powers weren’t enough, let’s look to the fact that people have, even since the 1991 version, questioned her morality/motives. People argue that the Enchantress was actually a horrible person for having cursed the beast in the first place, especially since he wouldn’t have had to be so prudish had she not come to him asking for shelter in the first place.

Isn’t this how it always is with God? As soon as somebody experiences pain or suffering, they start questioning whether or not God is good. “God shouldn’t punish them for the sin, because he’s the one who gave them the free will to succumb to the temptation in the first place,” would often be their [quite silly] argument. But I digress. Let’s move on, shall we?

In the live action film, the Enchantress is constantly at works behinds the scenes, going by the name Agatha throughout the village in which Belle lives.

  • Early on in the film, Gaston points Agatha out as what happens to unmarried women when their mothers die, essentially judging her for her dastard appearance and destitute status.
  • Later on, as Maurice is travelling through the woods, it is the Enchantress who strikes the tree with lightning, causing Maurice to take the path that ultimately leads to the Beast’s castle. (The director himself admitted that the branch that falls form the tree is the same shape as the walking staff that the Enchantress uses at the beginning of the movie.)
  • It could likewise be argued that it is the Enchantress who, through the wolves, leads Maurice to the castle, therefore giving the Beast a perfect chance at redemption (since the Beast himself seemed perfectly content just chilling at home and not even trying to save the lives of his in-castle staff).
  • Later, Agatha comes and saves Maurice when Gaston and Lefou leave him to be eaten by the wolves. She heals some of his wounds and helps him get better in record time, so that by the time Gaston and his lackey arrive at the pub, Maurice is cleaned-up and ready to tussle.
  • When Belle tries to escape the Beast, it could be argued that the Enchantress once again uses the wolves to drive them back together, the turning point that will allow Belle and the Beast to bond as she begins to care for and nurture him. (Once again, she is forced to do this since the Beast, even when being provided with a woman to fall in love with, was failing to do the one thing he needed to do – that is, fall in love.)
  • Agatha is present during the mob scene, silently observing Gaston’s outrage.
  • She quietly enters the castle during the final battle, omnisciently making her way to where Belle and the Beast are, the rose having wilted and died.

Isn’t that cool? And then, notice how at the very end of the story, there is a stark difference between this version and the 1991 version: Belle doesn’t break the curse! In this version, Belle yells “I love you!” but the Beast remains dead, and all of the household items lose their animation and become nothing but inanimate, furniture. The rose dies just a moment too soon; all seems lost.

No, in this version, the Enchantress herself comes to save the day. The staff, despite their efforts, failed to get the Beast to fall in love in time. The Beast himself, in all his efforts, failed to accomplish the same thing. Even Belle – who seems to be the best of them all – failed to break the curse, and it was only by the sovereign superintendent stepping in that the curse was overruled and everyone brought back to life.

Just like the Gospel. From the best of us to the worst, we all fail. Back in the days of the Old Testament, people tried and tried and tried to earn their salvation, trying to break the curse brought upon us by Adam and Eve in that Garden. But God, just like the Enchantress, knew from the very beginning what needed to be done. We were always incapable of breaking the spell; in fact, the spell was given purely to show us how inadequate we were, how in need of Him we were. So He decided to come down, and – just like the Enchantress walking calmly through the final battle – He took on flesh and lived the blameless life, coming to us in our time of need and, seeing us dead, restored us to life. This is what we call grace, and we see it in the story of Beauty and the Beast. Even though they failed to meet the one requirement placed upon them, the Enchantress gives them the greatest gift they could have asked for: life. And, in a very Narnia-like (or Song of Solomon-like) manner, with the breaking of the curse, winter fades away and gives birth to spring, giving birth to a new life of prosperity and warmth. This is the Gospel.

Now we get to the morality of the Enchantress: Why did she have to do it in the first place? This applies in the same way: Why did God have to give us the Law only so that we could fail it? And I think that Beauty and the Beast manages to answer this question too:

Notice that all of this was ultimately for the kingdom’s greater good. Prior to the curse, the prince was a spoiled brat with no love in his heart, treating his subjects poorly and taxing the people excessively. Yet by the end of the story, he has been humbled and he has discovered love, allowing him to treat not only people on the individual level justly, but also allowing him to govern the people in a way he never could have before. He needed to endure this trial in order to become the king he was meant to be. (In the Bible, almost every great “hero” experiences a wilderness period such as this.)

Likewise, the prince’s servants learned a lesson in all of this. In the past, they had been passively allowing the king to corrupt his son, but now they learned the important of not sitting idly as others falls into darkness. Can we not apply this to our own lives, not allowing those we care for to stumble into sin without batting an eyelash? Thus we see that love, humility, and impassivity are the greatest traits to be learned in Beauty and the Beast.

And NOW LET’S BE HONEST…those are some of the greatest traits we can learn in life too.

All in all, people can question the Enchantress’ motives all they want, but in the end they fail to see the big picture. Even when we can see both the beginning story and end story crammed together in a two-and-a-half hour movie, people still fail to see the resolution of it all, so it’s no wonder they misinterpret the will of God when it’s stretched out over thousands of years.

But my message to you is this: Trust Him, because He is there.

He is working behind the scenes, He has broken the spell, and He has given you new life. All you need to trust in Him, believe in His Son, and know that His plans are still to prosper. He will work things out for your good, trust me.

But, often, you have to go through the Beast-phase before you can grasp true Beauty.

And we will all live happily ever after