I approached “Maleficent” with some trepidation. It would be, it seemed to me, so easy to go wrong attempting to re-tell a story from the villain’s point of view. Maleficent could have been an anti-hero. The film could have tried to excuse evil.
Thankfully, it did not. Instead, it gave us a story of betrayal, anger, revenge, and then turning away from those things and finding forgiveness and love. It is a redemption story in Maleficent, and a cautionary tale in King Stefan. It offered some powerful, moral lessons.
Even as I watched it, though, in the back of my mind I was dreading the sort of accusations which some “conservative” cultural defenders were sure to level against it. They have, sadly, come through.
That review betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of much of the movie, if not a malicious intent to misinterpret it. I will address only two of its points very briefly and let them stand for the whole.
Contrary to the review’s claims, I found King Stefan to be complex. He is pulled in two directions by his love for Maleficent and his ambition to move up in the world and never again be the orphan sleeping in a barn. He agonizes over his plan to kill Maleficent, and when he instead cuts off her wings it is clear that the betrayal has affected him deeply. In his pride, he is unable to bring himself to think about what he has done, much less seek Maleficent’s forgiveness, and this refusal to confess (or even acknowledge) his sin poisons the rest of his life and drives him first to madness and then eventual death. This, in itself, presents a powerful moral lesson IMHO.
Secondly, as with “Frozen” we are told that by having “true love” be represented by, in this case, Maleficent’s motherly love for Aurora (and in that case Anna’s sisterly love for Elsa), the movie is promoting homosexuality. This is not just wrong, it is actively contrary to the position that such culture warriors should be promoting!
They seem to forget that there is more to love than eros. Not all love is romantic love. Not all love between members of the same sex is homosexual. I find it bitterly ironic that the same people who are telling homosexuals that their love is disordered are, if anything, promoting it by insisting that all feelings of love toward a member of the same sex must be homosexual.
Clearly, we have forgotten the Four Loves. As it happens, “Maleficent” illustrates all four: Diaval, the transformed raven, represents storge, with his fondness for Aurora. The three good fairies represent philia, in their friendly banter with each other. Stefan and Maleficent’s youthful relationship is eros, and I LOVE that it is made explicitly clear that Stefan’s kiss was not “true love”. And, finally, Maleficent’s motherly love for Aurora is agape.
I am thrilled that it is not eros that is portrayed as “true love”, but the unconditional love of agape! And I would have expected these cultural commentators to be cheering this as well rather than casting stones.