WHAT BEAUTY AND THE BEAST CAN TEACH US ABOUT TRUE LOVE
By Lesley Anne Rosal
When you consider yourself a 90’s kid, it is impossible for you not to have come across Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Back then, when it was still in cartoon format, my mother revealed that I sat in the movie theater for more than three hours because I found it that good. On the third run, she said that she had to literally drag me out of the theater and the only thing that consoled me was when she brought me to the music store to purchase the soundtrack which was in cassette tape! The tape lasted for about a month until the film gave up due to constant rewinding. I’m not sure how many tapes I asked my mother to buy. All I can remember is that I found the story revolutionary. The narrator, at the beginning, even asks: who would ever fall in love with someone as hideous as the Beast?
But watching the Live Action film now at 29, despite knowing by heart what the storyline was, I saw it in a whole, new, different light. Beauty and the Beast speaks of what love is truly about. Beauty and the Beast, in a way, reflects the kind of love that we all long to have and the “love” we should avoid at all cost. And so to begin with, what is love? And how does the thought of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) in Love and Responsibility and C.S Lewis find its place in the scenes of Beauty and the Beast?
LOVE AS ATTRACTION (Amor Complacentiae)
“A human being is beautiful and may be revealed as beautiful to another human being.”
The lesson that the film conveyed was obvious: love looks beyond outward appearances. While Belle was not attracted, initially, to the Beast, she found beauty behind the horrible facade. Getting to know a bit about the Beast’s history and developing an unlikely friendship with her “captor,” she saw “something there that wasn’t there before.”
There’s something sweet and almost kind
But he was mean and he was coarse and unrefined
And now he’s dear and so unsure
I wonder why I didn’t see it there before.
On the other hand, the Beast similarly found himself being drawn to Belle who, despite him taking her prisoner in place of her father, showed him kindness he might have never experienced before. He sang:
She glanced this way, I thought I saw
And when we touched she didn’t shudder at my paw
No it can’t be, I’ll just ignore
But then she’s never looked at me that way before.
As the days pass by and the two get closer, Belle finds in Beast his value as a person. Beast as he was, there was something that endeared her to him. In the next stanzas of the song, Something There, Belle sang of her attraction to Beast:
New and a bit alarming
Who’d have ever thought that this could be?
True that he’s no Prince Charming
But there’s something in him that I simply didn’t see.
Note the last line in bold. Wojtyla, in Love and Responsibility, said that “the attraction must never be limited to partial values, to something which is inherent in the person but is not the person as a whole. There must be a direct attraction to the person: in other words, response to particular qualities inherent in a person must go with a simultaneous response to the qualities of the person as such, an awareness that a person as such is a value, and not merely attractive because of certain qualities which he or she possesses.” This attraction to value is the “something in him that I simply didn’t see.” It was Belle seeing Beast in a whole new light: he may not be “Prince Charming” but he was beautiful as a person.
LOVE AS DESIRE (Amor Concupiscentiae)
And so we can find in Beast a transformation too. If, even if not explicitly said, he saw Belle as someone who could help him break the curse, he found himself longing for her as a woman and as someone who can be his companion. Suddenly, he wasn’t alone and he realized that he cannot be alone.
I was the one who had it all
I was the master of my fate
I never needed anybody in my life
I learned the truth too late.
Beyond the need for her to set him free, he desired her as someone he could be with.
LOVE NEEDS VULNERABILITY
In the newest addition to the soundtrack, Evermore, Beast beautifully sings of what he felt about Belle when he let her flee the castle. One heartbreaking stanza points significantly to what C.S Lewis wrote in his book, The Four Loves.
I’ll never shake away the pain
I close my eyes but she’s still there
I let her steal into my melancholy heart
It’s more than I can bear.
As the Beast got attracted to Belle, he slowly opened up and revealed himself to her. Vulnerability is a needed step in any relationship. It actually opens the door to it. C.S Lewis wrote:
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
For years, the Beast locked himself up in that tower, thinking no one is capable of loving him and accepting him for who he truly was. It even took time for him to break his walls and “surrender” to love. For the first time, he found the glory of love and that he regretted learning the truth too late.
In a way, we might find ourselves identifying with the Beast after an experience of pain in loving another. We may have the tendency to lock ourselves up in our the towers of our minds and refuse to give our heart away to anyone. “I don’t want to get hurt,” you might say. But doesn’t true love hurt? When we give ourselves totally to someone in love, or to anyone for that matter, we expose ourselves, indeed, to pain. But we might be forgetting how joyful it is to truly love someone and that that experience of joy should make any pain worth it. Alfred Lord Tennyson said it so well in his poem In Memoriam: “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all …”
LOVE AS GOODWILL (Amor Benevolentiae)
One can find a contrast of “loves,” in the film in the figures of Gaston and Beast. While Gaston was debonair and very much handsome, Belle was right in saying that he was “a beast” inside for being narcissistic. At the beginning, we find Gaston wooing Belle in an attempt to have her as a trophy wife.
Right from the moment when I met her, saw her
I said she’s gorgeous and I fell
Here in town, there’s only she
Who is beautiful as me
So I’m making plans to woo and marry Belle.
Gaston’s idea of “falling in love,” was not loving the person for her value but for her physicality. Wojtyla warns that we might think we love someone but in fact we treat them as “an object for use.” In no way should be persons treated as objects to satisfy our needs and desires. This madness and self-love drove Gaston to his rage and eventual demise.
For the Beast, he became truly human because of love that it even moved him to do the heroic: he let her go. While it may sound absurd-letting go of the one you love, it was what made Beast show us what true love was about. The Beast willed the good of the one he loved. At the expense of pain and the possibility that she may never come back, he loved her truly that he set her free to go to her father. He knew that he may remain a beast forever and that the curse shall not be broken but he went out of himself, out of his tower, out of his ghastliness and put Belle’s welfare before his own. Even if the physical transformation would not occur, he was able to truly change from a beast to a truly loving human being.
“Love is the fullest realization of the possibilities inherent in man.The person finds in love the greatest possible fullness of being, of objective existence. A genuine love is one in which the true essence of love is realized–a love which is directed to a genuine good in the true way.” -Love and Responsibility (Karol Wojtyla)
After Belle’s declaration of love, the beauty of the once-Beast and the castle inhabitants was restored to its former glory. Ah love! See what true love can do? It makes people change for the better, it makes moments of goodness last forever.
I shall end this article with the final song we find as the credits roll: How Does a Moment Last Forever? Listen carefully to the lyrics and you would find the glory of true love. And how does this all point to the Divine, or to God?
How does a moment last forever?
How does our happiness endure?
Through the darkest of our troubles
Love is beauty, love is pure
Love pays no mind to desolation
It flows like a river through the soul
Protects, persists, and perseveres
And makes us whole.
I realized that why that stanza resonated so much with me was because it reminded me of Saint John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul:
On a dark night,
Kindled in love with yearnings–oh, happy chance!–
I went forth without being observed,
My house being now at rest.
Oh, night that guided me,
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover,
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
“In the dark night of the soul,
bright flows the river of God.”
Isn’t it eerily similar? Well the composer Tim Rice might have done a parallel thought as he also wrote songs for Jesus Christ Superstar and King David. I’m, of course, not sure on this but it fascinates me how close to home the film, Beauty and the Beast is.
Bottomline is, Beauty and the Beast gives us many messages about what love truly is. And what is true love? Love is to will the good of the other just like how Christ gave up His life for us on the cross. Despite the darkness, despite the pain of loving, love endures to the end. True love lives on. God’s love with us, like a song, is forever.
Lesley Anne Rosal is a Fulltime Pastoral Worker for Live Christ, Share Christ, which streamlines Catholic Lay Evangelization. She is also part of De La Salle University – Manila’s Theology and Religious Education Department, teaching Theology to college students. She obtained a Master Degree in Religious Studies major in Catechetics at the Don Bosco Center of Studies and is currently completing units and a thesis to graduate with a Master of Arts in Theology, major in Moral Theology in the same institution which is an affiliate of the Salesian Pontifical University in Rome. She is fascinated with anything John Paul II, Hans Ur Von Balthasar, Karl Rahner and Edith Stein. She loves to bake.