Happily Ever After

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Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest author Matthew Distefano.

I believe the film, Cinderella, is the most “Christian” movie to be released in some time. The story follows a fortunate young girl named Ella, whose mother and father are the embodiment of love and compassion. The family lives on a rural farm, living a life of simplicity, rooted not in material goods but in love and kindness. When Ella’s mother becomes ill, prior to her death, she tells Ella to always live by two truths: “have courage” and “be kind.” Ella promises her mother she will always do so. After her mother’s death, Ella’s father remarries the dreadful Lady Tremaine and Ella’s fortunes are, for a time, drastically changed. Along with her daughters, Anastasia and Drisella, the three quickly show they care not for love and kindness, but for material possessions and social status. This is more than likely due to the daughters’ imitation of Lady Tremaine, who models nothing in the way of loving kindness herself. Thus, the stepsisters seem like nothing more than immature and dumbed-down stepmothers. Moreover, because of Lady Tremaine’s awareness of the close bond between Ella and her parents, she, along with Anastasia and Drisella, desired to be in Ella’s position, one in which they could be the object of another’s affection (although for materialistic reasons).

Once tragedy strikes Ella’s father during a business trip, everything in Ella’s life begins to change for the worse. In fact, the first thing out of Lady Tremaine’s mouth is that of ruin—she “knows” the death of her income source will be the cause of her perpetual unhappiness. Because Lady Tremaine and her daughters (the “mob”) cannot directly blame Ella’s deceased father, they turn their attention to Ella (the “scapegoat”) to place all their internal torment onto her, transforming Ella’s life into a living hell.

What Ella endures at the hands of her stepmother is nothing short of hellacious. Assuredly, Ella is not the direct cause of Lady Tremaine’s unhappiness (no scapegoat is), but because of the ever-loving relationship she had with her father (who, at least in the Stepmother’s mind, was to blame for her financial ruin), Ella is the obvious target for Lady Tremaine and the two stepsisters. From forcing Ella to sleep in the drafty attic, to not allowing her to eat with the family, the three wicked women do their best to break Ella’s spirit. However, because of a chance encounter with a stranger in the woods outside the home, Ella, at minimum, finally has something to hope for again.

The stranger, “Kit” (who turned out to be the Prince), is so fascinated by Ella that he calls a royal ball to commence, with everyone in the kingdom invited.[1] While Lady Tremaine finally has a shot at royalty (her plan is for one of her daughters to impress on the Prince in such a manner that he would choose either Anastasia’s or Drisella’s hand in marriage), Ella views this as her chance to see Kit once more. However, Lady Tremaine forbids Ella from attending the ball, fearing profound embarrassment at the sight of her out-of-date “rags”. To ensure Ella will not attend, the three wicked women tear Ella’s dress into pieces.[2] The one thing that Ella looks forward to is ripped from her the moment the Stepmother rips her dress. Now, she must witness her treacherous stepmother and wicked stepsisters head off to the ball in an attempt to deceive the Prince into marrying one of the corrupt women. The only thing she had hoped for, since the death of her parents, is seemingly gone.

What takes place immediately after Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters tear Ella’s dress to pieces is the first of two “wow” moments in the movie. For Ella, there is nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for. However, when she encounters a poor beggar just outside the home, Ella immediately takes to serving the elderly woman. Through all of the torment, pain, and sorrow—after having everything violently torn from her—Ella remains courageous and kind.[3] As most already know, the “poor beggar” turns out to be Ella’s “Fairy Godmother” and hope is magically restored. That hope will turn into possibility, but as we shortly find out, evil is not so easily quelled.

After the magic of the “royal ball” ends, Ella returns home and before long, is confronted by her stepmother.[4] Lady Tremaine begins a classic monologue, ripe with accusations and finger-pointing. Not only is Ella blamed for sabotaging the stepsisters’ chance with the Prince,[5] but also for causing Lady Tremaine to live “unhappily ever-after.” Under no circumstance is Ella’s stepmother going to take any responsibility for her own misery, for in the minds of “the mob”, the scapegoat is (illogically) the cause of all the sins of the community (or family in this story). She locks Ella attic in hopes that Kit will never find her again. However, because love trumps evil in the end, Ella and Kit are reunited and will go on to live “happily ever after.” However—before they can do so—one last “wow” moment.

Prior to being whisked off, Ella utters three short words to her wicked and treacherous stepmother that, if I may be honest, brought me to tears…“I forgive you.” In doing so, Ella models precisely how the cycle of violence is broken by imitating Christ on the cross. Surely, as the future queen, Ella could have had Lady Tremaine, along with her moronic stepsisters, imprisoned for the rest of their lives. However, like Christ, Ella does not condemn her oppressors—she forgives them. This courageous act of kindness, in spite of oppression that would have destroyed most, is what it means to be truly human. Forgiveness of horrific oppression has the power to transform humanity more than any other human act. Whether Lady Tremaine will ever accept Ella’s act of mercy or not is not what drives Ella to forgive. Rather, it is Ella’s desire to live out what she promised her late mother, namely, to “be kind” and “have courage.” Ella’s “happily ever after” could only truly be possible with the forgiveness of her former oppressors; her act of kindness being that she potentially liberated future generations of Tremaine’s family who would have otherwise been caught up in the cycle of violence and oppression.

I am quite thankful the gospel can be witnessed in such a brilliantly analogous way by so many people around the globe. If humanity can truly appreciate what is going on in this story, then we can move closer to understanding how to end the cycle of retributive violence we continue today. On the cross, Christ gave us the starting point of our theology, and close to two-thousand years later, Disney © has helped spread this message around the world. I pray humanity has the courage to grasp it and collectively put it into practice.

[1] It is not necessarily Ella’s external beauty that charms Kit, but her peculiar understanding of philosophy. Two specific statements Ella made that piqued Kit’s curiosity; namely “Be kind and have courage,” and “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.” One could draw the analogy to Jesus, who redefined the Pharisees understanding of what following God looked like. Like Christ, Ella seemed to be teaching an ethic that was contrary to how the principalities understood ethics.

[2] The dress was once Ella’s mothers.

[3] While Ella vocalizes her defeat, her actions toward the homeless beggar suggests she still has the desire to do “good”; to serve others.

[4] Being an insightful and intellectual woman, Lady Tremaine quickly becomes privy to Ella’s “royal secret.”

[5] As noted before, Kit (the Prince) did not become infatuated with Ella because of her external beauty, but because of her kind spirit and her philosophical mind. Obviously, the stepsisters possessed none of the attributes that drew Kit to Ella.

 

MattMatthew Distefano is writing his first book on universal reconciliation and advocate for non-violence. He lives in Northern California and is married with one daughter.

 

 

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”


For more in Matthew’s Disney Princess series, see:

Cinderella: Happily Ever After

Beauty and the Beast: Tale As Old As Time

The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Alladin: A Whole New World

Frozen: Love Will Thaw a Frozen Heart

Tangled: Let Down Your Hair

8 replies
  1. Marie De carlo
    Marie De carlo says:

    Be kind, -have courage!! I love it!! That is my mantra and it has helped me tremendously . Thank you, Matthew!your article was helpful to me as and will certainly help others!

    Reply
  2. Jerry Shave
    Jerry Shave says:

    Excellent review, Matthew. I am going to reference this site and review in the blog I email to family and post on Facebook. I will include a short excerpt. I hope that will be OK with you. I look forward to your book and hope you will be at the Theology and Peace Conference in Chicago this Spring. Peace, Jerry

    Reply
    • Matt
      Matt says:

      Jerry,

      You may include an excerpt as long as you source :) Thanks. No, I won’t be at Theology and Peace. I will, however, be able to make Michael Hardin’s Making Peace Conference in PA next month!

      Reply
  3. David
    David says:

    Matt – very interesting. You have given a Girardian – Christian reading on Cinder Ella (never made that connection before – one of my grandmother’s names). Now – the mythological reading of Cinderella – not so nice – given by Mary Daly – a feminist reading – but one that sees the small glass slipper – akin to the Chinese foot binding of women….an oppressive ancient Chinese practice….so – for me – the story does not have the essential “word” that of scripture – I would want to lift up.

    Reply
  4. Adam Ericksen
    Adam Ericksen says:

    Brilliant analysis, Matt! Wow. It struck me that Ella had two models, one of courage and kindness and the other of bitterness and envy. Your point about responsibility is crucially important for mimetic theory. Once we see the mimetic/scapegoating mechanism, we are better able to take responsibility to choose which models we will intentionally follow. Ella is an amazing example of choosing to be formed in a model of compassion that includes all people, even those we might call our enemies. Christ-like indeed! Thank you for this review!

    Reply
    • Matt
      Matt says:

      Thanks Adam! I was recently told that our “oneness” is not important because it causes such conflict. While I obviously agree that it is our interdividualism and mimetic desire that can cause conflict, it isn’t a bad thing but a human thing. We cannot use our humanness for good unless we realize what it means to be human in the first place. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  5. Erin
    Erin says:

    Good job Matt! Well done. I saw the movie too. I also got tears in my eyes when she said, “I forgive you.” So powerful! So Christ-like!

    Reply
  6. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Matt: Wonderfully written essay on a beautiful story. I, too, believe this is the way we should live our lives…Ella was a beautiful example of this..Her character and the way in which she forgives are a true testimony on how Jesus Christ calls us to forgive. .At times it is hard to forgive hurts that are inflicted upon us. But, to not forgive is not living by His example; at the same time making our own load heavy. Once we truly forgive, we can start experiencing a peace from within; the peace of the Holy Spirit. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

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