The live action version of Beauty and the Beast premiered over the weekend this week and it made me think about some of the themes that story has a little more deeply. The overarching story of Beauty and the Beast is one of the duality of human nature – the pull between human and animal – and the power of love to make us truly human.
The story of Beauty and the Beast, whether you watch the 1991 animated movie, the black and white French version, or the new live-action film, the story is the same. A selfish prince is cursed to look like and live as an animal unless he can love and be loved by another. The love of this other person has the power to redeem the Beast and free him from the curse.
This story is a reflection of the redemption we are offered through Christ. Like the Beast, we are trapped in a palace of decay growing inward, caring only for our own suffering. Or we can even be like Gaston who, similarly, is also so selfish and ingrown that he only cares for himself. We can think only of our own desires and troubles and find our inner selves desolate and rotten. Such a state seems hopeless.
But, through the power of love, we can be transformed. Beauty enters into the lives of both Gaston and Beast, and initially they both want her because of their own selfishness. Slowly, however, Beast is transformed because of Beauty’s love. He thinks about himself less, and her more, and bit by bit his desire changes from a self-centered one to a selfless one. He opens himself to her and takes down the barriers so that love can flow between them. The love they share renews him, transforms him, and ultimately redeems him. The curse is lifted and he finally comes into his fully human nature being forever changed by an act of love.
Gaston, on the other hand, is a warning against what can happen if we fail to grow outward. Gaston carries on throughout the story only ever loving himself. He does not care for Beauty any further than her acting as a reflection on him. He feels no love for her or anyone else, and in the end that is his undoing. In the end of the 1991 film he has a chance to change, to leave and be redeemed, but he doesn’t take it. He is so caught up in his own self image, and his desire to dominate others, that he leaves no room in his heart for love. Even if Beauty did love him, he had no place for it to go, he was too wrapped up in himself to make room for anyone else.
Here, in this story, Beauty is the Christ figure. She sees past the exterior of the Beast and offers him love, when he accepts her love and reciprocates, love breaks through the curse and redeems the Beast. The Beast had to let go of his animal ways and trust himself to love. He had to grow out of the self-centered way of life, and learn to live in community with another. He had to reject the animal and embrace the human before he was ready for his transfiguration.
It was love that saved him.