Gaston really is the most terrifying Disney villain because he could be anyone in the world.
Later he convinces the whole town to set up his wedding with the knowledge that the would-be bride would be thrown into it. Everyone finds his creepy-ass tactics as cute and “boys will be boys” esque. So yeah, he is terrifying.
Yeah, the truly scary thing about Beauty and the Beast isn’t that Gaston exists, but that society fucking loves him. People who deride the movie by saying it’s about Stockholm Syndrome are ignoring that it’s actually about the various ways that truly decent people get othered by society. People don’t trust the Beast because of the way he looks, which only feeds his anger issues and pushes him further away. Gaston isn’t the only one who criticizes Belle for being bookish, either; the whole town says there must be something wrong with her. And her father gets carted off to a mental asylum for being just a little eccentric.
Howard Ashman, who collaborated on the film’s score and had a huge influence on the movie’s story and themes, was a gay man who died of AIDS shortly after work on the film was completed. If you watch the film with that in mind, the message of it becomes clear. Gaston demonstrates that bullies are rewarded and beloved by society as long as they possess a certain set of characteristics, while nice people who don’t are ostracized. The love story between Belle and the Beast is about them finding solace in each other after society rejects them both.
Notice how the Beast reacts when the whole town comes for him. He’s not angry, he’s sad. He’s tired. And he almost gives up because he has nothing to live for. But then he sees that Belle has come back for him, and suddenly he does. In the original fairy tale, the Beast asks Belle to marry him every night, and the spell is broken when she accepts. In the Disney movie, he waits for her to love him, because he cannot love himself. That’s how badly being ostracized from society and told that you’re a monster all your life can fuck with your head and make you stop seeing yourself as human.
Society rewards the bullies because we’ve been brought up to believe that their victims don’t belong. That if someone doesn’t fit in, then they have to be put in their place, or destroyed. And this movie demonstrates that this line of thinking is wrong. It’s so much deeper than a standard “be yourself” message, and that’s why it’s one of my favorite Disney movies.
Yeah okay, that might have been the intended message of the movie, but the Beast is literally an abuser, he literally abuses and imprisons Belle, she tries to escape (as many abuse victims do) and ends up back with him because it’s just too scary out there without her abuser whose violence protects her.
It’s literally textbook abuse, textbook stockholm syndrome, and it’s great if you can find positive messages in that movie but please don’t hand-wave the abuse that Belle endures or the fact that her happy ending is literally her reward for loving her abuser and choosing to stay – and her reward is no longer being terrified and imprisoned.
Please don’t ignore the damaging messages in that film just because you want to talk about one of the better ones – how many young children have seen, will see Belle terrified of a controlling person with an explosive temper and zero self-control, and then see that if you just love someone like that enough they’ll turn into a kind and gentle prince?
This story might have been great if the Beast hadn’t been written as abusive. Or if he had been and Belle had succeeded in leaving. Or if her staying with him was read as tragic. But as it stands, we’re supposed to think it’s romantic that this young woman fell in love with a cruel and terrifying person who imprisoned and controlled her.
We hear too many stories like that already and if you justify the Beast’s abuse of Belle because others have rejected him, or because it’s somehow her job to love her abuser because he can’t love himself, guess what, you’re supporting one of the more popular narratives that real-life abusers use to control their victims.
I’m sorry but you’re wrong.
Belle did not fall in love with her abuser.
I will not deny that Beast was abusive in the beginning. He was downright beastly. And Belle hated him. And feared him. And was disgusted by him.
But here’s the thing:
He was a cold-harded bastard who, over the process of weeks/months, slowly changed!
And it’s only then that Belle starts to care about him.
Leading to them slowly developing a friendship and eventually “something more”.
Leading to one of the most beautiful Disney moments:
But even then, when her father is shown in the woods, Beast tells her to go and Belle goes!
She only comes back, not because “it’s just too scary out there without her abuser whose violence protects her” (that’s just ludicrous!) but because she genuinely cares about the man that the Beast became. (And she despised the monster that Gaston had become.)
The point of the story is that, over a period of time, the ‘monster’ became humanized and the ‘human’ became a monster.
YES. MOTHER. FUCKING. THIS.
I have gotten so sick and tired of people diminishing Belle’s personal power and the importance of her story by saying she only stayed with the Beast because of “Stockholm syndrome.”
This movie starts with Gaston and the Beast having basically the same entitled attitude towards the world: they feel they’re OWED whatever they want because they’re somehow superior. Belle is the catalyst and the lynchpin, and the difference in the characters of the two men becomes blatantly obvious in how they react to not getting what they want from Belle.
Gaston sulks and pouts and tries to force her to marry him, to the point that he convinces the entire village to help him plan a shotgun wedding with an unwilling bride, institutionalize her father, and even storm a castle to murder an unknown “monster,” still with the idea that with no Beast, Belle will be “his.” The most telling thing is that despite how much Gaston claims to want Belle, the moment she publicly rejects him (”He’s no monster, Gaston! YOU are!”), he immediately dismisses her as crazy and locks her in a cellar while he goes off to kill the person she actually cares about.
Beast sulks and pouts…and then makes significant changes to his behavior and his manners, both to show Belle that he cares for her and that he CAN be a better man. He changes both FOR Belle and BECAUSE of her. He pays attention to what she says, what she doesn’t like, and what makes her happy. And she’s not afraid to tell him, in no uncertain terms, exactly what he’s doing wrong.
“If you’d hold still, it wouldn’t hurt as much!”
“Well, if you hadn’t run away, this wouldn’t have happened!”
“If you hadn’t FRIGHTENED ME, I wouldn’t have run away!”
“…..Well, YOU shouldn’t have been in the west wing!”
“Well, you should learn to control your temper!”
This is not the behavior of a woman too afraid of the Beast to leave and too cowed by abuse to stand up for herself. The Beast literally shouts in her face, and she barely flinches. This is a woman in full control of her life and completely able to make her own choices. If the Beast hadn’t changed, if he’d acted like Gaston instead of demonstrating radical self-improvement, if she thought for one second that her life was truly in danger, she would have left and never come back.
She’s spent the better part of her adult life standing up to and actively shutting down an overbearing and physically intimidating man who shows immediately and repeatedly that he has no respect for her wishes or her personal space. She is not going to back down just because someone growls and blusters at her, no matter how big his teeth are.
Belle is a force to be reckoned with.
And the message here is not, “If you love someone enough, you can fix them.”
The message here is, “If they actually love you, they won’t be abusive.”
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