I wasn’t planning on writing anything this week – it’s a busy busy week, as I’m packing and moving, so I’d given myself a break.
But then I watched Tangled.
My motivation for watching this film was, to be honest, sheer vanity. Apparently when she was at Euro-Disney, the girl I nanny for saw a picture of Rapunzel and said “Hevvah happy!” (Hevvah is her pronunciation of my name).
Now, I try to escape the confines of patriarchal standards of beauty as much as the next feminist, but if a two-year-old thinks I look like a princess, I’m not going to argue!
Whenever I watch kids’ movies, especially those of the princess variety, I tend to be on high alert. It’s pretty much impossible for me to watch without evaluating and critiquing the messages that these films promote regarding gender.
I tried not to be too critical of the fact that Rapunzel spends her days performing very gendered tasks like baking and cleaning; she also mentions charting the stars and she likes to read, and while I would have been excited to see her also performing DIY chemistry experiments in that kitchen, I did my best not to be harsh.
(I also did my best not to question her pet chameleon – TOTALLY not a species native to that climate!)
The messages the film sent about appearance were pretty standard; the impossibly narrow-waisted (seriously, with all the cupcakes she bakes?), large-eyed teenager with flowing, blonde hair represents good, while the curly-haired, wrinkling brunette represents evil. Effortless beauty and not caring about appearance (Rapunzel doesn’t even wear shoes!) is to be admired, while striving for beauty (supernatural anti-aging treatments!) is to be viewed with suspicion.
Overall, however, I liked Rapunzel’s character. She was trusting but not too naive, focused but flexible, brave but cautious. The conflict she felt at disobeying her “mother”, while played for laughs, was incredibly realistic, especially given how manipulative her mother was.
I even thought that Mother Gothel’s methods of keeping Rapunzel under her thumb – warning her of the big, bad world, and undermining her confidence – could be seen as subtle parallels to real-world societal methods of controlling women’s behaviors, through victim-blaming rape culture and insecurity-inducing advertising.
Overall, I was more or less on board with the film and the story… until the climax.
*** spoilers ahead ***
If you don’t remember, the climax of the film happens up in Rapunzel’s tower. Mother Gothel has lured Flynn / Eugene into a trap and stabbed him in the gut. Rapunzel wants to use her magical hair to save him, but Gothel won’t let her.
Rapunzel offers a deal; if Gothel lets Rapunzel heal Eugene, Rapunzel will stop fighting her. She’ll go along and they’ll live as they did, with Rapunzel a prisoner and Mother Gothel eternally young.
Eugene nobly protests; he’s seen how exciting the outside world was for Rapunzel, and the invigorating effect she had on everyone she met. He’s not willing to sacrifice that for his life.
But Rapunzel tells him to trust her, and begins to work her magic.
At this point I assumed (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) that she was going to heal him and then cut off her hair, therefore rendering it powerless and taking away the only thing about her that was valuable to Mother Gothel.
Clever girl! Sacrifice your magic for your freedom, all while saving the one you love and destroying the bad guy! Destroy the physical trait that defines your worth to others in order to preserve your integrity! A princess for the 21st century!
If only it had gone that way.
Because at the last moment, just as Rapunzel is about to heal Eugene, he reaches around and slices off her hair.
I gasped. I felt sick to my stomach. I was horrified.
The sheer physical violence of the act was upsetting enough. But the fact that the violence was aimed at the woman he ostensibly loved, the fact that it involved permanently destroying a part of herself that had defined her, for better or for worse, for the last eighteen years, and the fact that he did it without asking her, suggesting it to her, or even warning her, was, in my eyes, pretty awful.
I get that we’re supposed to see it as a noble act of self-sacrifice on his part – giving up his life so that Rapunzel would never stop fighting against Mother Gothel – but his actions show such disregard for and dismissal of Rapunzel’s intelligence, courage, and loyalty, that I can’t really forgive him. For me, his actions totally tainted the rest of the film.
Now, having just written two posts about consent and boundaries, I’m not going to go into all of those issues again. But you can bet it concerned me to see a film where a man’s “good deed” involved violating the bodily autonomy of the woman he loved.
What do you think?
Interested in Tangled? Buy it here.