Everyone’s been raving about the (fairly) recent animated movie, Frozen. I quite enjoyed it myself when I saw it in theaters with the family. It’s got a whole host of positive things about it – making fun of the earlier disney princesses who fell in love instantly with that dashing prince; embracing the truth that a woman can have real significance without utter dependence upon a man; communicating that masculinity can be located in spheres other than that of royalty. The movie also communicated that love cannot be found overnight – it takes time to cultivate a true intimate relationship. Of course, we cannot fail to mention that the movie is filled with many catchy songs. One that particularly stands out, it seems, is Let it Go. All good.
Some things, however, caught my attention. Nevermind that policymic posted an article about Frozen being the most “progressivist” Disney movie ever (the term itself, is, of course, stimulative and suggestive). Frozen really is a reflection of the cultural pathos in which we live and breath and have our being. I will just point out a few things that “prickled” me that seems to be mostly consistent with other Disney flicks. My point here is not to put up a review of the movie, nor to criticize it as a whole, but to merely use aspects of the movie as a springboard to other reflections.
First, the movie communicates that the highest good worth pursuing is an individualistic notion of self-expression. I caught this as my nephews (yes, the boys) sang Let it Go over and over again ad nauseum. The context within the movie when the song was sang is Elsa leaving her duty as Queen to a secluded place, motivated, in part, by a desire to protect her sister from herself. The lyrics go “Let it go, Let it go…” …” don’t let them in, don’t let them see, be the good girl that you are supposed to be.” This part communicates Elsa’s mental emotions as she reflected on how she “faked” being the good girl she’s supposed to be and how this actually imprisons her in some way – so the best thing she tells herself to do, at this point is to let all those expectations of her go, and to leave to somewhere far away where there is “no right, no wrong, no rules for me,” and where she is free. In this “cold” place, she can forget the past, and emphasize that “some distance makes everything seem small” such that she could be allowed to simply “not care” about what people say of her or her responsibilities, and celebrate the fact that “the perfect girl is gone.”
The central message is this: the community only ties you down, and your future is to be found in a place where you can freely express your individuality and secure independent autonomy. Further, that doing something contrary to what you feel renders you, in some way, hypocritical and inauthentic.
All this is to be understandable. Frozen presupposes a wrong view of human history, and thus a wrong view of what imperfection is. From a Christian view of history, we know that sin (and thus human error) was not a part of God’s original creation. Sin is alien to what creation is and a perversion of human nature caused by human rebellion against God. Thus, when Christians admit that we fail to be perfect we are admitting that we are, above all, guilty and that this is not the way it’s supposed to be. Thus, when we don’t feel like doing good, we admit that our feelings are wrong.
But, for Frozen, as with any non-Christian worldview, where there is no intrusion of sin to an otherwise good creation and no fall, human error will inevitably be understood as something original and inherently natural in us. Thus, when non-Christians say that “noone is perfect” they are admitting, not guilt, but innocence. So, when Elsa realizes that all of her feelings resists this desire of being a self-controlled Queen, the movie communicates that she should not suppress that desire but instead that she ought to express it. If sinful emotions (well, a non-Christian doesn’t have a category for “sin”) are normal, then on what basis can we say that we ought to suppress it?
Indeed, the basic Christian virtues to do with commitment thus must go out the window. All else must be reduced to self-fulfillment and the pursuit of that which is advantageous to you. It’s all nice and cute when a cartoon character sings these lyrics to a catchy tune, but it’s not so nice to imagine a husband who commits adultery say the exact same thing to his family. From a Christian perspective, no husband has any right to ever say to his family that some distance could let him forget his responsibility, or that he is sick of trying to be the “perfect” husband when all of his feelings tell him that he should just get out there to explore his potential as a single man once again. Of course, the parallel analogy is similarly comprehensible – a mother of many kids who thought about what her life or career could have been had she remained single and the envy that might accrue in her heart to others who chose not to become mothers. Again the basic notion is the same: responsibility to a community only bogs you down – the world continues to preach. Who cares what the community might say about you, so long as you can go to a place where you can pursue your wildest dreams for yourself…?
But when I read passages like 1 Timothy 3, I see the deep need for accountability. I see that meaning is not found in self-fulfillment but in service to God and to the community. I see that husbands and pastors and elders are to have not just a good reputation among those inside the church, but even to those outside the church (1 Tim. 3:4-7). We see that our hearts are desperately wicked and sinful, and therefore we need a solid community who are devoted to the Word of God to keep us accountable, to challenge us when an expression of our depraved natures resurfaces itself, and to ensure that it is our commitment that drives what we do, not the fickle emotions of our deceitful hearts (Jer. 17:9). A wise professor once taught me that, from the Christian point of view, hypocrisy is not that we do something contrary to what we feel, but doing something contrary to what we believe. Doing something contrary to or in spite of what we feel may well be integrity. I may not love to get up early in the morning to pray before class, but discipline and integrity pushes me to do so. I may feel like lying at this point to avoid an argument, but integrity pushes me not to do so.
Indeed, the human heart is wicked, and that leads us to desire setting up our own laws. We desperately seek autonomy – a place with “no right, no wrong”. What Disney movies fail to see is that our self-expression will not at all reveal an attractive picture of who we are. If God were to release all of His restraint from our wicked hearts so that we would freely express ourselves, the consequences would be disastrous. I know my own heart and I know the content of my thoughts – I do not need self-expression. That would do nobody any good. I need the moral renovation that only the Gospel could grant to me.
But that point brings me to my second reflective point. Towards the end of the movie, it was communicated that an act of selfless love could be the only thing that would reverse a curse. It was good that Anna (the other princess) realized that this act of selfless love that would resolve the curse should not be sought for in a prince or in a man. And in the climactic scene of the movie (SPOILER coming!) Anna stopped chasing after her romantic interest and instead ran after her sister to stop a sword that was swung by the villain against her to protect her.
It was all very touching. In this act, Anna, and Elsa (and Olaf), realized that the very thing they were looking for – an act of selfless love – was not to be found in something outside of them. Rather, every person had the potential within themselves to carry out that act that will reverse the curse. That act of ultimate selflessness could be found within the self.
This, of course, reflects a highly optimistic view of human nature that I do not share. But it communicates the more subtle point that we don’t need to look anywhere outside ourselves for redemptive work – we simply need to muster up the act of will within ourselves to do so. Moralism at it’s best. But what else can we do, from a non-Christian perspective? If there is no God, and the human predicament is a natural state of affair, what is there to do, one would think, other than to simply try harder, to get by, to work together to perform selfless acts of love to one another in order to finally achieve some form of secular universal redemption?
One look at history will tell us that any attempt to do that on our part has failed radically. Human error and depravity continue to abound. If one generation looks like they were looking up human finitude guarantees that a new generation that could go either way will take their place. History just becomes a cycle of wishful thinking and unfulfilled dreams.
All of this just brings back again the inherent inconsistency within any atheistic or naturalistic point of view. Humanity is in a predicament that they can’t comprehend – they know that things are not the way it’s supposed to be, yet admit at the same time that human error is intrinsic to who we are. They preach that the highest good is human autonomy in self-expression while also preaching the contradictory message that an act of selfless love (which requires commitment to a beloved) is a virtue. Survival of the fittest cannot comprehend why humans regards it a morally great act when a stronger person sacrifices himself for the weak. We shun the husband who leaves his wife and kids but celebrate the son who steps on everybody else to get his “success.” The inconsistencies abound, with no way out. Sin has darkened our understanding, and has blinded us to what we are. (Rom. 1:18-31; 1 Cor. 2:6-16).
One would think that someone would realize that placing optimism on humanity is to locate it in the wrong place. Moralism and Legalism is just as antithetical to the Gospel as licentiousness and rampant lawlessness. Unless there were a God, I hold that nihilism is the only path to go – because only God can save humanity from their own rebellion. And God did, indeed, reverse the curse by an act of selfless love. He did this in Christ Jesus – and the effects will be universal. God himself will do that which humanity can never do. Sin is an alien intrusion to a good creation that will one day be eradicated. Without the Christian worldview, life would be incomprehensible, and humanity’s end is one that is bleak indeed.