I can’t say that this post will be a review per say. It will be my musing on my experience of the movie and the Christian dimensions of the original fairy tale. Of course, I know the story. Almost every little girl, at least in the U.S., was introduced to Disney’s version of Cinderella at a young age. The fight of good and evil is even recognizable in the innocence of childhood. And while many would say that the “happily ever after” is the reason little girls love it, I would say that there is more to it than that.
The character of Ella is one of outer beauty, but an interior of strength, courage, goodness, and love. She serves tirelessly and while she has her moments of weakness, she continues on. The newest adaption captures the utter goodness in her at the moment when she is about to give up, an “old beggar woman” asks for some milk. She immediately responds through virtuous action, action that is so infused within her through habit, that she serves this woman in the midst of her own sorrow. It is then that the fairy godmother reveals herself and Ella, in her gentle way, scoffs. But, she accepts the gifts joyfully when she realizes the fairy godmother is who she says she is. Even though she has not had much goodness done to her in recent years, Ella opens her arms wide open to the gifts bestowed upon her. Her own servant’s heart makes it easier for her to receive love.
There was one moment of the film that struck me very deeply. After Cinderella has danced and spent time with the prince, she flees. We know that this is because it is midnight and the spell will be broken by the final toll of the bell. The prince’s right hand man remarks that the prince had to choose “the one who flees” and the prince smiles. The Christology of that moment stopped me and nearly reduced me to tears. Cinderella is actually the story of Christ the Bridegroom (the Prince) and his pursuit and love of the Church (Cinderella). The deep spiritual truth of that moment has stayed with me even hours after the film, and it will stay with me.
Christ chooses all of us and we flee. Even those of us who are baptized into the Mystical Body, flee His love every time we sin. God woos us and we flee in shame and fear. Shame is a by-product of the Fall. We are constantly struggling against the shame that is brought about by our sin. God chases after us, beckoning, and calling us back to Him. He tenderly caresses us upon our return. Within the Confessional, he binds our wounds and restores us to the grace of our Baptism. No matter how many times we fall, he is constantly calling us back to Him.
Christ’s love for us has repeatedly been equated to a courtship in Scripture and Tradition. The desire and fire of passionate love is a common image for God. In fact, the Song of Songs is about God’s love for us. This is often misinterpreted by people, but it really is about God’s love for us through the imagery of romantic and erotic love. The same is true in the story of Cinderella.
Cinderella runs from the prince out of fear and shame that she is not good enough. She is a common girl. That is why when she finally comes forward to try on the glass slipper, she asks the now King to take her as she is, even in her lowly state. A sign of the virtue of humility. The King obliges and offers her the same humble request, that she will take him for who he is, even as a monarch apprentice, turned king. This moment not only demonstrates the humility required within marriage, it demonstrates the Church’s relationship to the Bridegroom who has given himself entirely to us. Christ emptied himself completely on the Cross in the greatest act of humility and his love is realized and reciprocated through the Church.
While the Christology was with me throughout the movie, the cinematography and costumes were breath-taking. I have been a Kenneth Branagh fan for decades and I could see his touch everywhere in the movie. The costumes, the banter, the style was so similar to Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet. I fully expected him to end with a Shakespearean (given his background) style wedding, but he did not. He kept to simplicity and beauty, but showed the absolutely gorgeous wedding dress selected for Cinderella. Modesty is beautiful!
What really was truly a gift was the beauty. The entire movie is beautiful. This is so lacking in our culture anymore. The entire movie is a sensual experience in the way art is meant to be. It draws us into goodness and joy. The imagery caused wonder and awe, even if some of it was CG. It didn’t matter. The beauty was constant throughout the movie.
The beauty is contrasted with the darkness and cold of the stepmother, who inevitably breaks against the stone of goodness. The movie calls those who see it to embrace beauty, kindness, and goodness. I left wanting to know why there are not more movies like this one? Why has art so lost its way? I would say it is because it has lost its center, who is Christ. Even if Branagh meant to tone down the Christology of the Cinderella fairy tale, it was impossible to do because of the sheer beauty of it all. As I have written here before, we see God in beauty. Good woos us through beauty and this movie will do just that. I just might have to go see it again in the theater. God bless.