(Examiner’s Note: This article is the fourth of five exploring the connection between myth, fairy tale and the psychological background of culture. These articles will focus on the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.)
Finally we get to the Beast, who is important in his relationship to all of the characters thus far mentioned. The Beast was once a handsome prince, but he was vain and shallow and his punishment was to be transformed into a hideous beast. A beautiful enchantress disguised as an old hag comes asking for shelter in his castle, but he refuses her on account of her appearance. The enchantress/hag represents the ambivalent place of the female in the male psyche. Much like Aphrodite, who was the epitome of beauty as well as spiteful and jealous, this character embodies the ambivalent way in which men view women. When they are kind and gentle with us, they are represented by the enchantress, almost magical in their ability to soothe us, but when they threaten us, we see them as witches who will destroy us if we don’t lash out. In this case, the Beast is unable to deal with these two sides of the female and the price for it is to see his ugliness everyday in the mirror.
The Beast lives far outside of town, through dark woods in a dark, foreboding castle. He is an inhabitant of the unconscious, a mysterious place full of magical objects that talk and have life. At the center he resides, the central problem that Belle, Gaston and Maurice must deal with. As Maurice makes his way through the dark woods he becomes lost and is set upon by wolves, those howling demons that live outside of town (consciousness). They frighten him, much like the demons of the Tibetan Book of the Dead frighten the soul back into reincarnation, into the dark castle, where he finds magical clocks and candelabra living much like he does. The Beast is infuriated by his trespassing and throws him into the dungeon. Maurice, the bumbling inventor, is imprisoned by the part of him he could not recognize, the untamed masculinity that must be disciplined in order to achieve fatherhood.
Phillipe escapes back to town and Belle becomes worried about her father. She is shown the way by Phillipe, who brings her to the Beast’s castle. The Beast tells her that she must take her father’s place in order to free him. She agrees to this and enacts an incestuous transaction. In order to relieve himself of the tension of imprisonment in the Beast’s castle (id impulses) he must sacrifice himself as a Father by sacrificing his daughter to those impulses. Belle also sacrifices herself as a Daughter by giving into the Beast’s demands, which frees Maurice to return to town, but without his family, thus no longer being a father. By giving into the Beast, they have effectively destroyed their relationship as Father-Daughter. Here the Beast represents the incest taboo, something that the inner prince would never allow to happen, but what the outer beast facilitates. Much like incest between fathers and daughters, the familial relationship is destroyed to allow for the father to express his sexuality, which may have been forbidden from him by his wife, in this case the wife is deceased.
Belle lives within the castle, where her intellectuality initially clashes with the surly Beast. The servants of the castle, much like nature and the tower in the myth of Eros and Psyche, help to make her life more palatable in her imprisonment. However, there is no longer any pursuit of Psyche by Eros, instead there is a heated battle between Belle’s feminism and the Beast’s masculinity. Here Belle tries to get the Beast to see that there is a “who she is” instead of just beauty. The Beast, is at first not capable of this, but slowly comes to love Belle, even letting her go to save Maurice’s life. One notable case where the Beast’s raw power comes into play is when he saves them both from the wolves, showing that there is still a need for his male strength when outside forces threaten vulnerable members of society, Belle (female) and Maurice (elderly).
The most intriguing relationship in the movie is between Gaston and the Beast. Gaston effectively mirrors what the Beast is, namely hunter masculinity as well as unbridled male Eros. Gaston wants Belle for her beauty; the Beast was cursed for not realizing the inner beauty of the enchantress/hag. After Gaston leads a gang of angry townsfolk, like in Frankenstein, to get the Beast, he engages in mortal combat with him on a castle balcony. Here we see not only the brutal struggle between two dominant males for that of the female, but also the Beast as Prince, struggling with disciplining his bestial masculinity. The Beast is able to defeat Gaston, but allows him to live and begins to turn towards Belle. Gaston, too stubborn to be defeated, stabs the Beast in the back, but loses his balance in the process and stumbles into the void beneath the castle. The Beast dies, but not before Belle’s true love is able to restore him to his princely, handsome form. With Gaston’s death, the Beast is able to become Prince Charming, or the man sought by Belle at the beginning of this story.
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