29/06/2016

Cinderella - A Psychological Thriller

Thoughts On: Cinderella (1950)


A wicked stepmother enslaves her innocent stepdaughter, but when a chance to go a royal ball arises, so does a chance of freedom.


This is, without a doubt, Disney's best film. It's one of my favourite films of all time. Moreover, it's probably one of the greatest stories put to film. And, yes, this is the also the film I postponed so I could write about 50 Shades Of Grey, but, like I said, I was in the mood for something not so healthy, something that wasn't good for me, but in the end probably wouldn't kill me. Anyway, enough of 50 Shades. I've been meaning to do this film for a long time and, if you're familiar with the blog, then you may have heard me talk about it before. But, we'll return to that in the end. Right now, I just want to jump into things, so let's go. Cinderella is about hope. But, more than that, it's about hope as an act, hope as a mind set. The end goal here is for me to dispel the argument that 'And they lived happily ever after' is bullshit. But also, I want to demonstrates the intricate allegory that Cinderella is, explaining a film you probably didn't think needed much explaining. To do this we'll simply run through the film, start to end, defining metaphors and seeing what they mean in respect to Cinderella's journey here. Oh, we'll also be breaking down a lot of plot holes, but also convoluting the narrative as a whole, so, heads up, head down, whatever it is, let's get to work.

With the intro we are given the song that outlines a theme of romanticism in the film, which is a segue toward hope and Cinderella's opening song. But, before that we get a bit of information about the kingdom and Cinderella's past. Her father was a widower, but died when she was young - the point at which her step-mother revealed her true colours, forcing Cinderella to be the family's scullery maid. The most important detail of this back story is this one frame:


This is our way into the depths of this film as a psychological thriller. To get into this, I advise you watch the intro quickly, paying close attention at the 0:40 second mark. LINK HERE. It's at that 43 second mark that we hear of a 'mother's care' and simultaneously see a few birds flit on screen (you can see one in the picture above). What I'm trying to establish here is a link between animals and people - specifically Cinderella's perspective of people. It's in her mind, and as the freeze-frame demonstrates, that Cinderella would attribute the memory of her father to his horse and dog, Major and Bruno. Moreover, she attributes an idea of her mother to the symbol of a bird. Now, as you know, animals play a huge role in this film with almost all direct conflict stemming from interactions between the mice, birds, cat, dog and so on. But, we aren't just watching filler in a 70-odd minute film with these scenes. What we are watching is Cinderella's memory and projections of self conflicting. The majority of this movie is just a presentation of Cinderella's will. It's her losing hope, time and time again, but persevering, rising against the people in her life. So, to explore deeper, we'll take this one animal at a time.


We'll start with Major as we've already touched on him. He is the personification of Cinderella's memory of her father. He represents the composed and devoted aspects of his character. We can also infer with the horse that maybe Cinderella's father was apart of the army, hence, Major. This reinforces the aspects of composure and control. Moreover, these characteristics all act as lessons to Cinderella. These reminders of his character make her days easier, allowing her to wake up and almost find a friend in him as to go on.


Bruno. Also a representation of Cinderella's father. This is both his playful and more emotional side, that at times lacks the composure Major does. We see this in the fact that he's a dog that hates Lucifer - the cat. We'll come to back to this in a while though. The last detail to recognise about both Major and Bruno is their age. Both are a little groggy, a bit lazy - Major even has grey hair. This shows that they have not only grown up with Cinderella, but almost grown up as her father would. If he were alive 10/15 years down the line (from the beginning) he too would be a bit groggy and even have grey hair.


The birds. Ok, I know I implied that these represent Cinderella's mother, but because there are so many of them, they don't adhere to the rule as strictly as singular characters such as Bruno or Lucifer. Fundamentally, birds are a distant idea of a mother with Cinderella. This is best understood via the mornings. The birds wake up and tend to Cinderella, who is still a teenager (19) but also quite the tortured one. Moreover, they sing with her, something that we'll come back to in a while which is very important. Overall however, birds represent both an idea of devotion and an idea of freedom. They are linked to Cinderella's mother because she is dead, but still a guiding force as she is probably the woman Cinderella aspires to be. The birds are then an idea of female maturity.


Ok, this guy. This is Cinderella's projection or idea of her stepmother. It's important to recognise here that this is not a direct representation of her, but Cinderella's way of dealing with the oppressive, golddigging. bitch. When characters such as the mice interact with Lucifer, we are seeing the inner workings of Cinderella's mind. It's the fear, the hatred, the disdain, she has for the stepmother that is being fought with her own personal character. Before moving on though, there's quite a lot we can infer from Lucifer. Also, it's here that religious undertones are implied, as you could recognise with the name Lucifer. Lucifer was of course a fallen angel. His fall from God's side may parallel the change, the undressing of the stepmother's true colours when Cinderella's father died. This then implies that Cinderella's father was God (I know, sounds a little reaching). But, to ground this idea, what's happening here is simple. Cinderella is being compared to Jesus. You can understand this in her ethics of forgiveness, self-control and general humbleness. The religious undertones, however, under my interpretation, don't go much further than this though. In short, Lucifer is a douche, just like the stepmother,


Jaq is Cinderella's primary projection of self. Jaq encapsulates her tenacity, mischievous nature, confidence and personal strength. Jaq is the wise guy, the one willing to fight Lucifer, to lead the pack. We don't see this side of Cinderella much outside of Jaq, but make no mistake, it's Jaq, Cinderella's hidden bravery, that gets her through life, that allows her to hope, dream, wish.


Gus, for all his innocence and naivety is the unfortunate projection of Cinderella's perspective of self. To understand this, we have to recognise the importance of his introduction to the film. It's after waking up that Cinderella finds Gus in a cage, a trap probably set out by the stepmother. This means that this projection of Cinderella's self is dictated primarily by anxiety, by the stepmother putting her down for these numerous years. Gus' two key characteristics are naivety and greed. The naivety feeds into Cinderella's will to fight, to rebel. This is however encapsulated by Jaq already. What this means is that Cinderella is starting to lose hope, she's starting to criticise herself with Gus. This is why it's important she nurtures and looks after him as not to let her defeat herself. The aspects of greed are also linked into Cinderella's hopelessness, her growing self-defeatist attitude. Greed with Gus is wanting too much and getting in trouble. In this respect, this...


... is Cinderella's inner commentary on romance. Is wanting to go to the ball too much? Do I deserve better? Am I being ridiculous? These are all questions in her head. But, they aren't entirely negative as they do get her out of trouble. You could argue that if Cinderella did spend more time in picking up her glass slipper, like Gus did here (he picks up a grain that another mouse abandons - just as Cinderella does the slipper) she'd be stopped by the prince and forced to show her true colours. I agree, this side of her represents her lack of confidence in self. But, it is, however, important that she does face her stepmother, that she does accept herself, in the end of the film. So, this aspect of her isn't all that bad. The last thing to say about Gus is that whilst he's a little ditsy, so is Cinderella. But, that, again, isn't all that bad.


The rest of the mice are also projections of Cinderella's self. However, they aren't too specific. What they represent is Cinderella's capacity to work hard, persevere, but also collect herself. This is incredibly important in the dress making scene, but, we'll come to that later.

Ok, so now we understand who Cinderella is. She is an amalgamation of all these characters discussed. She's not just meek, naive and full of hope. She fights for her revelation in the end. This film is, as you can now see, a psychological battle between Cinderella's me, myselves and Is. Knowing this, let's move onto to the first real scene of the film to establish themes. The two main ideas or themes in this film are Time and Hope. This is perfectly captured by Cinderella's (click the picture to watch) opening song:


I've got to say that this is my favourite Disney song of all time and one of the greatest scenes ever. It has a perfect balance of tone, atmosphere and feeling that perfectly sets up the film, imbuing the audience with hope, not just telling them of it. Now, where the clip ends is where our biggest theme comes in. The clip ends just before the clock strikes, introducing an idea of time and reality. When you juxtapose this with Cinderella's A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Aches, you end up with a debate very similar to one I covered with The Matrix - Is It All Really That Bad?. Cinderella's problem is that her reality is controlled by time, that her world is controlled by her stepmother. This is why hope is so important. Hopes, dreams and wishes are the same thing. They are an idea of imagination - which also makes this being a psychological thriller with a myriad of talking animal projections all the more necessary. Cinderella is incredibly dependant imagination as she cannot change reality, she doesn't see herself as having the power to. Whilst there are great messages in films like Tangled or Frozen about women taking action and physically fighting against adversity, I think Cinderella holds an equal, even better message. The criticism of the old Disney films revolves around damsels in distress. Cinderella is not a damsel in distress. She fights her own personal and mental battle to gain the confidence to seek out love and change her life. This doesn't mean she needs a man to get by. This most definitely isn't the message of the film. The message is dependant on recognising that Cinderella wants love. She wants not needs a relationship and love (as most human beings do). This means that the physical fight here isn't necessary as this is a film about changing on the inside as to cope with externals. Cinderella actually fills gaps of other empowering films such as Frozen and Tangled. Frozen and Tangled are about acting with confidence as a woman. Cinderella is about finding that confidence. This, again, throws back to the Matrix post. Saying Let It Go is a great message, but actually doing that is incredibly hard. You need the message of hope captured by Cinderella to complete the picture painted by the likes of Frozen and Tangled. And it's with the opening song that this seed of philosophy is planted. In short, Cinderella asserts to herself that she must hang on, that she must continue to persevere with each and every morning. And it's after this that she counteracts the point with Gus. She begins to see herself as trapped. But, this is exactly what catalyses the movement of the narrative and her life toward action.


After this we meet the other characters (as discussed) with one pivotal interaction with Bruno. I'm talking about the scene where Bruno dreams. Remembering now that this is Cinderella's idea of her father, what we are seeing is her dad being enraged by the idea of the cat, of the woman that betrayed him and tortures his daughter. However, Cinderella tells Bruno off, not only for hating the cat (the stepmother - and rightly so) but also for dreaming. This sounds hypocritical coming from a girl that just sang about dreams being wishes the heart aches. But, it's not. Her justification for this is that Bruno doesn't want to lose a warm bed. This is her comment to anyone claiming she's a damsel in distress. Yes, she in a bad situation, but this is also her home, this is where she belongs - and she has nowhere else to go. This is why it's important for her to stay, to psychologically battle with an idea of her stepmother so she may eventually overcome.


The next key moment after this is the end the segment with Gus, Lucifer and the cups. This not only demonstrates how Cinderella is trapped by the idea of her stepmother, but introduces an idea of probability into the film which becomes all the more important as we progress. It's with the scene between Gus, Lucifer and the doors that an idea of all or nothing, which is prevalent in the film, becomes obvious. In short, Gus is saved by there being three cups. They prevent Lucifer finding him at first. However, the cups are then taken into the rooms, where everything simply turns into a waiting game. And so, Lucifer waits until one of the girls scream and Gus comes running out. He grabs him, but Cinderella puts a stop to it. After Cinderella gets into trouble, we cut to the castle where, just like with Gus and Lucifer, the King decides to wait, to put all his eggs in one basket to have his son fall in love. These given ideas of probability, all or nothing and putting all your eggs in one basket are pivotal in Cinderella. In short, the film argues that there is always opportunity out there. The odds can be stacked against you, but you have to take the opportunity, assert yourself in the situation. Just like Gus inevitably being caught is stopped by Cinderella, the Prince inevitably finding a woman to marry has to be intervened by her too. Cinderella must take hold of opportunity. This is the film's rationale against the idea of Cinderella finding true love being an ex-machina. However, that doesn't mean the film isn't romantic and doesn't take liberties, but, despite elements of luck there is a solid message in Cinderella you can take seriously: grab the bull by the horns essentially.

The next key scene we come to is before the news of the ball is delivered. What we're talking about here is the singing lesson. It's through comparing Cinderella to Drizella and Anastasia that we can recognise the importance of the opening song and also the birds. A nightingale, the bird the song they sing is about, is a symbol in literature that represents sorrow and beauty. For the nightingale to sing is almost a test, it's a question of character. To understand this, just look at Drizella and Anastasia. They can't sing, aren't very attractive and aren't very nice people. They have no song worth hearing in other words. Cinderella on the other hand is not only beautiful, but can sing and is a fair, composed person. The importance of beauty here is all linked to jealousy and the stepmother. It's because Cinderella is beautiful that she primarily dislikes her. This song thus captures the irrational attack on people from a position of powerlessness or ineptitude. In other words, the stepmother drags Cinderella down because she is all that Cinderella is not. Most importantly the stepmother lacks self-control or self-respect. This is what kills her, and is exactly what allows Cinderella to overcome her. This means that the birds being connected to an idea of Cinderella's mother is her accepting that she shouldn't hate herself for the same reasons her stepmother does. It's the birds, that can sing, that teach her to be humble, patient, controlled - all ways in which she may be imitating a memory of her mother. It's by tracking this that you can see Cinderella's growth as a woman throughout the film, and all on a psychological level.

Ok, so after this we get the dress making scene. This seems like an irrational plug to get the film where it needs to be in the end - Cinderella with a dress and at the ball despite the chores she has to do. This, as you could infer by now, isn't a plot hole though. The mice and birds all represent Cinderella's perseverance. What this implies is that she found the time, that she had the tenacity to steal the beads, the sash and not do house work (which she doesn't have to do as it's done already - her stepmother told her to do it all again). The reason why this wasn't shown may be down to preserving the image of Cinderella's character (not showing her steal), but more than this, is this not a much more cinematic and entertaining way of telling a story? There's just miles more depth in having representations of Cinderella's psyche do the work, persevere and so on. You externalise emotions, cinematically conveying feelings and mental growth. But, having made the dress, having cheated her way toward the ball, Cinderella's caught out. The malicious nature of the stepmother overcomes her again, tearing away all senses of hope. It's here where we are introduced to the final projection of Cinderella's imagination:


The fairy godmother is the epitome of hope, is the last reserve Cinderella has. This is where she turns in her darkest moment. I quote the movie here: 'If you lost all your faith, I couldn't be here. And here I am.' These are the words of the fairy godmother that solidify the idea that we are seeing projections of Cinderella's imagination. It's faith that manifests the fairy godmother. Faith is belief - all products of the mind, of hope, dreams, imagination. What's also key to recognise here is an aspect of childish hope. By this I mean the concept of a fairy. Cinderella has to regress into her childhood to find the last inklings of hope and dreams. This is what gives her the means to go on - naivety. What this makes clear is that sometimes you have to blind yourself to go on. You have to ignore probability, reality, reasoning to physically get through the improbable. However, coming back to the idea of childhood, we can now justify the lyrics:

Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Put 'em together and what have you got
bippity-boppity-boo

Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
It'll do magic believe it or not
bippity-boppity-boo

Salagadoola means mechicka booleroo
But the thingmabob that does the job is
bippity-boppity-boo

Salagadoola menchicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo
Put 'em together and what have you got
bippity-boppity bippity-boppity bippity-boppity-boo

The majority of this is nonsense, just as a kid's chant or song of this nature would be. Take away sense and reasoning and just believe, then life becomes easier. That means that the metaphor of this scene is that Cinderella fixed some kind of dress for herself and went to the ball - she persevered. What you then have to infer is that the dress is also a metaphor. This is all a given if you can accept that the animals are mere projections. The mice, Bruno and Major all transform, indicating a boost in Cinderella's confidence. In short, she's using the idea of her father as guidance - he acts as a chaperone. But, staying with the dress, what we are seeing is hope toward social transcendence. This is also why the glass slipper is the most important symbol in the film. The dress and slippers are a facade that gives Cinderella confidence, but they are also the true manifestation of her hope. The shoes are glass, however, because the hope, the dream of Cinderella overcoming everything is fragile. Nonetheless, she meets the prince, she does dance, and most importantly, she keeps the slippers. This implies that what remains after the night is Cinderella's confidence. She manages to keep her dream alive, she is able to hold onto an idea of love.

It's now that we can jump to the end of the film. Here the figurative entrapment of Cinderella becomes literal. To fight this she needs a bit of help from her projections. It's Gus and Jaq, the two conflicting ideas of her self (the good and bad, or the better and worse) that have to work together to get the key. Opening the door isn't that easy though as the domineering idea of the stepmother steps in. However, lessons, or ideas of Cinderella's parents finally come into effect. First it's her mother, then it's her father, who gets to exact his revenge on the woman that betrayed them. This kind of means that Lucifer dies and Bruno (the father) killed him. I mean...


... but, don't worry. This isn't literal. Cinderella merely relinquishes the idea of her stepmother from her mind. Even if the cat dies, so what? He was an ass. I don't like cats, what can I say? Anyways, meanwhile, downstairs the glass slipper is being tried on by Anastasia and Dizella. The key plot hole here is that the slipper should be able to fit an awful lot of girls in the kingdom. This is why recognising it as a metaphor is so important. It's a metaphor for Cinderella's virtue, Cinderella's strength, hope and resilience. This is what is unique to her. This is what no other woman in the kingdom has. This is what the prince is really looking for. So, in the end, the one slipper can break, all of Cinderella's faith and hope crushed by the stepmother's jealousy yet again, but, it's just not enough.


She has the other shoe. It's then because of this that she can live happily ever after. Why? How? Happiness, just like hope has been thoroughly demonstrated as being a mindset that allows you to act. When you've been through what Cinderella has, when you've been through massive psychological duress and pressure, but made it through by the strength of your own will, you've proved your ability to cope. This is the true message encapsulated by the 'happily ever after'. Cinderella has learnt a life changing lesson. Because she is capable, she will ensure she lives that happily ever after.

And that's Cinderella in a nutshell. Before you go however, the ideas expressed here are featured in one of my screenplays, Inaffection, available on the blog now. To find out what all of this could mean to a narrative check it out for free here:



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