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Back Through The Little Door: Returning To Coraline As An Adult

Image Credit: Laika

Henry Selick’s Coraline (2009) haunted my childhood.

I was but nine years old when I first watched the film. I had seen it advertised on tv, and it seemed to me to be a modern Alice in Wonderland. For those unfamiliar with the film or the Neil Gaiman novel upon which it is based, Coraline is about a young girl who is bored with her life. Her parents never have any time for her. She does not have any friends near her age and is just generally bored with her dull world. However, she finds a small door in her family’s new home, which leads to another world that is bright and vibrant and full of wonder. She even has better parents there, a mother who cooks delicious food and a father who plays the piano and has a magical garden. They are just like her normal parents, but better. Oh, and they have buttons for eyes. 

The whole concept of buttons for eyes is a little unnerving, but as a child I was a massive fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Doctor Who. It did not dawn on me that perhaps the eerily creepy shiny black buttons could signal that this supposed children’s film was a lot scarier than it first seemed to be on the surface. My younger sister watched it with me, and whilst she also recalls the eyes being a bit off-putting, it did not suggest the film was more of a children’s horror film than a family adventure.

You see, all is not as it appears in the new world that Coraline has discovered. To begin with, it is magical. Her parents are loving and fun, her neighbour Wybie cannot speak in this world (in the real world, the real Wybie never stops talking, and this annoys Coraline) and Coraline finds herself genuinely happier in this world. While she initially considers that everyone in this ‘other world’ has buttons for eyes unnerving, she soon forgets all about it when she becomes enchanted with the new world and its people. Coraline even tells her real parents about her ‘other mother’ and ‘other father’ who she believes would do anything to make her happy. She visits her ‘other parents’ several times in the film, and each time, after a day full of adventures she goes to sleep in the other world, only to wake up in her real one the following day. She then spends the day dreaming about returning to the other world, and what fun she and her other parents will get up to.

However, the film slowly begins to suggest that something is wrong with this new world. Coraline’s neighbour, Wybie, tells Coraline that his grandmother (who owns the house that Coraline’s parents are renting) usually does not allow children to enter the house. The reason for this is that his grandmother’s twin sister was stolen when she was a child. Wybie refuses to say much more on the matter, just that his grandmother’s sister vanished. Several other neighbours warn Coraline that she is in danger. What is perhaps most scary of all is Coraline’s little doll.

This doll appears at the beginning of the film, and it looks just like the film’s titular character. Like the other mother and father, the doll also has button eyes. As the film goes on, it seems that the doll is watching Coraline, seemingly moving on its own at times. The neighbourhood’s black cat even growls at the doll at one point in the film, suggesting that this doll is more than just a doll.

These warnings build up throughout the film until we reach the point where the other mother and father ask Coraline to remain in the other world with them. Coraline is ecstatic, but they tell her there is one thing she needs to do before living with them.

She must let them sew buttons onto her eyes.

Yep, this was the moment where nine year-old-me had a heart attack. I distinctly remember feeling my stomach drop inside me, the fear beginning to rise as I realised that this was not the fun film I had thought it would be. I had ignored the other signs of danger that had popped up throughout the film, thinking that there was no way that a little children’s movie could be so dark. But dark it was, and it was only going to get more so. The film only gets worse. The other mother turns nasty, kidnapping Coraline’s real parents and throwing Coraline behind a mirror, where Coraline discovers the ghosts of three children. All of whom were murdered by the other mother, whom the ghosts call the beldam. Beldam is a very old word, which means witch, telling you pretty much all you need to know about the beldam. These ghost children tell Coraline that the other mother appeared to them as their real mothers but better, just as she did with Coraline. They loved her so much they let her sew the buttons onto their eyes and she ate up their souls, leaving their spirits in the dark hole behind the mirror. The other mother also transforms into a kind of giant spider made out of sewing needles, and her face seems to be made out of cracked ceramic. It’s not pretty and absolutely terrified me as a child.

It becomes clear to Coraline that the other mother controls the entire other world. She manipulates it to Coraline’s every desire, which was exactly what she did with the ghost children when they were alive. It is all done as part of a grand plan to persuade the children to stay with her and sew the buttons onto their eyes, killing them and allowing her to feed on their souls. She needs their souls to stay alive, and this explains why she is so reluctant to let Coraline get away.

However, Coraline does manage to escape and save her parents at the same time. She throws the key to the little door that leads to the other world down a well, leaving the beldam to starve alone in the other world. It is presumed at the end of the film that the other world is still there, but the other mother, if she is not already dead, is dying, and that Coraline is safe so long as she does not go back through the little door.

However, this did not console me in any way as a child. The horrible spider-figure that the other mother turns into, as well as the terrifying storyline, scared me as a child. I refused to watch the film again and it haunted my nightmares for weeks after. I even remember our teacher allowing us to watch the film in primary school as a treat before the summer holidays. I took myself out of my seat in front of the tv set and walked over to our classroom library, where I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and point-blank refused to watch the film. The teacher seemed happy enough with my desire to read, if a little confused at why I was terrified of the film, until she played it and a few other classmates begged to join me at the library.

As a young-adult (and a student of film) I certainly appreciate the film much more now. The film’s message is now clear to me: be careful what you wish for. However, the similarities to modern day issues such as grooming, are definitely more noticeable as an adult than they are as a child. Through a child’s eyes, the other mother is this scary monster that eats children, to adults, she is an adult preying on a child from afar, pretending to love them just so she can harm them for her own pleasure.

So, is Coraline a children’s film? No.

The film is inappropriate for very young viewers, its story is just too dark. However, it provides a valuable lesson for slightly older children who will be able to understand and appreciate the message more than their younger siblings. As an adult, it is a film that I have come to love over the years, something little me could never have imagined during those sleepless nights where I worried about demonic beldams coming to eat my soul.

The Great Mystery – A Poem

Image Credit: Pixabay/ geralt

Death is the unlocked door to the unknown

that opens only one way,

guarded by none.

The immortal question of all mortals,

the answer, locked away within tombs

and sealed behind clay lips turned to dust.

A secret so powerful, only the dead may keep.

Discovery at the ultimate cost.

The last experience.

It is said to be a great pain ran from,

or a great release ran towards.

It has been named,

Heaven, Valhalla, Nirvana,

Sheol, Hell, Hades.

Abyss.

Rejoice, that you shall one day learn of the great mystery.

Grieve, that you shall never learn again.

All Your Perfects – A Review of Colleen Hoover’s Beautifully Heart-breaking Novel

Warning: Spoilers ahead

“If you only shine light on your flaws, all your perfects will dim.”

If you’ve been on BookTok or even walked into a bookstore recently, you’ve probably heard of author Colleen Hoover. Or maybe, you’ve heard of the book titles It Ends with Us, Ugly Love, November 9, or Verity. Despite these books being published in 2016, 2014, 2015, and 2018 respectively, people of all ages are just now discovering and falling in love with Hoover’s stories.

While these books definitely all deserve praise — with It Ends with Us following a young woman’s story of breaking a cycle of abuse and Verity being a chilling thriller unlike any of her other books — a hidden gem of Hoover’s is All Your Perfects, also published in 2018.

All Your Perfects follows a couple, Quinn and Graham, but it’s unlike any of Hoover’s other romances. We follow the couple in a dual timeline, jumping back and forth between “then” and “now” every other chapter. The “then” chapters are more of the typical romance that Hoover is known for; Quinn and Graham meet under unlikely circumstances, outside of an apartment door as their respective partners are cheating on them — with each other. This meeting launches a strong love and romance that looks perfect — until you read the “now” chapters.

“Now” flashes forward to the present, when Quinn and Graham are married — but not so happily. The reader soon learns that the two have been struggling with infertility issues after trying to have a baby for years, and this affects the couple — specifically Quinn, whose perspective we are in — greatly.

The “perfect” couple from before suffers through this infertility, along with infidelity, a miscarriage, and communication, and Hoover does it beautifully. It’s raw, and it’s real; she shows that not every seemingly fairy tale romance stays that way — especially when problems like these arise, some of which are completely out of the couple’s control. But she also shows that when things look to be hopeless, there can still be solutions and a light at the end of the tunnel.

While I won’t give too much away, Hoover is well-known for her happy endings, and while it doesn’t seem like the case for most of the book, this is no different for Quinn and Graham, but it takes quite a bit of time for them to get there.

Something I love about this book — besides the fact that it faces tough experiences like infertility and miscarriage head on — is the dual timeline and the portrayal of marriage. Oftentimes, in romance novels, the happily-ever-after happens when the characters get married, or soon thereafter. And if you’re only looking at the romance in the “then” chapters, Quinn and Graham’s love seems to be no different. But Hoover combats that with the “now” chapters; as I said before, the issues that these two face and the way they tiptoe around them as their “perfect” marriage crumbles apart is so heartbreakingly real.

You don’t find yourself “rooting” for one or the other, as you might in a romance novel when one-half of the couple makes a mistake or isn’t communicating. My heart ached for Quinn, because her infertility is something inescapable that she is reminded of at every turn, whether it’s seeing a couple with children or loved ones asking her when she and Graham will be having kids of their own, and this affected her beyond repair. And I felt for Graham, too, because he tried to reach out and talk to Quinn, to be there for her, but she often couldn’t meet him halfway because of everything she was dealing with.

It takes being on the brink of divorce and a special box to get them to finally work toward their happy ending, but they get there — and not without plenty of tears from the reader.

While there are quite a few Hoover books I have yet to read (including her most recent release, Reminders of Him), as I work through them, All Your Perfects definitely earns a top spot for me. It’s the perfect mixture of sweet, happy romance and raw heartbreak — just make sure you have plenty of tissues nearby.

The Brighter Side of Lockdown

Image Credit: Flickr/ John Beans

It is safe to say that 2020 and 2021 were not great years.

There was a worldwide pandemic, lockdowns were put in place across the world and there was political turmoil over whether or not the correct measures had been implemented in order to tackle COVID-19. However, whilst this period of lockdowns undoubtedly brought misery to many, there were some positive consequences from the lockdowns we all experienced.

Our environment has improved drastically over the course of the first lockdowns. Carbon emissions fell, with levels of pollution in New York dropping by nearly 50% when compared to the same time in 2019 due to the measures put in place there to contain the virus. This occurred due to the sudden decline in the number of people travelling, most notably those who would have made a commute to and from work every day. This lack of movement by workers, many of whom had instead been working from home, improved the air quality in previously polluted cities and also offered many employees a better mix of work and home life. By replacing the daily commute with shutting down one’s laptop, employees were given more time to spend with loved ones after the working day.

The lack of human presence that towns and cities were so accustomed to even saw local wildlife becoming more visible. In Llandudno in North Wales, the iconic goats that normally live on the town’s limestone headland called, The Great Orme, made their way down from their home to investigate why their habitat was not bustling with tourists as it normally is during the spring. Images emerged of the seaside town being overran by the friendly goats, and they became so popular on social media that they managed to raise £3,000 for a local hospice through the selling of t-shirts and tote bags that featured their images. Whilst the pandemic has been awful in so many ways, it has highlighted just how big the task of improving our environment is, as even with the improvements already made, it is nowhere near enough. This pandemic has truly shown us just how much more we need to do to save our planet.

For many, going home to quarantine with family members provided an opportunity to spend some quality time with loved ones. Family walks became a precious time to re-connect with parents and siblings. Whilst group calls with other family members and friends highlighted just how much we took them for granted when we used to see them every day. Although the situation was far from ideal, for many it was a chance to re-connect with family members without feeling the constraints of time which we normally experience during the academic year. Family game nights became a much-anticipated event and movie nights were a common choice of entertainment (and with the help of Netflix Party we were even been able to have movie nights with those who lived elsewhere).

We were also given more time to spend on hobbies that we are normally too busy to be concerned with. One of the biggest comebacks of the year was Animal Crossing, with 11 million people playing the game during lockdown. It is a game that its creators have said was meant to be shared and during a time where people could not meet in person, it brought friends and family members together in its fantasy world. As well as video games, more people began making time to exercise. Many of us took up jogging or long walks, whilst others participated in online workout sessions which proved popular with 4/10 people taking part in them via YouTube and Livestream.

My personal favourite pastime during lockdown was reading. As an English student I do plenty of it, but often I cannot choose what books I want to read. Lockdown provided me with the chance to read books that I normally would not have the time to, such as Stephen King’s IT, which sat on my bookshelf for almost two years before I opened its pages. Research conducted by Nielsen Books has revealed that since lockdown began in Britain the amount of time the British public spent reading increased from 3.5 hours a week to six. The research also revealed that the preferred genre was crime fiction, with dystopian literature falling in popularity (for obvious reasons). Similarly, to video games, books can provide an escape from reality and the comfort of a solved mystery seemed to be bring people some joy during a time where everything was so uncertain. There was even more choice for readers than ever before, particularly for fans of Harry Potter who were thrilled when J.K. Rowling announced that she was publishing her story “The Ickabog” online for young readers to enjoy. Rowling had considered publishing the story before but never did and decided that lockdown was the right time to do so to help entertain her young fans during these boring times. Perhaps, this short story would never have been made available to the public had it not been for lockdown.

COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdowns in the UK and abroad taught us a lot about how the general public and politicians react to such a large crisis, but it also taught us to appreciate the mundane things in life. Never again will I complain about 9am lectures or the poor choice of music at Club 601, and forever will I appreciate my normal life.

The Woman In Black (1989) Versus The Woman In Black (2012)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Image Credit: Alliance Films/ Hammer Films

The Woman In Black (2012) was the first horror film I ever watched. As a huge Harry Potter fan, I was instantly drawn to the film by Daniel Radcliffe’s role in it, but the gothic haunted house trope certainly caught my attention. After all, who doesn’t love a good Victorian ghost story? I knew that the film was based on a novel of the same name by Susan Hill, and that her story had also inspired a stage play in London’s West End. However, what I did not know was that the story of the Woman in Black had actually been made into a film once before in 1989. So, I took it upon myself to watch the original, and compare it to its 21st century successor. I have yet to read Susan Hill’s original novel, so the two films will solely be compared against each other.

Firstly, both films do follow the basic plot of Susan Hill’s original story. Arthur, a young lawyer, is sent to Eel Marsh House to sort through the final will and testament of the house’s owner, Alice Drablow, who recently passed away. Whilst there, he is haunted by the ghost of the woman in black, who in life was Alice’s sister Jennet. Jennet haunts the house because in life her son Nathaniel was taken off of her as she was an unwed mother and was raised by Alice and her husband. However, Arthur discovers that the child drowned in the marshes that surround the Drablow home, and Jennet’s spirit has never forgiven her sister, or the townspeople who allowed her son to be taken from her twice.

The two adaptations do differ slightly in plot. In the 1989 version, Arthur’s wife is very much still alive, and he leaves her at home to care for their children when he is sent to Eel Marsh House to sort through Alice Drablow’s possessions after her death. The 2012 version sees Daniel Radcliffe cruelly widowed young, and consequently he is left to raise his young son alone after his wife dies in childbirth. This creates a much bleaker beginning for Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps, and sets the tone for the tragedy that is to follow. Both films do end with the death of Arthur and his family at the hands of the woman in black, although 1989 Arthur is drowned in a lake and 2012’s Arthur is ran down by a train but is blissfully reunited with his deceased wife in the afterlife in a moment that is both poignant and haunting, as the woman in black has to watch the reunited family walk away, whilst she is condemned to spend eternity alone. This gives the 2012 version a bitter-sweet ending, whereas the 1989 ending just leaves the audience bitter and depressed that nobody can seem to escape the clutches of the woman in black.

The main strength of the original is the humanisation of Jennet in her ghostly form. To begin with, Arthur does not even realise that she is a ghost, he thinks her just to be a woman in mourning due to her black attire. However, he soon realises what she is when others ignore her presence and he is warned by locals not to allow children near her, as a child always dies after she has been sighted. By presenting the woman in black in a mundane form, her physical appearance is not monstrous and this allows us to pity her for her tragic life and her suffering in death. However, it also means that the horror of the woman in black is created through her movements and gestures. The scene where Arthur first encounters the ghost at Eel Marsh House is chilling, not because the woman in black is ugly and grotesque, but because her anger and wrath can be felt in her mere gaze.

However, the original does not give its audience as big an insight into Jenet’s grief as the 2012 version did. In the 2012 film, letters and birthday cards are shown which Jennet tried to send to her son Nathaniel but was forbidden to by Alice. The viewer is even shown Jenet’s suicide as she hangs herself down in front of Daniel Radcliffe’s Arthur. Consequently, the film shows not just how devastating the loss of a child is, but how Edwardian society punished women who dared transgress their place in society.

The fact that Arthur also tries to reunite the woman in black with the spirit of her son is a change in plot that I appreciated. Arthur risks his own life to rescue Nathaniel’s body from the marshes (his body had not been recovered because of how dangerous the marshes are) and cleans him up before leaving him in the nursery where he is seemingly reunited with his birth mother. This marks the shift in society where people were beginning to realise that taking children from unwed mothers was not just morally wrong, but barbaric. This perhaps explains why the woman in black allows Arthur and his son to be reunited with Arthur’s wife in the afterlife, as usually the woman in black condemns those she kills to follow her around in her mourning forever.

Unfortunately, the casting of Daniel Radcliffe as Arthur Kipps missed the mark for me. Radcliffe was straight out of Hogwarts when he landed the role as Arthur, and he just seems too young to be a widowed father to a five-year-old child. His acting is good, but an older actor would have given more authenticity to the role of depressed widower.

The 2012 film undoubtedly has scarier visual effects, as you would expect. The jump scares are terrifying and the woman in black is frightening to even glance at, but the mood and tone of the original film is not to be snuffed at. In the original, Eel Marsh House merely appears derelict and abandoned, in contrast to the dark and terrifying appearance of its 2012 counterpart. The original Eel Marsh House may not be as visually scary, but its depressing facade evokes the pain felt by Jennet and makes us fear her presence around every corner.

To conclude, I like both versions equally but for entirely different reasons. I love the 2012’s attempt to change the story and break the woman in black’s curse as well as the gothic tone to the film, but I love the original’s humanisation of Jennet. I love how both films follow the original story by Susan Hill (with some small changes), but I think my favourite will always be the 2012 version, as the film has become my comfort horror film.

Bridgerton Season Two: What’s Different From The Book?

Image Credit: Netflix

Like many other viewers out there, I watched the second season of Netflix’s wildly popular Bridgerton and fell in love with Anthony Bridgerton. After a few rewatches and still wanting more, I caved and decided to start the eight-book series that the show was based on, with each book following a different Bridgerton sibling’s love story.

The Netflix show’s series order has stayed true to the books so far, with book two, The Viscount Who Loved Me, following the story of the eldest Bridgerton and Viscount, Anthony Bridgerton.

The Netflix series has done a lot right — one thing being the diversity. In the books, Kate Sheffield, her stepmother Lady Mary, and younger sister Edwina are all white. It is stated early on and often throughout the novel that Edwina is seen as the picture of beauty with her blonde hair and blue eyes, while Kate is the less-attractive sister with her brown hair and eyes. In the series, Kate and Edwina are the Sharmas, portrayed by Simone Ashley and Charithra Chandran, respectively. They are given a backstory in which they arrived in London from India that is nonexistent in the book, and there are plenty of references to their South Asian heritage, including a pre-wedding haldi ceremony, a scene in which Kate uses hair oil with Edwina, and names/nicknames such as “Appa,” “Bon,” and “Didi.” Many people online have expressed their joy at this representation and how it was approached.

Of course, there are other, less well-known changes made from the book to the show that I believe were great choices. Oftentimes, when a book is adapted into a movie or show, readers will express their dismay at how their beloved stories were altered, but in my opinion, the makers of Bridgerton did it right.

For one, in the book, there is no love triangle between Anthony and the sisters. Edwina and Anthony don’t make it to the alter — they don’t even get engaged. And while Edwina has a fleeting interest in the handsome viscount, she sees from the beginning that despite their differences and irritations with each other, there is obviously something going on between Anthony and Kate. She is not even close to being as oblivious or smitten with Anthony as show Edwina is. While I personally am not the biggest fan of show Edwina, but love book Edwina, the changes in the storyline make for a more interesting love story.

In the book, Anthony and Kate are forced to get engaged after the famed bee sting scene. Instead of Kate just calming him like in the show, Anthony tries to suck the venom out of the bee sting, which leaves the two being caught by a group of mothers in a very compromising position. Another difference relating to this scene is Anthony’s fear of bees — while he does still have a fear of bees that stems from his father dying of a bee sting, in the book, he was not the witness. He was out of the house and simply heard about it afterwards, after his father had already passed. Instead, it was his younger sister Eloise who had to watch her father die, at only around seven years old. I think the show makers made a good call with this change, because his reaction to Kate’s sting makes it even more tragic if he was the one there with his father that day.

Also, if the show makers stuck with the forced engagement storyline, it would feel too repetitive to season one, where Anthony’s sister Daphne experienced a very similar engagement with the Duke of Hastings.

Speaking of Anthony’s siblings, one of my favourite changes from the books to the show is the screentime given to other characters — namely the other Bridgertons. In the books, while other Bridgertons may make appearances for a few scenes in another sibling’s book, some more often than others, the show really gives them fully fleshed-out stories and allows the viewer to fall in love with them, to the point where you find yourself eagerly awaiting the season where they’re the lead. But in the books, oftentimes, they feel like strangers; for example, Benedict Bridgerton is well-loved by show watchers as the sarcastic artist sibling who’s trying to find himself. But in the books, he hardly gets a personality until his book (the third, An Offer From a Gentleman), and even then, his artistic talent is only brought up a few times. The show took bits and pieces of the books characters, fleshed them out, and made them much more lovable so that you’re wanting to see more, and it really worked. Whereas in the books, it’s a little harder to feel excited about the next one, because it feels as if you’re getting into a story about a near-stranger.

To touch on that further, Penelope Featherington plays a slightly important role in this book, but not even close to as important in the show — and you don’t learn that she’s Lady Whistledown until the book she’s featured in: number four, Romancing Mister Bridgerton. A heroic act by Anthony, in which he saves Penelope from bully Cressida Cowper and escorts her to dinner, is what makes Kate start to realize that he might be more than the handsome rake he appears to be. Other than that, Penelope — along with the rest of the Featheringtons, who got quite a bit more

screentime this seasons than viewers (myself included) would have liked — hardly plays a role in The Viscount Who Loved Me.

One more interesting difference about Penelope, though, is that one of her devastating final scenes in the season is her overhearing Colin Bridgerton, her friend and the man she has been in love with for years, saying that he would never dream of courting her. This scene plays out similarly in the books, only with Colin’s brothers, and in the third book, An Offer with A Gentleman, instead. This, alongside a more developed storyline for Colin and Penelope and some interesting comments from cast members, makes many viewers think that Bridgerton’s season three is going to skip book three, Benedict’s story, for the time being, and instead focus on the plot of book four, which is Colin and Penelope’s love story, despite it taking place almost ten years after Anthony and Kate’s in the books.

But, back to our Viscount and Viscountess. Another difference from the book to the show is Kate’s injury. In the show, Kate gets flung off her horse and sustains a head injury. When she wakes, she refuses Anthony’s proposal, but at the Featherington ball that occurs later on, Anthony eventually confesses his love, and the final scenes of the show shows us that the two are happily married.

Things go differently in the book. Kate and Anthony are already married at this point, when Kate goes on a carriage ride with Edwina and the man Edwina eventually marries, named Mr. Bagwell (there’s no hinting at a possible romance with a prince for her in the book). Bagwell loses control, and the carriage topples over, trapping Kate underneath. Anthony rushes to the scene,

having been looking for Kate already, and this terrifying experience is what eventually leads to him telling her that he loves her for the first time. Unlike the show, there isn’t a ball where they dance together or any threat of Kate leaving London for good.

While some changes are bigger than others, and while I haven’t listed them all (like Kate having a fear of storms in the book), I definitely think that the show’s creators have been taking the source material and improving it in many ways, especially when it comes to representation and altering storylines to make them even more drama-filled.

And of course, when reading the books, it isn’t quite the same as getting to watch the tension between Anthony and Kate play out on your screen. Here’s hoping Bridgerton continues on this streak and heightens the next Bridgerton sibling’s love story.

Winter Festival

Image Credit: Pixabay/ JillWellington

Oxen hooves tap-dance around creaky ice rinks,
still hesitant of their posthumous repertoires
the year grows inert when glossy carnivals
finally become hypothermic and irrelevant

today, the human condition is all
sensile party-goers, dubious paperboys
like confused cartographers undecided
on how the stars should ride in their wedding rings

I can see us by Winter Festival:
mothers screaming at the bazaar,
tanks hibernating, dawdling amidst rusty snow

& us, precarious strangers
playing idealistic lovers

I want to send these fickle love letters
into the celestial echelons
of a supposedly friendly neighborhood apple tree

Winter advances, then recoils in disgust
of the perplexing days ahead
them & their addled weathers

The Brilliance of Mare of Easttown

Warning: Spoilers for Mare of Easttown ahead.

Image Credit: HBO

When browsing through an HBO Max account or watching the trailer for Mare of Easttown, viewers may get the impression that this crime show is particularly gruesome. Yes, it’s an addictive show with unresolved questions that arise at the end of each episode and there’s an abrupt twist and culprit that will leave viewers shocked. Yet, Mare of Easttown is an exemplary show not because it creates ideal characters, but because it prioritises making imperfect characters that viewers can identify with.

Set in a Philadelphia suburb in Chester County, Mare of Easttown highlights detective sergeant Mare Sheehan and her efforts to solve the mystery surrounding teenage single mother Erin McMenamin’s murder after Erin’s body is found in Brandywine Creek. Mare’s credibility and expertise as a detective are already under question from Easttown residents, as it has been over a year since the disappearance of another adolescent girl, Katie Bailey, and Mare has been unable to find her. Mare and her new colleague, the young, enthusiastic, eager-to-please Colin Zabel- referred to as Zabel- are assigned to the McMenamin case, questioning possible suspects and going door-to-door.

What makes this show so multi-faceted is that Mare also has to navigate her own personal problems while dealing with the pressure of solving a murder investigation: Her son committed suicide, her ex-husband is getting remarried, and her heroin-addicted daughter-in-law wants custody over Mare’s four-year-old grandson.

Mare and Zabel aren’t flawless characters, but that’s what makes them so realistic. All Mare talks about on how her date with Zabel is the investigation and asks him to do more tasks instead of getting to know him more over their restaurant meal, Mare is dismissive of her therapist’s goal to help her properly grieve her son’s suicide, and she doesn’t know about her daughter Siobahn’s college aspirations or love life. Mare is a troubled character, but viewers see her depth. Flashbacks offer an explanation as to why she currently behaves the way she does.

Zabel is overzealous and has confessed that he was not the one responsible for unraveling a previous investigation that propelled him toward success and fame, he actually paid an examiner to retrieve documents. But all he wants is to get justice for Katie and Erin. Zabel gets flustered and anxious, like any normal person, when speaking to the woman he likes: He accidentally says, “This is my Mare” instead of saying, “This is my colleague, Mare” when introducing Mare to his mother after Mare comes to their home to ask an investigation question and says “Holy shit” after Mare opens her door, dressed in a fancy outfit and lipstick, for her date with him. Zabel is a loveable character whose imperfections aren’t really imperfections, they’re just symptoms of being human and remind viewers that mistakes are part of life. Mare smiles on rare occasions and doesn’t crack jokes, but her past experience can challenge anyone’s resiliency.

Mare’s and Zabel’s flaws make them more intriguing and reveal signs of humanity, contributing to the show’s rich character development. Yet Kate Winslet’s and Evan Peters’s stellar execution of a Delco accent is another praise-worthy element of the show. Mare of Easttown writer Brad Ingelsby, a native of the Philadelphia suburbs, thought about incorporating this difficult to master accent- known for its rounded vowels-into the show. It was Winslet herself that wanted to learn this accent for her role, later saying that it’s a demanding accent to understand.

Watching her on-screen, it’s surprising to even fathom how Winslet may have faltered while learning this accent: Winslet gives an authentic performance, pronouncing water as “wooder,” “Mare” as “mear,” and “creek” as “crick.” Her acting never once feels forced and it makes the reader forget that they are watching a fictionalised show, rather, viewers feel as if they are intruding into a personal moment and that they are Delco locals themselves speaking with Mare in one of the Easttown stores.

If Winslet’s Delco accent is memorable, then Evan Peters’ rendering of this accent is impeccable. In an unforgettable scene in episode 3, a drunk Zabel at a bar reveals to Mare that his fiancée decided to call off the engagement and indirectly drops hints about his attraction to Mare.

Peters’ impersonation of his drunk character, his rounding of the letter O, and pronouncing the word “day” like “die” is effortless. It’s shocking to think that Peters struggled with this scene and that he almost quit acting after this scene, as the viewer simply sees a gifted actor who makes talking with a Delco accent appear easy. While Winslet’s and Peters’ efforts to deliver a perfect accent are commendable, it’s important to note that the Delco accents in Mare of Easttown capture the region accurately and add to the show’s strong sense of plot. Incorporating the local accent pays tribute to the Philly region. If there’s one effective way to spotlight the setting of a show, it’s to ask the actors to adopt the community dialect.

There’s a small detail in the show that further conveys the habit of Pennsylvania locals: A love for Wawa. The fixation on this convenience store in Mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania is broadcasted accurately in Mare of Easttown. Zabel arrives at the office each morning with Wawa coffee for him and Mare. It may seem insignificant, but the daily Wawa coffees are a crucial part of the show because the directors insert something that aligns with the Delco identity: A dependence on a beloved convenience store. Delco accents and Wawa are synonymous to the Philly suburbs as Dunkin is to Massachusetts or Tim Hortons is to Canada, and the Mare of Easttown creators understand that.

Moreover, it’s admirable how the show addresses mental health, often a taboo topic in society and encourages open discussions on well-being. Mare of Easttown is already a heart-rending show to watch: Dawn Bailey is battling cancer while her daughter is still missing, Erin McMenamin had an abusive father, and Beth Hanlon has to help her brother who is arrested. The show creates a grim portrayal of Easttown, and later introduces the topic of mental health when Mare agrees to see a therapist.

Mare is reluctant at first to see the value of therapy, providing terse answers to the therapist, looking as if she doesn’t want to be in the therapist’s office, and saying she doesn’t want to waste the therapist’s time. But as their sessions progress, Mare’s voice breaks and she tries hard not to cry while speaking with her therapist- without succeeding- as she remembers her cherished son. In one scene, she pauses, realising the magnitude of her mourning, and that’s it acceptable to admit when she is fighting a whirlwind of emotions. It’s a defining point for not only this fictional character, but for the viewer: Mare of Easttown effectively communicates the vital message of how people should prioritise their emotional well-being and to learn how to detect the warning signs of an incoming breakdown.

The scene is striking because it upholds the show’s commitment to character development. Mare isn’t a static character with no growth, instead, she shows her vulnerable side when she tears up in therapy. Not only does this moment serve as a catharsis, but it also demonstrates how Mare understands that there is no shame in seeking help. The woman that withheld showing emotion about her son’s suicide to her family members in the earlier episodes is now ready to tell her loved ones how she really feels. Changeless characters make a show bland, but Mare’s dedication to improving her mental health makes viewers cheer her on.

Few shows are unparalleled in a number of departments, including realistic characters, believable interpretations of local dialects, mental health awareness, and notable character progression. Mare of Easttown is a tour de force because its depiction of Chester County and its underscore on character development is remarkable.

A Deep Dive Into Disney’s The Lion King

Image Credit: Walt Disney Studios

There are many movies contested as Disney’s best film. I’ve watched countless Disney movies throughout my life, and while many are amazing in their own right, none of them have quite left me with the same emotions as The Lion King has. From its music, animation, acting, and editing, it’s nothing short of marvelous. But there’s many details in the visual storytelling, themes, and writing of The Lion King that deserve a second look.

Here Comes The Sun…

The intro to The Lion King is unique, but nevertheless powerful in its visual symbolism. There’s the iconic shot of the sun rising out of complete darkness, and the sequence of all the creatures following the light. It’s loudly paired with bright yellow and red visuals, the most eye-grabbing and dramatic colours. The sun is center, with no other objects or animals to distract from it. The only visible object is a tree, which will be a recurring image throughout the film that represents the life cycle. The animation is gorgeous, and the song fits right into this mood of grandness.

Walt Disney Studios

The song, Circle of Life, is sung in Zulu, a popular South African language. If you listen closely, you can hear the vocal clicks in the song that are part of the Zulu language. The Zulu lyrics translate in English to, “Here comes a lion, father. Oh yes, it’s a lion. A lion. We’re going to conquer, a lion. A lion and a leopard come to this open place.” (Translation from lawlinguists.com) When the camera rolls to Mufasa, he is also drawn in bright red and yellow colours, correlating him with the sun. The loving relationship between Mufasa, Zazu, Sarabi, and Rafiki is all established through their body language, without dialogue. Rafiki then holds a fruit up to the sun, cracks it open and spreads the inside on Simba’s forehead. This visual communicates that the sun’s life is being passed to Simba, in a scene that looks similar to a baptism of sorts. The sun, being a wide-spread symbol of life, knowledge, and health, is tied to both Mufasa and Simba. The same way how the sun provides for all the creatures, the lions provide order and balance. He is also sprinkled with the dust of the ground, a reminder that he is also deeply connected to the world and part of the circle. Simba mimics the way the sun rises above all the animals by being carried high above all the animals atop of Pride Rock. Pride Rock, which is established later to house all the lions, is drawn with triangular shapes. This represents hierarchy, as all triangles have a point that is directed towards the sky, and is the tallest structure the viewer can see. The sun shines its light on Simba, reinforcing his entrance into the role of the destined leader, and the animals bow in acceptance.

Cain and Abel?

The first scene with dialogue is set into motion by the antagonist, Scar. In his introduction, he remarks that “Life’s not fair,” and almost kills a mouse before it gets away from him. This mouse is foreshadowing of Simba’s journey, who Scar later attempts to kill but also manages to get away. Once Mufasa enters the scene, the viewer learns a lot about the story through their great dialogue. Good dialogue delivers relevant information to the story, showcases character, and has conflict― all of which is accomplished in this scene. The scene is also enhanced by the phenomenal voice acting of Jeremy Irons and James Earl Jones. The viewer learns of the tension between the two brothers, Scar’s envious qualities in contrast to Mufasa’s commanding qualities, and the planted seeds for upcoming conflict. Scar exhibits passive aggressive behavior, such as flexing his teeth and utilizing his claws in his mannerisms. In all of his ways, he’s more subtle than Mufasa, who has no problem being confrontational. Initially, Mufasa asserts dominance by interrogating Scar, and through this the viewer learns that Scar feels robbed of his birthright. The conversation climaxes with Mufasa aggressively placing himself in front of Scar, questioning if he’s being challenged. In response, Scar makes himself appear meeker, asserting that while he is intelligent, he isn’t as strong as Mufasa and is therefore has no desire to contest the throne. This is ultimately deceptive, and shows that Scar is indeed intelligent, but is able to hide his malice for when it suits him. While this scene isn’t as visually fantastical as the opening, it’s still thoughtful and communicative. Scar lurks within a cave, hidden from the light, as opposed to his fellow lions on pride rock who are on top. As told through the dialogue, this is his own choice, a result of his bitterness. His eyes are green, a signature colour of envy, and he isn’t drawn in the same sun-like colors as his brother. Mufasa is aligned on the left, which in American media, is used to show dominance since we read from left to right. The only time he’s shot from the right is when he feels threatened, and Scar is then on the left after secretly “winning” the conversation.

Walt Disney Animation Studios

Simba-lism

There’s a brief scene where Rafiki draws Simba on a tree as it rains, the rain in this context representing growth and a new beginning. Right after that, Simba is seen on the top of Pride Rock― without the sun. He’s not a sun just yet, since he’s still developing. The sun only comes out once Mufasa comes out, the current King. Mufasa gives his first lesson to Simba in the iconic line, “Everything the light touches is our kingdom.” He also warns Simba, that like the sun, his time will one day set and only then can he rise. Simba doesn’t take in that part, which is typical of kids to not think deeply about death. Simba averts his attention to a land without light, which Mufasa tells him to never go to. This idea of a character having access to everything, except one thing, is recurring in many pieces of literature. In Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Belle is told she can go anywhere in the castle except the West Wing. Most ironically, Adam and Eve are told they can eat anything except one fruit in the book of Genesis. This “Everything but one” idea is powerful because it’s a reminder to the character that their freedom is not truly theirs, that it is granted to them by the help of others. Who can’t relate to this? Is there any human who can truly be free to have whatever they like? There’s a desire for knowledge of what’s in the abyss, fear of the unknown, or particularly, fear that your caretaker doesn’t have your best interest in mind. This concept can be played with multiple ways depending on if the writer wants the caretaker to be malicious or not, but in the case of The Lion King, it’s obvious that Mufasa is good. Mufasa continues to teach Simba to respect all living things, and to see himself as a public servant who is connected to his people.

Mufasa leaves Simba to go on a mission, which makes Simba frustrated that he doesn’t get to come along. So, he seeks out the closest masculine figure who resembles Mufasa, which is his Uncle Scar. Once again, Scar is in the shadow of the rock, meaning he’s not under the rule of the light. Similar to Mufasa, Simba starts out on the left when he’s bragging about getting to be king, and shifts to the right once he falls for Scar’s manipulation. When the topic of the shadowlands comes up, it’s now initiated by Scar, as opposed to Simba when he was with Mufasa. When Simba’s mentored by Mufasa, he’s humbled, and told that he doesn’t need to have an inflated ego to be a good leader. On the other hand, Scar exploits Simba’s insecurities pretty effortlessly. Even when interacting with someone less powerful, he’s able to nudge Simba in the direction of going to the shadowlands while still pretending to care about his safety. Scar also has his claws out, contrasted to Mufasa who keeps his in. Simba devises a plan to visit the shadowlands and convinces Nala to come with him, though they are supervised by Zazu, an advisor of the King. Nala, though his friend, serves the role of a protector like Mufasa, as someone who keeps him in check. The relationship of Nala and Simba is established as romantic, despite the characters not seeing it that way yet. Simba then has his “I want” song, the song in every Disney movie where the main character establishes what they want. The want is simple― Simba likes freedom and being empowered, but his vision lacks responsibility. I Just Can’t Wait to Be King is one of the most lively songs in the soundtrack, showcasing great use of saturated colour and exaggerated ideas. Plus, it’s just catchy.

The Anti-Pride Lands

Upon entering the shadow lands, or what they call the “Elephant Graveyard”, they witness the explicit aura of death that litters the place. It is not only represented through the skeletons and lack of light, but also the red ominous lighting. Simba tries proving himself to Nala, and naively considers himself invincible in the face of the hyenas. The hyenas are foils to the lions, sharing the trait of being carnivores, but not living in harmony with the other animals. Nala and Simba are quickly thrust into danger and are almost killed until Mufasa saves them. Simba loses some innocence in the process of this traumatic incident and later has a private moment with his father. During this scene, Simba steps into his father’s footprint, a clear symbol of him maturing. As Simba does this, the backdrop of the scene progresses from the evening to night. This echoes that gesture of him maturing, because the sun that represents Mufasa is setting, implying that Simba will rise next. After a reprimand, Simba is told by Mufasa that the stars are the past kings looking down on him. Which makes sense, since stars are also suns, but more distant. There is something ancestral about them, as stars are always constant, so no matter how much people or land changes, the stars are consistent throughout generations.

Walt Disney Animation Studios

The shadowlands, or Elephant Graveyard, is filled with Sheol-like imagery. It’s revealed that not only did Scar set up the hyenas to try killing Simba, but that Scar is also the secret ruler of the shadowland. The hyena’s familiarity with him implies that he goes there often, and the place is dominated by more envious green colors. The hyenas, like Scar, are also envious of the other lions. The hyenas say that they are “dangling at the bottom of the food chain”, but also add that if it weren’t for the lions, they would be on top. This implication that they are second place, but feel that they are on the bottom sounds contradictory at first. However, people are more likely to be hateful towards those they are in competition with. The plethora of bones in the graveyard imply that they have eaten a lot of food, but it hasn’t decomposed because of a missing element in the circle of life. There’s no other animals other than the hyenas and Scar, so it symbolizes a tyranny of survival. Scar, identifying a common ground, creates an alliance with them by promising more food. Neither party respects each other, but recognize that they need each other. The hyenas are only able to trust Scar because they see he is in a similar position, remarking that he is “one of us.” The colors then shift to yellow, which according to Harry Davies, “…can be associated with madness and illness, insecurity or obsession, but also with the idyllic and the innocent. ” (domestika.org) The hyenas march in uniform, an image intended to mirror fascist regimes. Scar rises from the crevasse on a rock that looks like a more twisted form of Pride Rock, and is presented under a crescent moon. Being atop the rock contrasts the underworld, just as the moon contrasts the sun.

Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Death of a King, Birth of a Meme

In Scar’s second attempt to kill Simba, he takes a different approach. Scar tricks Simba into staying at a place of danger, and when Simba tries leaving, he’s held back by shame. Scar brings up the Elephant Graveyard incident, and intentionally pokes at Simba’s insecurities. Simba’s attempt to correct his self image, by practicing his roar later, gives him the false impression that he’s the one that caused the stampede that kills Mufasa. So Simba’s first exposure to death in the Elephant Graveyard, instills the shame in him that sets the rest of the conflict into motion. When the action unpacks, Scar can be seen watching very closely, casting a dramatic shadow against the wall. For Scar, there’s more at stake because if he fails, there’s too many clues pointing at him. This scene does a fantastic job building tension, mostly thanks to the masterful music by Hans Zimmer. Simba clings to an almost dead tree, that is animated so well it looks as though it could snap at any moment. After successfully rescuing Simba from the stampede, Mufasa leaps to a cliff under the sun. Mufasa refers to Scar as his brother for the first time in the film, reminding the audience of how significant the upcoming betrayal is. As Scar prepares to throw Mufasa off the cliff, the shadow is back― this time casting over Mufasa’s face. The sinister line delivery of “Long Live The King” solidifies it as one of the most iconic lines in the film. Though this line is spoken first by the hyenas in Be Prepared. This foreshadows that Scar will die at the hands of the hyenas, the same way Mufasa dies at his hands. Simba finds Mufasa dead under the tree he clung to, now almost completely snapped in half. Scar enters the scene again, and brings the shame back in the same fashion. The death of Mufasa is not just the death of someone Simba loves, but the death of his ego. Simba watches Mufasa, the character he aspires to be like and imagines himself as in the future, die in a moment of weakness. Simba, after following Scar’s instructions to run away, runs into the sun that both literally and figuratively sets on Mufasa’s time. Scar then usurps Pride Rock at night under the moon, another contrast to Simba’s arrival in the sun.

Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Simba sleeps alone under the morning sun, though it is now framed as overwhelming as opposed to gentle. Vultures fly over him, which symbolizes both death and freedom. As he’s being rescued, the new characters Timon and Pumbaa splash water on him as a second baptism. Simba comes to embrace their philosophy of a life without worry. The narrative presents their presences as conflicting, but necessary. On one hand, Simba is provided authentic connection by people who won’t judge him. On the other hand, he’s free of responsibility and ignores the issues at hand. Simba’s first four needs of Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” has been met, but he’s missing the final fifth― self-actualization. (canadacollege.edu) This all takes place in a jungle, a place where growth thrives. It’s here that Simba goes through his teenage years up to adulthood. Simba is encouraged to shift his diet from mammals to insects, which meets his needs, but doesn’t challenge him. Timon tells Simba that this land has “No rules, no responsibilities… and best of all, no worries.” This echoes Simba’s stated desire in I Just Can’t Wait to be King. He now has what he wanted, but not what he needs. Back in the Pride Lands, the place has shifted to represent the Elephant Graveyard. The light is gone, and the circle of life has been disrupted, given the lack of vegetation. In many ways, Scar is depicted as a leader who represses information. He’s imprisoned Zazu, who serves as the King’s eyes or reporter. He’s also censored the word “Mufasa”, so that he can no longer be compared. Even from his own followers, the hyenas, he shuts out criticism. Just like his relationship with his immediate family, Scar relies on keeping the other lions deceived to stay in power.

Simba looks at the stars once again, the symbol of his relationship with his father, and his shame is re-triggered. The Lion King uses a lot of mysticism to further the plot and avoid contrivances, such as the scene where Rafiki uses the wind particles to detect that Simba is alive. Rafiki exclaims, “he’s alive!” and smears a red-substance around the carving of Simba, representing his mane. This could possibly be another religious symbol, since the red colour looks like blood and it’s being spread over a previously dead, now ‘resurrected’ character.

When Simba reunites with Nala, his shame enters full effect. They meet all the checkmarks of great conflict between characters: different desires, escalation, and a great use of subtext in dialogue. One part that stands out is when Nala remarks she’s disappointed in him, and Simba responds that she sounds like his father. It’s interesting that he hears “disappointment” and immediately goes to how he thinks his dad would feel about him. In a moment alone, he observes his reflection in the water, a moment of metaphorical self-reflection. Simba then sees Mufasa’s ghost, who convinces Simba that the best way to honor his memory is to return to the Pride Lands. Another way of looking at this is that Simba is reconnecting with his inner child, the part of him that had dreamt of being a leader. But in order to do that, he must analyze what got in the way of that. The answer he gets isn’t that the past is insignificant, or not worth thinking about, but that it doesn’t define a person if they choose to learn from it. So, Rafiki assists Simba in his own self-liberation by instructing him in the way of not living a life centered around shame.

It’s Nothing Business, It’s Just Personal.

When Simba returns, we get a glimpse at the true power he has. Scar instantly recoils at seeing him again, first perceiving him as Mufasa. When Simba demands Scar steps down, Scar starts sensing Simba might contest through physical force. Scar, having previously stated that brawn isn’t his strong suit, tries manipulating Simba again. When that doesn’t work, he tries going back to deceiving the other lions to turning against Simba. There’s one last loose thread, which is that Simba still believes he’s responsible for his father’s death. Throughout the movie, the animators do a fantastic job with the body language of the characters, but here it really shines. There’s so much personality though the way the characters move, like the way Scar circles Simba when interrogating him. Simba, being pushed into a literal corner, is at the risk of dying the same way Mufasa did. He’s on the verge of losing his self-image again, over more fire that alludes to Sheol, or Hell. What makes Scar a great villain narratively is that he drives both the internal conflict of the character and the external conflict of the plot. Disney villains typically fall into two categories. One, is that they are plainly evil, but aren’t that close to the hero. The hero has very few interactions with them up until the climax, so the tension isn’t as interesting. Or, they are related to the protagonist, and serve as antagonists, but aren’t necessarily villains. There’s exceptions to this, but Scar is a great example of a villain who gets the best of both worlds― he’s deeply personal to the protagonist and a physical obstacle. This also makes Simba a great protagonist, because both his external and internal journey have massive stakes. It’s subtle, but Scar is actually a foil to Simba. He’s only able to weaponize shame because people use weapons they’re familiar with. If someone is trying to hurt you, they will try to hurt you in a way that they themselves would be hurt by. He doesn’t express it the same way Simba does, but his feelings of being overshadowed by Mufasa are because he feels ashamed of himself. It’s for this reason, that after Simba fights back and tells him to “run away”, he finally resorts to fight. After a long battle, Scar is ravaged by the hyenas after they realize they had been tricked. Up until this point, Scar’s exploited the hyenas to work for him, but hasn’t provided for them. This moment is a more ominous way of the circle of life functioning, so that Scar’s promise to feed the hyenas actually comes to fruition.

Walt Disney Animation Studios

The rain is back in full force. There’s a shot that lingers on a tree, that looks just like the one partly broken over Mufasa’s body. Water is also shown washing away death, represented by a skull. Simba climbs up pride rock, and looks to the stars, the final form of Mufasa’s transformation. The score during this scene is without a doubt the greatest part of the soundtrack. Time skips forward, and the broken tree is revived to look like the tree from the opening shot. A flock of what appears to be white doves fly over Simba and his new family, symbolizing freedom. It could also be interpreted as the dove in the story of Noah’s ark, given there was a “flood” of rain, and now the animals have new land. The final shot of Simba’s new daughter solidifies the continuance of the circle of life.

Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Inspirations and Possible Interpretations

The Lion King, like all movies, takes inspiration from many other pieces of art. It’s Disney’s most explicitly Shakespearian movie, taking on many elements from the play Hamlet. You have a king murdered by his brother, the son being visited by his ghost, and him slowly unraveling the mystery of his fathers death. There’s a one-for-one match for every character, most clearly seen through Scar as Claudius, Simba as Hamlet, Sarabi as Gertrude, and Nala as Ophelia. The Lion King is also inspired by Bambi, and several biblical stories. Let’s look at the first act again. Simba, the child of a character with god-like characteristics, is tempted by a character who represents Satan to visit a land of death. He does this because he’s trying to be more like his father, and following the event feels shame. Once on the brink of death, the father sacrifices himself for his child and is killed due to a betrayal, symbolized with a tree. It has similarities to the fall of Adam and Eve, as well as the redemption of humanity according to the Bible. Or, a character who feels shame from committing a murder, runs away to the wilderness, and must return to the kingdom to liberate his people from a tyrant. One could see the story of Moses reflected in the story of Simba, or the story of Joseph. Simba is sent into the wilderness by a family member who is envious of him, and then becomes king.

Many have theorized that The Lion King is a critique of communism. If you view the animals as economic classes, then Scar is a leader who gains a following by promising a lower class, hyenas, equal grounds with the higher class, lions. However, the consequences of a disruption in the hierarchy is a mass famine. Scar and the hyenas are categorized by envy, a negative quality those opposed to communism associate with communists. A YouTuber by the name of Cinema Wins pointed out that the slightly-tinted red crescent moon behind scar resembles the communist symbol, the sickle. However, one could also argue that the sickle is to the right, where as the moon is to the left in the film. Was this the intention of the writers? One issue that comes with this interpretation is trying to translate real economies into the world of animals and the food chain. Another issue with this theory is that the hyenas don’t resemble the role of the proletariat as much as they resemble the upper-middle class, as I mentioned earlier. The Lion King could also be read as against any system where only the leader profits, where the leader is the one being served as opposed to serving, rather it be communist or capitalist. However, it’s an interesting theory.

Another way to interpret the Lion King, and my personal favorite takeaway, is to look at Simba as an abuse or trauma survivor. Simba is a character who undergoes a traumatic event, the murder of his father at a young age, and spends his entire adolescence unable to process it. He exhibits many of the traits of someone with PTSD according to the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria, such as “Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the traumatic event(s),” and “Negative alterations in cognitions and mood associated with the traumatic event(s).” What is most focal on screen is Simba’s feelings of self-blame. He’s not only battling grief, he’s also battling his misbelief that he’s the one that caused it. It’s shame. In a book titled, The Cry of The Soul by Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman, the authors discuss the topic of shame in depth. I had never read this book or heard of the authors; I came across the verse on social media. But I found what they said insightful, stating:

“Shame is a flight from intimacy. It is one of our deepest fears: We will be isolated and mocked forever. It is a taste of hell— the experience of being caught without defense or cover and condemned to unrelenting humiliation. Shame is feeling exposed and ugly beyond words. Nothing else cuts to the core so personally as shame does.”

The Cry Of The Soul, Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Tremper Longman.

The Lion King is a movie I can see resonating with many survivors of trauma and abuse. It’s a wonderful thing to have a story with a meaningful message that will be shown to generations of people struggling with the same issues. There’s a lot to learn from Simba’s story and to apply into our own lives.

Conclusion

For its incredible attention to detail and powerful story, Lion King has earned its place as one of Disney’s best movies. The characters are distinct in their personalities, journeys, and design, and the music brings out the emotions in every scene. It’s one of those movies that I’ve appreciated more as an adult than as a kid, and hopefully it resonates with other people as well. Unless Disney releases an even better movie, The Lion King will always be Disney’s magnum opus in my eyes.

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